A Special Approach
The holidays are different kinds of days, with different kinds of eating — and we should be able to kick back and relax a bit. No one wants to trudge their way through all of November and December resentful and angry that they can’t have a cookie! “Holiday eating is special,” says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, a registered dietitian and the director of wellness coaching at the Cleveland Clinic. “I encourage my clients to consume foods at the holidays that they wouldn’t eat the rest of the year, and to enjoy them with portion control in mind.” Instead of looking at everything you can’t have during the holidays, think instead about budgeting your calories and making smart decisions.
Good Things Come in Small Packages
Practicing portion control — eating a little bit at a time — is the key to a satisfying and healthier holiday. Here, a few tips from Jamieson-Petonic to try this season:
• Use smaller plates, such as six-inch appetizer and dessert plates and eight-inch dinner plates. (The holidays are a great time to use that vintage china, since plates used to be much smaller!)
• Start your meal with crunchy veggies (but not too much low-fat dip); not only will the water content of the veggies start to make you feel full, all that chewing will slow you down.
• Keep extra food in another room altogether; retire to the living room right after eating your meal, instead of lingering at the dining room table.
Don't Be a Turkey
“Deep-frying is the new trend, but I encourage people to avoid it,” says Kristine Clark, PhD, RD, director of sports nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. There are so many wonderful (and healthy) ways to prepare turkey, an excellent lean protein that’s full of essential amino acids. Roasting on a rack, so fat drips away, is probably the best. It’s also smart to avoid eating the turkey skin—if you absolutely love it, then just have a small amount. There may be taste differences (and political considerations, like buying local), but there is no nutritional difference between a fresh or frozen turkey, Dr. Clark says. Dark meat does have slightly more calories than white meat, but it also has more iron.
Veggies: The New Comfort Food
Casseroles are the very definition of comfort, but they’re often loaded with things like sodium, heavy cream, butter and cheese. With some creative re-engineering, you can still serve delicious side dishes inspired by those casseroles. Simply take the “filler” veggies of the casserole (like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, sweet peppers, butternut or acorn squash and brussels sprouts) and make them the main event! Bake or steam your veggies, and garnish with things like lemon juice and salt and pepper; almonds, olive oil and balsamic vinegar; or even spices like curry or ginger.
Make Greens Grand
Instead of plain old iceberg lettuce, make your salad something beautiful and grand. “Spinach has two times the dietary fiber of iceberg lettuce. It also has vitamin C, potassium, iron and calcium,” Dr. Clark says. No need to stop at spinach, she says. “Try adding more unusual greens, like mustard greens and arugula, for an unexpected taste.” Toasted pecans, lighter cheeses (like feta), tangerine slices, apples, pears and dried fruit are all great salad fixings. Before you buy a bottled fat-free dressing, take a look at the sugar content and the amount of preservatives: You might get more bang for your calorie buck by making your own from simple ingredients like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard and lemon juice, Dr. Clark says.
A New Twist on Stuffing
Stuffing gets a bad rap, but making your own is actually a great opportunity to boost your fruits and veggies, Dr. Clark says. It doesn’t have to be all about starch and sausage. “Add onion, celery, mushrooms, green peppers, raisins, dried cherries or cranberries, dates, dried plums and even dried apricots.” Substitute homemade, low-fat vegetable broth in place of higher fat, higher sodium broths. You don’t need to worry about your stuffing being too dry: The fresh fruits and veggies will add the moisture that fat typically creates.
Visions of Sweet Potatoes
How can you not love something with the word sweet in its name? Sweet potatoes are, in fact, a sweet choice. Though white potatoes certainly have nutrients, calorie for calorie, you’ll get more from sweet potatoes. “A medium sweet potato has about four grams more fiber than a medium white potato, along with more beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant,” Dr. Clark says. Plus, sweet potatoes really need no condiments or fixings to enjoy (unlike the butter and sour cream we load on white potatoes). Bake them whole, or for sweet potato “fries” that aren’t fried: peel, cut into wedges, add a little olive oil, salt and pepper and bake on a cookie sheet.
Don't Desert Your Desserts
If you’re baking this holiday season, look for dessert recipes that include fruit, such as fruit tarts, cobblers, crumbles and puddings. If you’re going to splurge, try to get some nutrients in the process, Dr. Clark says. “Pumpkin pie can be fantastically nutritious,” she says. It’s even better if you can eliminate the crust, such as with a pumpkin soufflé or pumpkin custard. Making cookies? Add oatmeal. If you can, use dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, and prune puree (or even applesauce) in place of oil for things like muffins and quick breads.
A Fresh Start Every Day
It’s easy to fall out of our routines during the holidays; do your best to keep up your habit of eating breakfast, no matter what. Breakfast is your fresh start every day; even if you indulged more than you should have the night before, don’t begin the next day by skimping (which will only make you more hungry). “Start your day with a high-fiber breakfast — something that will fill you up and give you energy throughout the day,” Jamieson-Petonic says. She recommends steel-cut oats with figs, a tablespoon of ground flaxseed, some berries and a glass of milk — which provides complex carbs, lean protein, heart-healthy omega-3s and plenty of fiber.
You don’t want to be a calorie spendthrift, but you also should be careful of hoarding them. “Eat more frequent, smaller meals throughout the holidays to maintain normal blood sugar and energy levels,” Jamieson-Petonic says. For example, if you have a holiday party to attend that night, instead of “saving up” calories all day long (which will most likely send you in a screaming mad dash to the buffet, where you will camp out all night), try eating several smaller meals (for example, oatmeal; an apple and a piece of string cheese; a turkey sandwich and yogurt) throughout the day. That way, when you get to your party, you can take time to consider which treats you really want to try.
Eating smarter when you’re traveling is a matter of preparation, Dr. Clark says. If you’ll be heading to the airport, plan 10 to 15 minutes into your schedule to pack some nonperishable snacks before you leave. “Even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be better than some of the fast food options out there,” Dr. Clark says. Pieces of fruit, trail mix (make your own from raw nuts and dried fruit) and whole-grain crackers all stash away easily. If you’re taking a road trip and you know that you’ll be relying on fast food, research healthier options ahead of time by going to sites like HealthyDiningFinder.com, where you can search by zip code.