Anti-Inflammatory Holiday Meal Makeover

Outsmart your holiday meals and fight chronic disease this season with an anti-inflammatory meal makeover you can feel good about.

Inflammation is a word we hear a lot. We often associate inflammation with red­ness, swelling, and pain from a bug bite, infection, or surgery. But not all inflammation is visible from the outside. 

There are other times when inflammation in the body may be less noticeable.

Often the inflammation that’s not visible to the eye can cause the most damage to your health. 

Chronic inflammation has been linked to a host of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity, autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, and even clinical depression. 

Excess body fat and diet are two preventable causes of inflammation. Foods high in saturated or trans fats and added sugars and highly processed foods can trigger inflammation in the body. 

Inflammatory foods are around us all the time, but they are especially prevalent during the holiday season when potlucks and parties pop up every evening and weekend!

With a season of excess upon us, how can we prevent excess body fat and dietary inflammation?  

Anti-Inflammatory Holiday Meal Makeover

According to Harvard Medical School, the foods most likely to cause inflammation include:

  • refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
  • French fries and other fried foods
  • soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)
  • margarine, shortening, and lard

With a few simple swaps and additions to your holiday table, you can remove these inflammatory foods from your menu and have an anti-inflammatory feast.


Want to serve a healthier appetizer? Shake up your dip tray. Instead of the usual suspects, like carrots, celery, tomatoes, and ranch dressing, shake up your vegetable tray to fight inflammation from the start of the party. 

Fruits and vegetables naturally contain phytonutrients that help combat free radicals, which cause inflammation in the body. 

Include an extensive array of colors for your guests. Instead of traditional white cauliflower reach for purple and orange varieties. Choose dark green broccoli, tomatoes of all colors, vibrant bell peppers, and crunchy, orange, yellow, and purple carrots. 

Instead of serving ranch dressing, which can be full of saturated fats, delight your guests with a super-flavorful hummus dip. Hummus, made with olive oil, tahini, and garbanzo beans, is full of fiber and healthy fats.  

Main Dishes

Try serving fish in place of, or alongside grilled or fatty cuts of meats. Fish are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent inflammation—and the aches and pains associated with it. Replace your traditional roast with a beautiful salmon instead. Have burgers on the menu? Try a tuna burger instead of beef!  

Don’t be scared of fat; the right fats can be an inflammation-fighting friend. Choose fats wisely and minimally. Reach for healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats and omega -3 fatty acids, like those found in fish and flax seeds, to keep inflammation at bay.

Tip: Add in inflammation-fighting spices and flavor boosters such as ginger and turmeric, which also happen to be delicious and festive.


Holiday cocktails can be a significant source of dietary sugars. When you’re looking for a low-inflammatory cocktail to get in the holiday spirit, choose red wine over other alcohols. Red wine may help reduce inflammation. 

If you’re a teetotaler, choose antioxidant-rich green tea, which may help reduce inflammation.

Fruit- or berry-infused water is another low-sugar beverage option that’s high in flavor and festivity.


Yes, you can have dessert and eat it too! Instead of cakes, pies, and cookies, which are loaded with saturated fat and added sugars, try serving up deeply colored berries, like cherries, blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries. 

Serve dark chocolate (70% or more cacao) for added inflammation-fighting antioxidants.

With a few smart swaps and a few healthy fats, you can transform your next holiday soiree from an inflammatory nightmare into an inflammation-fighting healthy meal that your body will appreciate long after the season has ended.

Justine Hays, MS, RD, CDN
Hi! I'm Justine Hays, a registered dietitian, and wellness writer. Food, and memories of food, shaped my life early on, so did my drive and desire to help people. After getting a B.S. in business and marketing, I found my heart wasn't totally satisfied by what I was doing. So, I went back to school and earned my Masters in Dietetics and became a registered dietitian. Working with the general public, I see how much information (and misinformation) is out there. It can be overwhelming! Understanding the facts about food, and how foods work in our bodies, helps us let go of myths and fear so we can get back to enjoying food that nourishes our bodies. That's why I believe in letting experts, like dietitians, deliver the straight answers. I can help you understand what works, what doesn't, why, and how you can make choices to live your healthiest and happiest life. I believe in a whole food approach, meaning everything in moderation. As a working mother, I don't want to spend all my time in the kitchen when there are pictures to paint, flowers to pick, and playgrounds to explore. I find ways to prepare most of my foods from scratch with a healthy dose of convenience foods to make it easier. I prep, plan, and produce (mostly) healthy and affordable meals the whole family will eat, with a sweet treat thrown in the mix for balance, and I always look for ways to get the littlest hands involved in the kitchen. For more information about me and what I do, and for ways to communicate health value with your customers, or to work with a registered dietitian for yourself, your practice, product, website, or blog, please visit and get in touch!