Tag Archives: holidays

Hosting a Scaled-Back but Still Special Thanksgiving During the Pandemic

With the Covid-19 pandemic affecting the Thanksgiving holiday and warnings from experts about hosting or attending large gatherings, many families are opting for a scaled-back Turkey Day this year. Maybe it will just be your immediate family, or maybe a few select friends will join your family, but either way, you don’t need to make large quantities of food this year.

Just because you’ll have fewer mouths to feed doesn’t mean you have to leave out your favorite Thanksgiving foods. You can still have all the traditional dishes like turkey, stuffing, yams, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie; you’ll just need to prepare less of it.

Here are some tips for cooking all the traditional Thanksgiving favorites that won’t leave you with leftovers for weeks. You can also find recipes for a smaller Thanksgiving menu here.

Scale down your menu.
Limit your Thanksgiving menu to just five items. For example, choose one main dish, two sides, and two classic desserts, or some other variation. This is not the year for multiple types of potatoes or six different pies and cakes. Keep it small and simple.

Order Thanksgiving take-out.
Many restaurants and grocery stores are offering already-prepared Thanksgiving meals. Not only will ordering out help support a local business that might be struggling right now, but it also means no cooking for you! Some businesses are even offering individually boxed Thanksgiving meals, which makes it even more Covid-safe and convenient.

Let’s talk turkey.
Unless you want to be eating turkey sandwiches for weeks, you probably don’t want to prepare a 16-pound turkey this year. Instead, opt for sliced turkey or ham, turkey breasts that can be dressed up, or pre-cooked turkey cutlets. You’ll save time and money, and nothing will go to waste.

Reduce recipes by half.
If you have a classic family recipe that you make every Thanksgiving, you can still serve it; just cut the recipe in half. Or maybe your family has a tradition of having several specific desserts every year—this year, focus on just one of those special desserts. You can still keep traditions special on a smaller scale.

Focus on health and safety.
To help lower the risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19 at your Thanksgiving gathering this year, consider these guidelines:

  • Limit your gathering to five people or less.
  • Hold your Thanksgiving dinner outdoors or in a well-ventilated space such as a garage with the door open, where people can spread out. It may not be as pretty, but it will be safer.
  • Do not travel or include anyone who would need to travel in your gathering.
  • Require everyone to wear a face mask when not eating or drinking and especially when indoors.
  • Delegate one person to serve all the food and put it on individual plates to minimize multiple hands on various utensils and touching surfaces.
  • Use paper plates, napkins, and utensils, and provide individual canned drinks.
  • Have plenty of hand sanitizer available as well as bottled hand soap in bathrooms. Use paper towels in bathrooms rather than a shared cloth towel.
  • Connect virtually with friends and family who are not able to gather with you this year. Consider coordinating menus and having a Zoom Thanksgiving feast.

This is the year to get creative and think outside the box for Thanksgiving. Hopefully, next year, you’ll be able to return to your big family traditions, and you can all reminisce about the year you hosted Thanksgiving during a pandemic!

Holiday Eating Without the Guilt

Food is everywhere during the holiday season. From office parties to family gatherings to school functions to cookie exchanges, celebrations this time of year revolve around food. And really good food too—it’s hard to resist all of the rich desserts, creamy dips, cheese balls, hors d’oeuvres, and eggnog this time of year, nor should you have to. But you also don’t want to completely unravel the healthy eating habits you’ve established this year or gain any unwanted pounds.

How can you enjoy all of the holiday goodies without feeling guilty? Here are some holiday eating tips that will allow you to savor every bite this season while still maintaining moderation and hopefully doing minimal damage to your waistline.

Skip seconds.
Don’t pass up your favorite holiday foods, but do skip seconds. By filling your plate with the foods you enjoy the most, you will be more mindful of not overeating.

Less is more.
Choose to eat two of your favorite Christmas cookies instead of four; have just one crescent roll instead of two, and so on.

Make a swap.
If there are specific foods you don’t want to miss out on, such as pecan pie or gingerbread, then limit other foods at the meal such as bread or potatoes to save on calories.

It’s OK to say no.
Remember, it is perfectly acceptable to turn down food offered to you by others. Simply say, “No, thank you,” or “I am full,” when offered something you don’t want. You are not obligated to eat everything the host offers.

