Another holiday is fast approaching, and of course it is a time for gathering the family together for that special celebration, which usually centers around your traditional favorite foods. In an effort to make the occasion extra nice for all, a variety of dishes are prepared which may lead to a feast of unimaginable proportions. And don’t let there be a grill around because someone will try to barbeque all of the meat in the freezer.

Several side dishes from creamy coleslaw to various cooked salads are served, along with the desserts which can be filled with high calorie and high starch choices that will blow any plans to control weight, cholesterol, sodium, and blood sugar levels.

So, to keep your family feast healthy, here are some Do’s and Don’ts to follow: (1)


–Plan out your menu in advance. Take an inventory of all of your family favorites and decide on only one or two main items to showcase.


–Cook-up all of the “favorites” without regard to the menu of the day.

–Share the menu with other family members and let them know what they should bring. –Let family members bring anything they want to cook without regards to the menu.
— Use low sodium seasonings, and add healthy raw vegetable salads to your menu, like a coleslaw, carrot-raisin, three bean salad, or broccoli salad. –Limit to only one, the amount of starchy vegetables and cooked salads that are served such as potato or pasta salad, corn, peas, or beans.
–Serve the sweets treats only after the meal. Limit to only one or two types. –Make an over-abundance of cakes, pies, and pastry so that there are left-overs for days.
–Plan to have plenty of fresh fruits, raw vegetables, or garden salads available for snacks and part of the menu. –Munch on a lot of snack foods like chips, candy, or cookies while the food is being prepared.
–Serve 100% fruit juice, low fat milk, or flavored low-calorie teas and have pitchers of plain cold water available


–Buy the big gallon jugs of fruit flavored beverages, sodas, or other sweetened, high sugar teas


Another major consideration, especially when planning a picnic in the hot summer months, is strategies for keeping food safe to eat. In my practice, I know of several occasions where people became ill from eating food that was left at room temperature too long. Always have a plan to keep hot foods hot and cold food cold. Having an adequate amount of coolers stocked full of ice should be used for all items containing perishable foods such as raw meats, cooked salads with eggs, and anything with milk added.(2)

The following are some additional tips to follow:

  • Have water, soap, and hand sanitizer available to clean hands, cutting boards, and all surfaces frequently;
  • Have children clean their hands often, before eating snacks and meals;
  • Use a meat thermometer to test the internal food temperature for safety: 160 degrees for burgers; 165 degrees for chicken; 145 -160 degrees for steak; 145 degrees for pork;
  • Chill cold foods in ice filled coolers with separate coolers for raw meats verses ready-to-eat foods;
  • Raw meats should be stored at the bottom of the cooler to prevent meat dripping from contaminating other foods or containers;
  • To avoid cross contamination, do not use the same utensils (forks, brushes for sauce, etc.) for handling raw and cooked foods;
  • Always transfer grilled cooked food onto a clean plate or container;
  • To kept foods at the proper holding temperature (135 degrees or above), have a roasting plan on the grill to keep cooked meats hot or served right away;
  • Chill foods within an hour of being taken off the grill. Do not hold meats or other perishables at room temperature;
  • Keep beverages in a separate cooler from prepared food; and
  • Do not use cooler ice for drinks. Have a bag of ice devoted to use for only beverages.(2)


Taking time out in advance to develop a healthy menu and plan for keeping food safe will help to control the uncontrolled variety of food items served at your family gathering as well as help to keep you on your healthy eating plan.(1,2) Advance planning will not only increase the health benefits of your family feast, but can also save on cooking time, energy, and money. Keeping foods safe can assure that the happy memories that are developed are not marred with the tails of food borne illness.(2) So make sure to have fun and enjoy eating your healthy family feast together.

Yvonne is the owner of Y-EAT Right…Nutritional Consultant for Healthy Living, She conducts special workshops to promote healthy nutritional and living behaviors. To find out more about her services email her at: or phone her at (414) 639-5660.


1.) Greer, Y. (2013). Meal Planning the Family Gathering. Milwaukee, WI: Active Across America.

2.) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2010. Seven Super Steps to Safe Food In the Summer.