Top Tips for Holiday Cooking and Eating

A turkey, carrots, cranberries and other side dishes are placed on a table for a holiday meal.

From Santa’s plate of cookies to the side of carrots for the reindeer, food offerings during the holidays can range from indulgent to responsible (but still tasty!). Drexel experts in nutrition sciences, culinary arts, hospitality and food science are available this season to offer their expert advice on making your celebratory cuisine tasty, warm, healthy or a combination of all three.

Here are the top 12 tips from Drexel experts on eating well this holiday season:

  1. “Don’t wash your Christmas turkey (or any other poultry or meat),” says Jennifer Quinlan, PhD, a food safety expert and associate professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences in Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions. Quinlan is one of the creators of the “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” campaign to inform people about one of the most common food-handling practices that people think is good for them—but is actually a source of increased risk by spreading bacteria. Quinlan, whose research focuses on food safety risks for minority and low-income populations, can recommend safe food preparation techniques to avoid foodborne illness.
  2. “Season! Salt and vinegar are your friends,” according to Michael Traud, JD, an assistant teaching professor and director of the Department of Hospitality Management in the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management. “My mother always comments about how much better food tastes in a restaurant than at home. She is the same person who states before a meal that she didn’t season anything. Taste your food as you go. Adjust the salt a little at a time. If something tastes flat, a splash of vinegar or lemon juice can brighten the dish and make it stand out. Learning to season is the difference between good and great meals.” Traud spent two years at Chef Marc Vetri’s Osteria during which he was sous chef, and then spent a year at Vetri Ristorante. He practiced law before entering the hospitality industry.
  3. “When choosing which type of fat to use in your recipe, there's more than just flavor to consider,” says Rosemary Trout, an instructor of hospitality management, culinary arts and culinary science in the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management. “The amount of water in your fat can change the texture of your cookie. Butter is around 81 percent fat and the rest is water. Crisco is almost 100 percent fat. Cookies made with fats that have higher water content will be softer and slightly puffy due to steam generated.”
  4. “Organize your refrigerator to avoid cross-contamination,” Trout says. “When your refrigerator starts to get full, make sure to store ready-to-eat foods on the top shelf and well-wrapped raw foods, like meats and seafood, on the lowest shelf. You'll avoid uninvited microbiolobgical ‘guests’!” Trout’s research interests include food labeling and regulations, food safety and sanitation in food service and food manufacturing, sensory evaluation and customer service. She previously served as a consultant on nutritional marketing and food safety education for Clemens Markets and as a recipe creator and tester for Rodale Press.
  5. “When you’re deciding on what wine to pair with a holiday dinner, don’t be too thrifty,” says Jacob Lahne, PhD, an assistant professor in the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management. “Studies show that higher-priced wines actually elicit more activity in the areas of the brain associated with pleasure.  So, either buy something a bit nice or tell everyone that it’s nicer than it is!” Lahne is a food scientist with particular expertise in sensory science – the discipline which focuses on quantitative determination of how foods taste and why it matters.
  6. “Lighten up those traditional holiday dishes,” says James Feustel, who serves as a faculty member and director for the Department of Culinary Arts and Food Science in the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management. “I substitute buttermilk for cream in my mashed potatoes and reduce the amount of butter. You'll end up with mashed potatoes that are lower in fat and calories, and they'll have a nice tangy kick from the buttermilk.” With a background in mechanical engineering and food studies, Feustel is an expert in foodservice design trends, integrating new cooking technologies/equipment into culinary classrooms, civic engagement and culinary education.
  7. “Use smaller plates at holiday gatherings to keep your overall Caloric intake lower,” says Stella Volpe, PhD, a professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences. Volpe, a nationally recognized expert in nutrition, metabolism and exercise physiology can also offer more tips on serving heart-healthy party foods, how to avoid overindulging at the buffet table, “do’s and don’ts” to maintain (not gain), and how to make your New Year’s resolutions stick by beating boredom at the gym.
  8. “Don’t feel the need to taste everything, or you may end up consuming more Calories. Pick your favorite foods, and get a take out container for the rest,” says Nyree Dardarian, a faculty member in Nutrition Sciences who directs Drexel’s Center for Integrated Nutrition & Performance. Dardarian, a registered dietitian, can offer additional tips and recipes to maintain weight and stay healthy through the holiday season.
  9. “Before you start your holiday baking, kick things off with a Dutch Candy Cane—a shot of peppermint schnapps in a glass of chocolate milk,” says Jonathan Deutsch, PhD, a professor and director of the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management, whose expertise lies in the areas of social and cultural aspects of food, recipe and product development and culinary education.
  10. “Reduce your consumption of toxins by reading labels and researching your food products on your cell phone…right there at the market! It is fun and becomes habitual,” says Charles Ziccardi, an instructor of culinary arts in the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management. “Seek out organic, local and sustainably grown, raised and packaged products. If shopping for prepared/packaged foods, choose those that have the fewest ingredients, are minimally processed and contain no additives or preservatives. The shelf life will be shorter, so buy less and shop often. If shopping for raw or whole ingredients, choose animal products that are raised/caught humanely and responsibly, fed high quality feed and are (ideally) local and traceable; choose local/sustainably grown and seasonal vegetables whenever possible; and choose grains that are locally grown and milled.”
  11. Drink plenty of fluids between desserts. “Sip a large mug of your favorite herbal tea at night with your favorite dessert. It keeps your hydration in check and makes you enjoy the small portion of your dessert for an extended time,” says Deeptha Sukumar, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences. Sukumar adds: Resist the temptation of yet another serving of a yummy dessert at night by brushing your teeth right after supper,” she says. “Relax with a hot cup of your favorite herbal tea before going to bed.”
  12. “Include fun games during gatherings with family and friends to transfer some of the focus from food to fun,” says Brandy-Joe Milliron, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences. Even though this list is (mostly) all about the food, holiday celebrations don’t have to be.

Note to news media: All of these experts are available to provide tips about cooking and eating during this holiday season. To arrange interviews with nutrition sciences faculty, contact Rachel Ewing ( or 215.895.2614). To arrange interviews with hospitality, culinary arts and food science faculty, contact Alex McKechnie ( or 215.895.2705).