Leave the leftovers.
Pass on the leftovers. Try to limit your indulgence to a special occasion such as a party or family gathering, then get back to your regular, healthy eating patterns the next day. Leftovers in the fridge are too tempting to grab when you’re in a hurry instead of making a healthy meal.

Tackle the buffet, but in moderation.
When faced with a bountiful buffet table, fill your plate with moderate portions. It may be tempting to sample everything, but instead, get one small serving of the dishes you like the most, and then feel free to add more fresh veggies or fruits to keep you full. Use a small plate to help control portions.

Take just a bite.
Have just a few bites of that rich, creamy dessert rather than the whole thing. You don’t need a large amount of food to enjoy celebrating with family and friends.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
If you plan to enjoy alcoholic drinks, be sure to drink one glass of water between every alcoholic drink to stay hydrated and to help with digestion.

Give yourself permission to enjoy all of the foods you may not normally eat the rest of the year, and then get back on track with your regular routine the next day.

Holiday Food Leftovers – How Long Will They Keep?

Over the holidays, you are likely to be preparing a large meal for family and friends. But what to do with all the leftovers? In a short time, you and your family members will be sick of eating turkey or ham sandwiches, hash, or other leftover-inspired dishes.

Knowing prior to a holiday how long you can store certain cooked foods will help you avoid having to throw out food as well as ensuring that it is safe to eat.

These factors influence how long leftovers will keep:

1. How long food is left to sit out at room temperature after a meal. Family and friends often sit around the table talking after a holiday meal and may lose track of time. Turkey, stuffing, gravy, and other side dishes should be refrigerated within two hours of the time it was cooked—not from the time it was served.

2. Whether meat was cooked to the correct temperature

  • Turkey should be cooked until it reaches 165°F as measured by a food thermometer. The temperature should be checked in the thickest part of the breast, the deepest part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing.
  • Fresh or smoked ham should be cooked to a temperature of 145°F and allowed to rest for three minutes. Reheat fully cooked ham to 140°F.
  • Beef, pork, veal, and lamb should be cooked to 140°F and allowed to rest three minutes.

You can store leftovers for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. If you have a larger quantity of food than you can eat within that time, freeze part of it within two hours of the time it was cooked.

If turkey was cooked with stuffing inside, remove the stuffing and store it separately from the leftover turkey meat.

You do not have to let hot food cool off before putting it into the refrigerator but divide it into smaller portions to allow it to cool off more quickly in the refrigerator.

From a registered dietitian, the following guide is helpful.

A Guide to Storing Food Leftovers

Food Fridge Freezer
Turkey, cooked 3-4 days 2-3 months
Meat (ham, beef), cooked 3-4 days 2-3 months
Gravy 1-2 days 2-3 months
Cranberry sauce 10-14 days 1-2 months
Stuffing, cooked 3-4 days 1 month
Mashed potatoes, yams 3-5 days 10-12 months
Soup 2-3 days 4-6 months
Vegetables, cooked 3-4 days 2-3 months
Pumpkin pie, baked 3-4 days 1-2 months


Halloween Candy: Eat This, Not That!

If you’re like most parents, you can’t resist raiding your child’s trick-or-treat bag on Halloween night. Or maybe you’re not a parent but can’t fight the urge to eat those Fun-size candy bars you are giving out on Halloween.

Either way, all that Halloween candy can be really tempting. You can indulge and not completely derail your healthy eating habits by choosing your treats wisely and keeping portions to a minimum. In other words, don’t eat a whole bag of Fun-size Twix bars in one sitting! Leave most of the candy to the little ghosts and goblins after you satisfy your sweet tooth with one of these small treats.

Eat this: Fun-size Kit Kat bar
Not that: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup

While both candy bars are high in sugar and calories, that snack-size Kit Kat has 3 grams of fat and 7 grams of sugar compared to a Reese’s peanut butter cup that clocks in at 10.5 grams of fat and 6.5 grams of sugar. And who can eat just one?

Eat this: Dark Chocolate
Not that: Milk Chocolate

Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and has less sugar than regular milk chocolate candy bars. Keep portions small though and stick with fun-size options.

Eat this: Sweet Tarts
Not that: Skittles

If hard candy is your weakness, you’re better off choosing Sweet Tarts rather than Skittles candies. Sweet Tarts have 2.4 grams of sugar per min-bag while Skittles have a whopping 14.5 grams of sugar per mini-bag.

