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Your Health
A Noozhawk partnership with Cottage Health

What You Need to Know to Eat Healthy During the Holidays

(Cottage Health photo via Shutterstock)

Each holiday has its own particular food cues: Halloween means candy. Thanksgiving equals turkey, dressing and pie. New Year’s means parties. You know the drill.

Beginning with Thanksgiving and ending after New Year’s Day, the winter holiday season is the time of year when the normal environment of homes and stores changes to include a tempting variety of special holiday foods.

The holiday atmosphere is fun and can be enjoyed without deprivation or inevitable weight gain if you start the holiday season with a preplanned eating strategy. Cottage Health’s clinical dietitian, Stacey Baily, provides insights on healthy holiday eating.

Think About People, Not About Food!

Holidays are a time to be with family and friends, and many times people you haven’t seen in a while. Spend time conversing with relatives or reminiscing with old friends. Think about what you are celebrating, not just about the food.

Plan Nonfood-Related Activities

Plan activities that get you moving, such as bowling, ice skating, roller skating, shopping or going on a walk. This gets you out of the house and burning calories (and away from the kitchen). It also gives you plenty of time to talk and spend time with friends and family.

Stick with Your Regular Exercise Routine

This is more difficult if you are traveling, but try to get regular exercise even when away from home. This helps burn calories and can also help combat stress that sometimes comes along with the holidays.

Planning active outings as discussed above will help you maintain your activity level and burn off some of those holiday calories!

If you can’t exercise every day, try to increase how much you do on the days that you can get it in to burn more calories. If you don’t have a large block of time, break it up into more than one session for short periods of time.

Prepare Healthier Versions of Holiday Foods

There are many cookbooks and magazines that have great-tasting healthier holiday meals and recipes. Take a favorite dish and make it healthier by cutting back on fat and sugar — you may find it doesn’t alter the taste very much at all!

Try new lower-fat versions of old favorites. Make vegetable-based dishes, as they contribute a lot of bulk without adding a lot of calories.

If you are traveling and are not planning the menu, offer to bring a dish to share that you know is healthy. This way you will be sure to have a healthy option.

Don’t Arrive on an Empty Stomach!

Although you may be tempted to skip lunch so you can splurge on dessert at that holiday party, don’t! Have a small snack before you arrive so you aren’t famished when you get to the party.

Skipping a meal may cause you to overeat and consume more calories than you would if you had eaten something beforehand.

Avoid Excess Alcohol and Snacks

Save your calories for the main meal. Alcohol provides many calories but very little nutrition. If you do drink, keep it to one glass and consume it with your meal rather than before. It can also make you hungrier! Also, try not to sit at arm’s length of the snack bowl. If you are at a restaurant, keep the chips and bread on the other side of the table.

Select Small Portions

Moderation is the key. Selecting small portions allows you to control your calories yet enjoy all of the different items offered. If you really crave a high-calorie treat, go ahead and treat yourself to a small serving.

Eat Slowly

Take time and enjoy the taste of you meal. Take small bits and chew slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you are full. You may find there is no room for dessert after all!

Leave the Table When You’re Done!

If you linger at the table, you may be tempted to continue eating. Stay long enough to enjoy the meal, but leave the table while you are still ahead of the calorie game. Offer to help with dishes, clear the table or walk the dog.

Best Choices at Holiday Meals

Choose More Often:

» Turkey or chicken (no skin)

» Fish (as long as not fried)

» Pork loin

» Plain baked or sweet potatoes (or with a small amount of butter)

» Vegetables without a cream or cheese sauce

» Salads

» Fresh fruit

» Cranberry sauce

» Dinner rolls (especially if whole wheat)

» Pumpkin pie (skip the crust or make your own lower calorie version)

» Fruit crisps (typically lower in calories since they don’t have a crust)

» Dark chocolate

» Sparkling or regular water

» Red or white wine or beer (try to stick with one glass)

Choose Less Often:

» Beef/prime rib

» Stuffing

» Gravy

» Mashed potatoes

» Candied sweet potatoes

» Green been casserole

» Croissants

» Jello salads with whipped cream

» Egg nog

​» Mixed drinks

» Pecan pie

Modifying Holiday Recipes

Turkey: This traditional holiday bird is great for dieters. Avoid eating the skin (too many fat deposits). Dark meat is higher in fat and cholesterol than white meat (but still leaner than beef). Turkey breast has very little fat, is full of protein and is an important source of B vitamins.

