Published on 06/12/08

Make family reunions healthy, fun

By Allie Byrd
University of Georgia

Summertime is here. That means family reunions filled with food and fun are right around the corner. To stop that post-gathering bulge, families can cook healthier versions of traditional foods and include physical activities, says a University of Georgia expert.

Family reunions often include a lot of sitting around and eating foods high in fat, sugar and calories, says Connie Crawley, nutrition and health specialist with UGA Cooperative Extension.

The preparation methods and ingredients used in traditional reunion food can often be modified to make them healthier. For example, grilling chicken or fish instead of frying reduces calories and fat.

“People can look for healthier recipes in countless cookbooks on cooking lighter or modify their own recipes by using light margarine, reduced fat salad dressings, reduced fat cheese, light mayonnaise, brown rice and whole wheat pasta,” Crawley said.

Smoked turkey wings can be used to season in place of fatback or bacon. Entrees featuring skinless poultry, lean pork loin, lean ground beef or ground white meat or turkey can be used in place of fattier meats.

Potato salad made with light mayonnaise, macaroni and cheese made with reduced fat cheese, gelatin salads made with sugar-free gelatin and broccoli or squash casseroles made with lower sodium condensed soups and reduced-fat cheese are a few options to consider.

Alcohol can lead to an excess in calories at family gatherings, too, and may be consumed in larger than normal quantities. Too many sugary drinks like sweet tea, lemonade and soft drinks can be bad, too. Alternative choices such as sugar-free beverages and water are healthier options.

Overeating at family gatherings is also a problem. To prevent overeating, don’t go to the event too hungry.

“Eat a healthy breakfast and have a light snack, like fruit, one hour before the meal,” Crawley said. “Choose the smallest plate possible and fill one half with vegetables or salad, one fourth with a protein like meat, poultry or fish and one fourth with a starch or bread.”

It also helps to sit away from the buffet or serving table to avoid the temptation to get seconds. Move serving bowls off the table where the family will be eating. Once the meal is done, clear away all the food immediately so snacking on leftovers is minimized, Crawley said.

Another treat at family functions that is hard to resist is dessert. Alternatives to calorie-rich treats are angel food cake, fruit, reduced-fat ice cream, fruit smoothies, frozen fruit bars, fudgesicles and oatmeal or peanut butter cookies.

“Wait at least 20 minutes after the meal before selecting a dessert,” Crawley said. “You will feel less hungry and will be satisfied with a smaller portion.”

Families can also participate in physical activities that are not only fun, but help burn off part of a big meal. Family members can go on scavenger hunts, play kickball, swim, play flag football, take a walk in the neighborhood, ride bikes, play hide and seek, have sack races, dance, shop on foot or walk around a museum or historic site.

“You may want to offer several of these activities at the same time so everyone has the chance to choose the one that suits them best,” Crawley said. “These activities can get the whole family involved and provide a fun way to exercise during the summer.”

Allie Byrd is a writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.