My top 4 tips for cooking healthy over the holidays

Ricki talks about cooking for restricted diets over the holidays

Does this pattern sound familiar?

You take the time to buy all the foods you need to stay healthy throughout the year. It’s sometimes a bit of a challenge, but overall, you manage to stick with it and eat foods that support your health.

The more you eat those healthy-for-you foods, the better you feel. Of course, you appreciate it–it feels great to feel great!–but inevitably, over time, you begin to take it for granted. It should be normal to feel good, right?

And then the holidays arrive. Suddenly, there’s pumpkin everywhere, and chocolate, and whipped cream, and parties with wine and hors d’oeuvres. . .  and before you know it, you start to feel resentful.

“Why can’t I just eat like a normal person?” you might ask yourself.

Or you might think, “Well, I’ve been so good for such a long time. . . maybe I can have just a little of the crab dip or the cheesecake. . . “.

And before you know it, you’re eating All. The. Things.

You figure, “I’ve already wrecked it for the holidays, so I may as well just enjoy the food until the new year. I’ll start again in January. . .”.

Except, your body is feeling it.

What was already starting to feel easy–like climbing the stairs to the bedroom, or hiking with your hubby or playing with the grand kids–is hard again. Waking up with aches and pains, feeling sluggish, foggy brained, and dealing with embarrassing digestive issues–it’s all back, with a vengeance.

Well, before you fall off the wagon and start that dreaded cycle this year, know that you CAN stick with your healthy eating through the holiday season.

You can cook all the foods you love, share them with family and guests, and enjoy a festive feast that everyone else will love, too.

Keep reading, or watch the video below, for my four top tips for how to cook healthy through the holidays–without falling off the wagon.

I. Stick with the Experts.

There’s no need to re-invent the (brie) wheel when you’re cooking on a new diet (though, if you’re like me, you may decide to do just that down the road).

When you first start out or when you want your life to remain as simple as possible–say, during the holidays–remember that there is no need for you to figure everything out on your own.

Learning a new way to cook is, understandably, quite complex, and if you try to do everything yourself right from the start, you may find that things don’t work out as you would like. Which, of course, leads to abandoning the healthier foods and falling back on those “old favorites” that mess with your health.

Instead, what I like to do in the beginning is rely on the experts who’ve already done all the work and mastered the cooking for me.

When I first started cooking and baking without gluten, sugar, eggs or dairy, I went to a few trusted sources (via blogs and cookbooks) for recipes. I followed the recipes to a “T,” kept the ones I loved, and used those for quite a while, until I felt comfortable enough with the new ingredients to start playing in the kitchen on my own.

By relying on a few experts to provide the exact ingredients and recipes you need, you will not only save yourself untold hours of experimentation; you’ll also save yourself untold dollars of wasted ingredients.

Here’s an example: when I first began to bake gluten-free, as an already-professional baker (I had worked for a restaurant and also had owned my own organic bakery for 3 years), I figured, “I can do this!”

So I took my favorite recipe for Banana Bread, and simply swapped out the regular all-purpose flour for brown rice flour instead.

Uh. . . BIG mistake! Not only is brown rice flour about 10x heavier than regular all-purpose, it also (duh) contains no gluten–which, at the time, I didn’t realize was essential simply to bind the ingredients together. As a result, I ended up with a bread that was, simultaneously, as hard and heavy as a brick, while also as fragile and crumbly as a sand castle–AFTER it had dried out completely in the sun for a few days.

That failure cost me lots of time, as well as the (expensive) cost of the ingredients. Eventually, I also had to throw out the remainder of the flour, since I hadn’t realized it would become rancid fairly quickly.

If I had simply used a tried-and-true recipe from another, already gluten-free, baker that I knew, I could have saved myself the hassle. Then, as I grew more familiar and comfortable with gluten-free baking, I could learn to create my own recipes, or adapt others.

II. Find Your “Fab Five”–and use them!

Sugar-free, dairy-free Black Bean Fudge in a small bowl

[This Black Bean Fudge was one of my top 5 go-to recipes for several years. Perfect sugar-free treat when you need something sweet, like, now.]