Stuffing: Keep stuffing low in fat by sautéing onions, celery, and sage in just a tablespoon of olive or canola oil; using egg whites or egg substitutes for whole eggs, omitting extra butter and adding fat-free broth. Lean turkey sausage could also be added for flavor. Use a low-sodium boxed stuffing mix and added sautéed onions, celery, apples, cooked rice, cooked wheat, etc. Add a little more broth if needed. You could also forgo the stuffing all together and do another grain-based dish using wild rice or quinoa.

Gravy: Low-fat gravy is simple when you start ahead of time. Make a rich broth with the giblets, onion, celery and herbs. Refrigerate, and then skim off fat that rises to the top (save around 56 grams of fat per cup!). Use a gravy separator to separate out fat or use clear broth and skim milk with seasonings. Heat, season and thicken with a paste of cornstarch and water. (2 tablespoons of cornstarch and 2 cups of water thickens 1 pint of broth).

Baked Yams or Sweet Potatoes: Pre-treat cooking pan by brushing or spraying with alight coat of oil. Bake or boil yams (or mash, if desired), then season with nutmeg and cinnamon or pumpkin pie spices, or use apple or orange juice to sweeten. Skip the butter or margarine or use less. Sweet potatoes are a rich source of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, potassium and fiber. Omit butter and excess sugar (marshmallows). Use orange juice and a sprinkling of brown sugar for flavor instead.

Regular Potatoes: A good source of vitamins and minerals. Lose the butter and heavy cream in mashed potatoes, and use sodium, fat-free chicken broth or fat-free milk and low-fat sour cream instead. Flavor with garlic and ground pepper.

Pumpkin: Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds are high in vitamin A, protein, fiber, zinc, iron, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. Health benefits of eating pumpkin include healthy cardiovascular system (mono and polyunsaturated fats), healthy skin (vitamin A), healthy vision (vitamin A), decreased osteoporosis (zinc), decreased arthritis, decreased prostate enlargement and decreased colon cancer (fiber). Use egg whites or egg substitute and fat-free evaporated milk in the filling when making pie.

Cranberries: Cranberries are a great source of Vitamin C and contain compounds that are believed to block certain bacteria that cause infections. Add oranges to make cranberry orange sauce to add more Vitamin C.

Homemade Rolls: Choose a recipe without eggs or cream and with minimal shortening, butter or margarine. Use skim milk instead of whole milk or cream. For a shiny low-fat crust, brush rolls with a mixture of egg whites and water (1 egg white whisked with 1 tablespoon of water). Use whole-wheat flour or part whole-wheat flour in place of white flour. Baking sheets can be sprayed with nonstick spray or dust baking sheet with cornmeal instead.

Vegetables: Stir fry, sauté or microwave vegetables with minimal oil. Top vegetables with a little lemon-butter mixture. (Mix 1 teaspoon of canola-oil based margarine with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and a bit of grated lemon rind) instead of high-fat sauces. Have a variety of veggies on the table at all times. Try healthy hummus as a dip, or fat-free ranch.

Appetizers: Have plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit and nuts on hand. Use low-fat or fat-free sour cream or yogurt for dips.

Baked Goods: Limit recipes that call for a lot of cream, eggs, butter or other fats.Or try substituting some of the fat with nonfat alternatives, such as applesauce and pumpkin. Cut back on sugar by ¼ to ½ and/or use dates to sweeten, and you probably won’t miss it! Also, if you do bake and know it’s a temptation for you, give away your extras or put them in the freezer out of sight.

Sugary Sweets: No need to eliminate the traditional homemade treats that you and your family look forward to each holiday season. Some recipes may not turn out as well if you change ingredients, but others may not even seem that much different. Try reducing the amount of sugar called for in your fudge, peanut brittle, toffee and other homemade favorites. Also, consider purchasing sugar-free ingredients, such as sugar-free gelatins and puddings (if you are OK with artificial sweeteners). Silken tofu also makes a great substitute for sour cream or cream cheese in pudding-like recipes.

Foods Rich in Fat: There are multiple ways to reduce and substitute fat in multiple recipes. One of the simplest ways is to purchase fat-free and low-fat products instead of their full-fat counterparts. These include salad dressings, sour cream, cream cheese, crackers, yogurts, milk and more. Also, in many recipes, simply reduce the amount of fat called for.

The holidays don’t have to mean weight gain! It does take some effort, but by making a few modifications you can prevent those holiday pounds that seem to appear every year.

You’ll feel better knowing you and your family are eating healthier, but can still enjoy good tasting food and spending time together. Staying healthy during the holidays means you can enjoy many more holidays to come!

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