Lighten Holiday Heft Without Sacrificing Taste or Joy

Amy Hendel | Oct 23, 2017

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October 31 through the first of January is a food fest. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and Christmas mean endless food celebrations. It’s pretty hard to “be moderate” when navigating all the temptations that come with holiday festivities. You can, however, embrace some sensible food behaviors and recipe modifications that will help you enjoy a lighter, but still very tasty, holiday season. You can have holiday joy without all the holiday heft.

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Some basic holiday lifestyle rules: Part 1

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As crazy as the holidays can get, do not abandon your exercise commitment. You can shave off exercise time with interval training — or HIIT — and those calorie-burning efforts will help to balance out extra indulgences. Don’t skip meals and especially don’t skip breakfast. That morning meal stokes your metabolism. Consider limiting grains during regular meals so you can have portion-controlled grain treats and desserts when you celebrate. Eat mini-meals and healthy snacks on the day of a holiday feast.

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Some basic holiday lifestyle rules: Part 2

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Make plant-based proteins your food friend, along with loads of vegetables, simple fruits and small amounts of healthy fats. Staying strict with your regular meals means you can have small splurges throughout the holiday season. Stay hydrated with water (sparkling water can be especially filling) and unsweetened tea. Remember to have a glass of water between alcoholic drinks. That will slow you down considerably. Low-sodium broth or a small Greek yogurt can also help to manage cravings.

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Some basic holiday lifestyle rules: Part 3

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If you do overindulge, eat light the next day. Consider a modified fast one or two days a week through the holiday season to help manage the extra indulgences — just check with your doctor first. Don’t skimp on sleep — poor sleep can encourage overeating. Avoid stress eating — try chewing gum and remember to count the calories in the multiple tastings you do while cooking and prepping food. Send leftovers with guests to limit post-celebration temptation.

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Make vegetables the theme and offer options like rosemary-garlic marinated vegetables, orange-oregano marinated vegetables, a kale-artichoke dip with crudités, marinated lemon-garlic shrimp, and marinated olives with lemon, thyme, and rosemary. Use a slow cooker and make a hearty bean soup — calorie-light and packed with protein — or modify a pumpkin soup recipe by using silken tofu instead of cream. Spiralize zucchini and squash and top with roasted peppers.

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Main dishes

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Serving the main course as a buffet will get your guests up and moving. During main dish preparation watch the salt — use fresh herbs instead. Serve skinless poultry dishes to reduce fat. Offer a fish casserole so your guests have a heart-healthy option. Bake, steam, grill, or roast instead of frying the main dish. Go Mediterranean and make a Moroccan-Spiced Turkey with Aromatic Orange Pan Jus or try French Onion Turkey Breast with caramelized onions as the stars.

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Side dishes: Part 1

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Instead of bean casserole, sauté green beans and shallots with garlic and healthy oil. Sprinkle with walnuts or slivered almonds. Try a spinach casserole. Swap cornbread for whole grain rolls. Swap evaporated skim milk for cream or butter in mashed potatoes. Leave the nutrient-rich skins on and add a light dusting of cheese. Swap out butter, margarine, or sugar in candied yam dishes with fruit puree, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and pumpkin spice. Try grain-free side dishes. Make salad the centerpiece.

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Side dishes: Part 2

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Use low-sodium vegetable broth, dried and fresh herbs, oil spray, olive oil, and non-stick cooking surfaces to reduce use of unhealthy oils and fats. Use healthier mayonnaise (canola or olive-oil based options), and sauté onions, fresh garlic or shallots to add flavor while reducing fat calories. It’s unclear whether sugar substitutes are “better,” so simply try to cut sugar with all-fruit jams, jellies, or puree. Beware of canned cranberry sauce, which is chock full of added sugar. Yogurt, bean, and hummus dips can substitute for high-fat dips.

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Use lighter whipped topping that you can buy readymade or make yourself. Create lighter options that make fruit a centerpiece — poached pears, baked apples, and fruit salad. If you do make decadent desserts, create mini portion sizes ahead of time. Use yogurt, silken tofu, skim milk, light sour cream, light cream cheese, or Neufchatel (a lighter cheese) in recipes. Find new versions of traditional desserts to cut fat, sugar, and calories. You can find hundreds of recipes online.

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Holiday drinks include hot chocolate, spiced and mulled cider, coffee with holiday flavors (loads of sugar and fat), coffees with liquor, wine, fancy tea lattes, holiday-themed smoothies, and the list goes on. Most people don’t count liquid calories. As much as possible use water infused with fruit, zero-calorie sparkling water, unsweetened teas (there are new veggie-based broth teas), and wine spritzers. Use skim milk in hot cocoa and lighter whipped topping. Drink a glass of water between alcoholic drinks.

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Halloween-specific tips

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Make the “healthy” Halloween pumpkin the central theme. Kids can carve and decorate pumpkins, clean and roast pumpkin seeds. Focus on decorating and tricks rather than emphasizing treats. Slice small bananas in half so you have two four inch “ends,” and slide a Popsicle stick into the bottom. Stick little chocolate chip “eyes” on the heads to make a face and freeze them. Bob for apples, slice them, and make a healthy dip with Greek yogurt, peanut butter, honey and cinnamon. You can also make baked apple chips.

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Thanksgiving-specific tips

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Why not roast the turkey this year?  You can use an olive oil and herb mix as a rub instead of traditional butter. You can also stuff the turkey with citrus — cut up lemons, limes, and oranges to create a delicious and moist fruity flavor. This recipe makes sufficient juices to baste the turkey, creating healthy “gravy.” If you do make traditional gravy, refrigerate it for several hours to skim the fat. Use leftover turkey meat sans skin for post-Thanksgiving meals like turkey wraps and salads.

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Some final tips

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Be wary of premade dough, baked goods, sauces, and canned goods, which have large amounts of sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Cook from scratch so you control ingredients, portions, and calories. Wear a belt when you eat as a built in “filler indicator.” Nurse a hot cup of tea during meals and get up between courses. Make the focus of the holiday about the social aspect, and let the special food simply support these wonderful celebrations. Your New Year’s Resolutions should be a “continuation” of healthy habits!