By “Fab Five,” I simply mean that you should choose your favorite 5 recipes from those you find among your expert sources, then rotate through those during the week while you learn (at your own pace) to cook other things.

This way, you’ll always have something you’re guaranteed to enjoy within your dietary restrictions, even as you experiment with new recipes.

My Fab Five also allowed me to play with ingredients that I might not have discovered otherwise, because they were part of a new recipe I tried. For instance, if you use chickpea flour in a new recipe and love that recipe, you might want to start experimenting with chickpea flour in other things, too.

I should also note that for me, as someone who loves to cook and was also running a food blog when I was caught off-guard with my candida diagnosis, experimenting in the kitchen is a pleasure and a joy. So I didn’t mind buying ingredients that I might not like, or going through 3 (or 14) iterations of a recipe before it was “just right.” I do understand, though, that most people aren’t living that way–and I don’t want you to have to waste ingredients on dishes that don’t work or you simply don’t enjoy.

During the holidays, this idea becomes even more important: choose recipes from experts that you trust and then settle in on your menu based on those. Of course, there’s always the option to adapt recipes if you know how to swap out unhealthy ingredients for more healthful ones, but even if you don’t, you’ll have a really good base from which to begin.

(Oh, and for foolproof Thanksgiving recipes that even the staunchest “normal” eaters will love, may I recommend my own Sweet Life Thanksgiving ebook? It offers a full menu for the holiday, including appetizers and brunch the next day).

III. The Power of ONE

Gluten-free, vegan BBQ Kale chips recipe on

[Kale was definitely new to me when I started my healthier diet. In addition to fabulous Kale Chips (above), I now eat it just about every day. I found a new love! (don’t worry, HH, we’re still good).]

On the topic of new ingredients–and reducing waste–I’d suggest buying one new ingredient at a time (say, each week) as you experiment. So, as I mentioned, if you try a recipe with chickpea flour and love it, you might go out and buy another new ingredient the following week.

As long as you have your Fab Five to fall back on, it won’t feel like a disaster if you buy something that you don’t exactly love.

In this area, I like to reference Julia Child, who once said (and I paraphrase): There are no mistakes in cooking; only new recipes.

IV. Have Patience–and Have Fun

If there’s one thing I see often when I work with clients, it’s our natural tendency to want things to change, like, NOW.

My best advice is to remember that it took some time for your body to get where it is today, and it will likely take some time to heal.

So, if you’ve just started a new diet that’s intended to help with your health issues–or even if you’ve been on it for a while and haven’t seen the results you’d like–be patient with yourself. Healing takes time. Enjoy the ride as much as you can while you get there.

And that brings me to the final point when it comes to cooking on a restricted diet at the holidays (or any time, really): have some fun with it!

To me, cooking and baking are creative pursuits. Once you know the basics, it’s easy (and fun) to play with flavor combinations, textures, types of recipes, and more. It’s really not all that different from other creative activities, like painting, crafting, or sewing. Just relax, let yourself feel into it, and remember what a great thing you are doing for your health and your body.

Then, once all the food is ready and everyone is gathered round the table, you can revel in the knowledge that you are feeding yourself–and those around you–the best possible food you can for a happy AND healthy holiday season.

Video Highlights:

  • If you think it’s too difficult to cook your “healthy foods” over the holidays, there is help! You don’t have to consider the holidays a free-for-all when it comes to eating.
  • Even though I now cook 95% of my foods from scratch, it wasn’t always that way–I had to learn to cook, and then how to cook with all the dietary restrictions of the candida diet.
  • These tips are useful if this is your first holiday on a restricted diet–or even if you have gone through other holidays this way, but have had trouble sticking with it.
  • How to make the best use of others’ expertise
  • Using the “Fab Five” and why it’s the best way to find new recipes and save money
  • The power of “One.”
  • The final–and most important–tip for success


Disclosure: Links in this post may be affiliate links. If you choose to purchase using those links, at no cost to you, I will receive a small percentage of the sale.

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