It's November, and the holidays are just around the corner. You know what that means, and so do I! Parties, food, cocktails, festivities, cookies, pies, loads of creamy mashed potatoes, stuffing, candy canes, cream filled casseroles, grandmas homemade treats, and the list goes on.
Don't worry, I am not here to tell you to avoid all of these things. I am not even here to tell you they are bad. I would like to equip you with information so you can feel ready to enjoy the festivities and the food without completely derailing your health goals.
1. Stick to the most colorful foods. This is a good general rule of thumb for any gathering at any time of year. Colorful foods are often the most healthFUL. Also, they tend to offer less extra calories in the form of fats, butters, and oils (not always, but sometimes). Focus on the vegetables dishes and make THEM fill out the majority of your plate. Seek out the brussels sprouts, the green beans, the cranberry relish, the crudite, the sweet potatoes (provided they aren’t swimming in marshmallows).
2. Avoid going carb crazy. Anything you can do to avoid overdosing on the starches that often pervade Holiday tables (potatoes, stuffing, breads, cookies) may be helpful to prevent carb comas. One doesn’t have to avoid favorite dishes completely, just being sure that there are plenty of nutrient dense options that make their way into your tummy first. One good rule of thumb, is to just serve yourself two thumbsize servings of a carbohydrate. You choose if that's stuffing or potatoes or a little of both, but make sure it totals about two thumb sizes.
3. Plenty of protein. Pairing protein with carbs is essential to avoid blood sugar rollercoasters during the Holiday season. If you aren’t vegetarian/vegan, then Turkey without a ton of skin can be a healthy option. (I’m a fan of humanely raised and organic turkey, whenever possible) You don’t need much more than 3-4 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards). That will provide 20-28 grams of protein which is plenty. You can flavor it up by adding a dash of those sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce. Seek out vegetarian protein options as well: beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. You can even be the one to bring a healthier - legume side dish with added veggies.
4. Dessert in moderation. Believe me those pies are not worth an extra 5 pounds around your waistline come January, and believe me that is exactly where it will go. The high sugar content of holiday treats is a hormone tragedy and those calories are destined to find their way to storage places around your organs (the worst place to send them). Here are my dessert tips. Serve yourself a bite or two of your most favorite choices. Eat them slowly, and don't return for seconds. I promise it won't kill you to have a bite and not go back. When in doubt go for the Pumpkin Pie. While it may technically be a “sweet”, pumpkin puree is rich in fiber and Vitamin A and is likely one of the healthier choices on the dessert table.
5. Do a holiday makeover. I’m a big proponent of creating healthy versions of the foods we love.. Try baking cookies with high fiber flour, oats, maple syrup , nuts etc, Create egg nog with coconut milk, honey, nut meg; Make gravy using chickpeas or cashews for creaminess. Try cutting the amount of fat in recipes and taste them before adding all the butter that is suggested. Google is a great holiday tool, just search terms like: "healthier pumpkin pie" or "bean casserole without the cream". We don’t have to cut out these foods, we can simply make some wonderfully flavorful and healthy versions of them.
6. Location, location, location. Don't hang out right next to the food table. This will help you avoid making multiple stops at your favorite thing on the table. Fill your plate and go eat somewhere and return only if you absolutely can't live without an additional bite of something.
7. Be mindful of meal times. If you are going to a party at 7 pm, don't eat a huge meal right before. Same thing, if you go to a potluck at 3 pm towards the end of your work day, avoid a large lunch or a large dinner. Try to spread those extra calories and budget them from your normal meal times.
8. Don't overdo the alcohol. Wine, beer, cocktails, hot buttered rum... need I go on? Just be careful, sip slowly, choose an occasion or two you will drink at rather than choosing to drink at each event. These calories are some of the quickest that will add on the pounds during the holidays. If you know you'll be headed to a few more than usual outings where you'll be having a drink, then choose to skip the glass of wine at dinner when it's just you and the family.
9. Control what you can. You may not be able to control what is served for you at parties, but you can control the dinner table at home. When it is within your power to control the food options, choose healthy, vegetable rich meals so you can give yourself some license when it is time to enjoy the festivities with others.
Above all, eat mindfully and savor the food no matter what it is. When we eat with guilt and mindlessness, we tend to eat more and it becomes a much less pleasurable experience. It’s possible to enjoy the holiday season without making food the enemy and feeling bad about our choices. Keep up the color, scale back the portions, eat with intention and joy.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
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