Eat this: Smarties
Not that: Fun-size chocolate bar

Smarties have only 5 grams of sugar and no fat, while most fun-size chocolate bars contain 7 grams of sugar or more, and 3 grams or more of fat per bar.

Eat this: Jelly Belly jelly beans
Not that: M&Ms

Jelly Bellies have only 35 calories per serving and no fat, but M&Ms (all varieties) are loaded with both fat and sugar.

What to Do With Leftover Pumpkin Guts?

It’s almost Halloween and chances are, you’re getting ready to carve a Jack O’lantern. If you’re planning on some pumpkin carving fun with your family, don’t just throw out those pumpkin insides. There are lots of easy recipes you can make that put those pumpkin parts to good use.

Plus, pumpkins are one of the most nutritious fruits around—they’re packed with antioxidants, fiber, potassium, and Vitamin C. And don’t forget about the seeds! Pumpkin seeds contain antioxidants, magnesium, zinc, and fatty acids and make a great fall snack.

Roast pumpkin seeds

Roasting pumpkin seeds is really easy and can be fun for kids too. You can eat them alone as a snack or mix them with other nuts and dried fruit for a healthy, seasonal trail mix. Just put them on a nonstick pan (in one layer), and sprinkle a little salt or other seasonings for taste,  and then roast them in the oven at 300 degrees for 45 minutes.

Make pumpkin soup

Pumpkin soup makes a great seasonal meal as the weather gets colder. Use those leftover pumpkin insides to make this creamy pumpkin soup recipe.


Bake a loaf of pumpkin bread or muffins

Separate the seeds from the pumpkin flesh, and use the flesh to make a puree for pumpkin bread or muffins. Follow this recipe to make delicious pumpkin bread or divide into a muffin pan to make pumpkin muffins.


Make pumpkin juice

As you are cleaning out your pumpkin to carve, place the stringy bits and seeds into a large bowl, and soak in hot water to help soften. Mash up these pieces, and then strain so you are left with a bright orange juice. Use the pumpkin juice in smoothies or sauces.


Diversity in the Workplace: Honoring Ramadan

This week marks the beginning of Ramadan, the holiest Muslim month. During the ninth month in the Muslim lunar calendar, observant Muslims all over the world commemorate the revelation of the Quran to Muhammed by both feasting as fasting. Islam is the world’s second-largest religion; what do HR departments and employees need to know about this important holiday?

Diversity in the Workplace - Ramadan

Even during the rest of the year, observant Muslims eat only foods that are halal. Like kosher foods, halal (lawful) rules of Islam prohibit pork, as well as “carnivorous animals, birds of prey, animals without external ears (some birds and reptiles), blood, alcohol, and foods contaminated with any of these.” According to Today’s Dietician, processed food containing ingredients like gelatin, emulsifiers, and enzymes may be unlawful for some Muslim consumers, so providing nutrition information is especially important.

The timing changes every year. Ramadan goes by a lunar calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar that is most widely used in secular society. The holiday starts the day after the new moon of the ninth month, and ends with the new moon of the tenth month. In 2018, Ramadan starts on May 15. In 2019, it will start on May 5. To be culturally sensitive to this changing holiday, it’s a good idea to keep track of when it will fall each year.

Observant Muslims fast during the day during the whole month of Ramadan. Before dawn, Muslims eat a meal called suhoor, and they break their fast after dusk with a meal called iftar. Be aware, if any colleagues or employees are observing Ramadan, that it would be insensitive to offer them lunch or snacks during the day.

Iftar is often a social meal. While specific food customs differ around the globe, iftar often involves a gathering in the home or a location central to the community. Want to try some Ramadan treats? The Kitchn suggests the following tasty treats from around the world:

  • Dahi vadey: Lentil dumplings that are soaked in a spicy yogurt sauce (India)
  • Haleem: A slow-cooked stew of meat, bulgur wheat, and lentils (Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Central Asia)
  • Chicken 65: Spicy, bite-sized pieces of chicken that are marinated and deep-fried (India)
  • Ramazan Kebabi: A dish made with lamb, onions, yogurt, and pita bread (Turkey)
  • Ful medammes: Fava beans cooked with garlic and spread on bread (North Africa)
  • Paomo: A bread and mutton soup (China)
  • Chapatis: Unleavened flatbread that is rolled up with vegetables and meats (India and Pakistan)
  • Fattoush: A salad made of vegetables and pita bread (Lebanon and Arab countries)
  • Konafah: A pastry made with phyllo dough and cheese (Middle East)
  • Kolak: A fruit dessert made with palm sugar, coconut milk, and pandanus leaf. Fruits, such as jackfruit or banana, or mung beans are added (Indonesia).

