Healthy Holiday Eating 101

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By Denise Murray

Health and recipe blogger

These are simple steps to enjoying the buffet filled days and tempting treats that await you. You might even find you've given yourself an early New Year's Resolution by incorporating these healthy tips into your routine now. 

  • Don't skip meals to "save" room for that extra treat…Eat breakfast every day. This starts your metabolism going early.  You can however save your sweet-eating opportunities. You know you're going to enjoy the abundance of homemade cookies or Christmas dessert at grandma's.
  • Everyone wants to splurge once in a while. The key is to allow yourself sweets only at special times.  Skip the chocolates and candy dishes. Try something different like clementines, a handful of dried cranberries, apricots, papaya or slice up a mango as a special holiday treat.
  • Have a healthy snack if you're hungry between meals, but don't continue to eat the same amount at meal times as if you had not snacked.  Know that being hungry is a feeling of needing food. You're not hungry whenever you want to be, but when you HAVE to be. Have vegetables cut up and prepared beforehand, you'll be more likely to grab them to snack on. An apple cored and lightly brushed with lemon juice to keep it from browning can be passed out to snack on, passing over the cookie jar. How about some spicy grilled chicken? A tropical smoothie with low-fat yogurt?  Marinara sauce on pasta? Lean meats, sliced chicken or turkey rolled up with a piece of lettuce, spread with a bit of low fat cream cheese makes an easy snack.
  • Dark Chocolate Chips can satisfy sweets cravings with a small handful tossed into a cup of yogurt or granola.  Melt a handful of morsels for dipping fresh apples slices. The possibilities are limitless with a little imagination.
  • It's healthier to eat five small meals a day than three larger.  This keeps your body's metabolism up.  In general, portion sizes are too big. Your stomach is about the size of your fist & will stretch when you're used to eating a lot. If you eat small amounts of food at a time, your stomach won't stretch out like it does when you gorge yourself eat slowly.
  • Chew your food; take small bites so you can stop when you are satisfied, not full; the brain needs about 20 minutes to get the "Not hungry anymore" signal.
  • Instead of piling your plate with turkey and all the fixings, take smaller portions. If you're still hungry after dinner, go back for a second round of veggies.   Instead of loading your plate to the brim with sweets, select a smaller plate, and just take a couple of items to nibble on. If there's a fruit platter around, pile your plate full of grapes, berries and melon balls instead of handfuls of snicker doodles.
  • Drink fruit juice instead of pop or eggnog during the holidays. Many fruit juices contain a lot of sugars or are made from very little fruit juice. Always read your labels.  You can still have one glass of soda or eggnog at supper, but avoid numerous cans of pop throughout the holidays.
  • Make a fruit punch for Christmas or New Year's and add soda water instead of pop.  Mulled cider is a good alternative.  Have egg nog in a smaller amount and dilute it with skim milk or use fat free egg nog.
  • Don't waste calories on drinks. You may think you're hungry when, in fact, you're just thirsty. Most drinks have 100-200 calories, and don't make you any fuller. If you normally have three drinks a day other than water, that's about 500 calories that you could cut out by having water instead.  Try adding a slice of lemon, lime, cucumber or orange to your water for a great taste.
  • Many holiday foods include dairy products. Lots of low fat versions are available. Always read your labels.  "Low fat" sometimes means extra sugar or other ingredients added, thinking you're eating something healthy when there is no real difference.  Look for low fat cheeses, cheese slices and cheese spreads. If you use products that are high in fat, such as butter, mayonnaise, sour cream, spread them very thinly and use small amounts.
  • Choose leaner cuts of meat for your holiday gatherings. Turkey is one of the leanest & white meat is generally leaner than dark. Trim the visible fat off of meats; drain excess fat off after cooking. When preparing a roast, baste with low fat broth instead of the drippings from the pan. Remove skin from poultry, & serve fish more often.
  • Make gravy from a low fat broth rather than the drippings. If your gravy recipe calls for milk, use skim milk. Homemade cranberry sauce is easy to prepare and the nutrients are retained. Try using cranberry sauce on your turkey instead of gravy.
  • Vegetables contain little or no fat.  Avoid smothering your vegetables with thick creamy sauces or butter. Potatoes, for example, contain no fat, little salt and the skins are a good source of fiber which helps lower cholesterol levels. Try leaving the skins on the potatoes when you mash them. When whipping the potatoes, blend with skim milk or low fat sour cream or yogurt.  Include two or three vegetables with your meal prepared with little or no fat. Flavor can be added by spices and herbs.  Salads are a great addition to any holiday meal. Be sure to choose a low fat dressing or ask your host to let you add your own to control the amount.
  • Dinner may be filling, but what is a holiday feast without dessert? Substitute some healthier suggestions:   Angel food cake contains little or no fat and can make a great dessert when served with strawberries, raspberries or a fresh fruit salad.  Make your pumpkin pie using evaporated skim milk and top with low fat ice cream or frozen yogurt.  Make 'wise' dessert choices rather than deny yourself. Have a smaller portion and savor every mouthful. Opt for desserts that are lower in fat and sugar. For example, if faced with a plate of cookies, decide to choose the sugar cookies or gingerbread over shortbread cookies.
  • Change from eating whenever you can and exercising only when you must' to 'eating only when you must and exercising whenever you can. Change your thinking around, and work towards developing a healthier lifestyle. Exercise each day, even if it's a brisk walk. Exercise speeds up digestion and can help you gauge whether or not you're hungry. 
  • Combine gym-related work with "fun" workouts like ice-skating, backyard football or playing soccer with the cousins & kids.

Best of Cooking, Denise

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