In our increasingly globalized world, it’s more important than ever to be respectful of all traditions, and USConnect is glad to help.

Are You Ready for a Holiday Fitness Challenge?

Commit to a short daily fitness routine to help you stay healthier this holiday season.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, an endless succession of family dinners, office parties, and edible gifts can derail even the healthiest eaters. Combined with the colder weather, ‘tis the season to pack on the pounds like a Christmas goose.

Holiday Fitness Challenge

To counteract the seasonal splurges, why not try an office exercise challenge? For yourself or for a group of colleagues, these workplace exercises can be a fun way to keep fit.

Day One: Stairs

Once an hour, run up and down a flight of stairs at least once. Advanced/ambitious team members can do several flights each hour.

Day Two: Desk Pushups

Every two hours, stand up and place hands on desk, about shoulder-distance apart. With your arms straight, walk your feet backwards until your body is at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Keeping your body straight, do 10 pushups.

Day Three: Superman/Banana

For core strength, you have to hit the floor, so you may want to bring a towel. First, lie face-down on the floor, with your arms above your head, pointing straight in front of you. Then lift your arms and legs a few inches off the floor; you’re Superman! Hold for 30 seconds, then rest. Flip onto your back, with your arms extended over your head. Carefully, making sure your lower back doesn’t arch; lift your arms and legs so that your body forms a wide V. You’re a banana! Hold for 30 seconds, then rest. Do three times during the day, and try to lengthen the time you hold each pose.

Day Four: Walking Challenge

This one works best if you’re doing a fitness challenge with a group. Once an hour, write a note—an encouraging quote, or a joke, or a bit of good-natured gossip—to a colleague. Walk to that person’s office in the most roundabout way possible.

Day Five: Wall Sits

Standing around waiting for the coffee to brew? Sit instead… against the wall. Wall sits work your legs and core, and they’re harder than they look. Stand straight, with your back against the wall. Slowly slide your back down the wall, bending your knees until they are at a 90-degree angle. Now hold it for as long as you can. For fun, get other colleagues to join you, and see who can hold it the longest. Get someone to take a picture; there’s your company photo! The company that stays fit together stays together!

What Are the Best and Worst Holiday Drinks?

The holidays are here, and with them the usual raft of parties and get-togethers, along with a slew of holiday-themed hot and cold drinks. From your morning coffee to your evening cocktail, here’s how the most common holiday drinks stack up.

Coffee Drinks

The Worst: When you want to really indulge, try Caribou Coffee’s Campfire Mocha, with a Best and Worst Holiday Drinkswhopping 640 calories, 34 grams of fat, 21 grams of saturated fat, and 67grams of sugar (about 17 teaspoons). That exceeds the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for both fat and sugar in just one morning drink!

Better: Craving that sweet combination of milk, sugar, coffee, and seasonal flavors? Try Starbucks’ Gingerbread Latte with Nonfat Milk (Grande). By downgrading from 2% milk to skim, this treat clocks in at 270 calories, seven grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and 37 grams of sugar. And that even includes whipped cream!

Best: Save some money and be healthier by making your own fancy coffee drinks. Start with delicious Route 66 coffees and add flavored syrups and skim milk; your wallet and waistline will both thank you!


The Worst: Nothing says “Christmas Party” quite like eggnog. And no cocktail is as laden with fat as this scrumptious dessert-like drink, which is made with egg, sugar, and cream.

Better: Shape Magazine offers this recipe as a way to enjoy the taste of eggnog for just 194 calories and 11.5 grams of sugar:


1 oz. bourbon
1oz. spiced rum
1 tbsp. maple syrup
2 oz. whole milk
4 oz. eggnog seltzer
1 tbsp. ground nutmeg for garnish


Combine all ingredients, except the seltzer, in a blender and process until foamy and aerated (you can always froth by hand in cocktail shaker with vigorous shaking). Add crushed ice and swirl to chill. Strain into a large wine goblet and top with seltzer. Garnish with a grating of nutmeg.

Best: Try a holidaytini, a martini-style drink that combines vodka, cranberry juice, grenadine, orange juice, and lemon or lime juice. Or to take off the chill, add a splash of rum to your hot brewed tea with lemon to enjoy a hot toddy.

3 Healthy Holiday Gift Ideas for the Office

Holiday office gifts—whether a novelty mug of candy for a cubicle-mate or a lavish corporate gift basket—tend to rely heavily on unhealthy holiday treats. Chocolate kisses, homemade baked goods, smoked sausage: these delicious gifts can derail even the most determined healthy eater.

Healthy holiday gift ideas for the office

While most people enjoy a gourmet goodie once in a while, the holiday season tends to see an excess of unhealthy food. When giving office gifts this year, why not help colleagues stay healthy with these gift ideas?

  1. DIY Healthy Treats: Why fill that “I Hate Mondays” coffee mug with chocolate candies when you can create your own healthy trail mix? Mix nuts, legumes, seeds, dried fruit, and even a few treats like chocolate chips to create a high-energy, low- sugar snack.
  1. Healthy Baked Goods: You don’t have to give up baking for your friends and colleagues just to help them stay healthy. Healthy recipes abound—filled with suggestions to reduce fat and sugar and increase fiber and protein in baked goods. Check out these websites to get you started:

The Food Network’s Healthy Holiday Desserts: http://www.foodnetwork.com/healthy/photos/healthy-holiday-baking.html

Greatist’s 47 Healthy(ish) Holiday Cookie Recipes You’ll Want to Hide From Santa: http://greatist.com/health/healthier-holiday-cookies

Cookie and Kate’s Baked Goods Recipes: http://cookieandkate.com/category/food-recipes/baked-goods/

Amy’s Healthy Baking: http://amyshealthybaking.com/

  1. Healthy Gift Baskets: For clients and other corporate associates, edible holiday gift baskets are almost expected. But why not break the mold this year with a healthier gift basket? If you have the time and manpower, you can create your own baskets using healthy goods like gourmet cooking oils, nuts, grains, and even some dark chocolate. There are also many companies that specialize in healthy gift baskets. Here are just a few:

It’s Only Natural Gifts: http://www.itsonlynaturalgifts.com/

The Healthy Basket: http://www.thehealthybasket.com/corporate.shtml

Olive and Cocoa: https://www.oliveandcocoa.com/category/healthful-food-gifts




Holiday Leftovers: a Recipe Roundup

By the third day after Thanksgiving, everyone is sick of turkey sandwiches. With more holidays in front of us, we need some fresh ideas on what to do with our leftover holiday food. We’ve scoured the latest recipes to bring you this roundup of the most delicious things to do with that turkey and fixings.

Need some inspiration for those holiday leftovers?

  1. Lighten Up: A twist on traditional tacos, this healthy recipe for turkey tacos uses iceberg lettuce leaves instead of tortillas as a wrap for turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a savory black bean salsa. Finish with red onion and cilantro for brightness, and you’ve got the perfect recipe to eat turkey without the food coma.
  2. Take Stock: Do not throw out that turkey carcass! Throw it into a pot with some carrots, celery, and onion. Pour water and/or chicken broth over the bones and vegetables and let simmer for at least four hours (eight is preferable). Strain the bones from the top, and you’ve got a rich, healthy stock that you can use for soups and sauces or freeze for future use.
  3. Greek System: You know that turkey stock you just made? Use it to make this delicious Avgolemono: a creamy Greek soup with turkey, lemon, and rice. It’s light, too; the creaminess comes from eggs, not cream. It’s easy to make, and much more elegant than regular turkey noodle soup.
  4. Spice It Up: You can use that same rich turkey stock to make another light and flavorful soup: Turkey Caldo Tlalpeño, named for the area near Mexico City. This recipe includes healthy chickpeas and uses chipotle chiles in adobo sauce to get its unique flavor.
  5. Stellar Stuffing: We’ve given you four healthy recipes; now here’s a decadent one. Turn your leftover stuffing into fried stuffing bites, and use your leftover cranberry sauce as a dip. Stuffing is formed into cubes, dredged in egg and breadcrumbs, and fried on the stove: not healthy, but delicious!