We all seem to approach the holidays with equal measures of excitement and dread. I get to decorate the house! Throw a party! Get dressed up! versus So much food! So many desserts! Not another party…
It can be overwhelming, especially if you’re wrestling with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or other health conditions that mean you really must be conscious of what you eat over the holidays. Whether you need to keep your blood sugars in check or just want to still be able to fit into your skinny jeans on January 1, here’s a holiday survival guide. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll meet the new year with cheer!
1. Don’t starve yourself.
One of the best ways to prevent overeating is to eat often, beginning with breakfast. How many times have you ‘saved up’ for a party by not eating all day…and ended up eating everything in sight? Nourishing your body every three to five hours—beginning with breakfast—keeps your hunger cues in check, your energy level up, your blood sugars stable, and keeps you in holiday cheer. You know our advice: eat mostly vegetables, some fruits, protein, fiber-filled carbohydrates and good, healthy fats. Your body will thank you.
2. Practice Portion Control
We all have our favorite holiday foods, whether it’s sweet chocolate pecan brittle or savory cheese and sausage biscuits. This time of year, people gather together and make memories with the people they love, primarily around well-loved food. Enjoy a (small) serving of your holiday favorites, completely guilt free. Eat them slowly, savor the flavors, and then wait 20 minutes after you finish eating before considering a second helping. The first few bites are always the best. Savor them!
3. Eat what you really want.
When you arrive at a holiday dinner or party, eat what you really want first. If you try to ‘be good’ and avoid your favorite food, you usually end up eating all the way around it…and then going back and eating it anyway (on top of everything else). So, eat what you really want. Take a small portion and really enjoy it. Take the time to relish every delicious bite. It might be another year before you taste it again.
4. Limit your options.
If you’re in charge of the buffet table, make only the food that your family really loves and enjoys. Studies show that the more choices we have, the more we eat. So skip all of the extras and only put out the real favorites. You’ll end up eating less overall, but getting more pleasure out of the foods you love, because you won't try that green bean casserole that you don't even really like. And if you’re visiting someone else’s buffet, be strategic. Stay clear of those foods you don’t love. You don’t have to be polite and put everything on your plate. Just fake a food allergy: I'm sorry, but I'm allergic to fruit cake....
5. Drink Responsibly
I’m not talking about avoiding drinking and driving (although that’s very important, too). But holiday cocktails (even non-alcoholic ones) can be packed with excess sugar. Think eggnog, hot apple cider, rum punch… If you really love eggnog, enjoy a small cup. Most of the time, choose red or white wine or champagne. They are lower in sugar and calories than a mixed drink. Even better, studies show moderate wine consumption (one glass a day for women, two for men) reduces the risk of heart disease. Moderation is key, so be sure to alternative those drinks with some water or sparkling water!
6. Eat the real thing.
Don’t try to make fake ‘lo-cal’ or 'low fat' substitutes of your favorite foods. When making your holiday dishes and desserts, use real sugar—sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey—and not artificial sweeteners. Use real bacon, not turkey bacon (which is higher in sodium and has the same number of calories). Use real butter, not fake butter (which could contain trans fats—really bad for your heart). You get the picture. Get real, eat small portions, and enjoy yourself.
7. Experiment with New Recipes
Holiday recipes seem to always guild the lily—adding extra sugar and butter even when it’s not needed. Do a little experimenting with your traditional holiday recipes. You know the sweet potato casserole that has a cup of sugar…and heavy whipping cream…and butter? And that doesn’t include the streusel topping! Try reducing the sugar in half or quarters, swapping the heavy whipping cream for half and half or whole milk, and reducing the butter by half. Chances are, it will actually taste better—and you’ll certainly feel better after eating it!
8. Take Advantage of Seasonal Ingredients
Fall and winter provide us with an incredible bounty of vegetables and fruits for our holiday table. Take advantage and experiment—with brussels sprouts, delicata squash, kale, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, fresh cranberries... A variety of vegetables and fruits provides incredible nutrition (think antioxidants!) and makes you feel good (thanks primarily to fiber!).
9. Get Moving.
When the days get shorter and darker, our desire to be active wanes. But being active is one of the best ways to keep your metabolism humming along, reduce your appetite, and burn off that second piece of pie. For your own well-being, start a new holiday tradition, like a brisk walk around the neighborhood to look at the holiday lights, skating a few laps around the ice rink, hitting the slopes or going sledding. It doesn’t have to be a full day commitment. Even a few minutes here and there makes a difference!
10. Be Nice to Yourself
If you don't pay attention to any of these guidelines and you completely overdo it...be nice to yourself! If you overeat one day, just make healthy, balanced choices the next day. It's that simple.
And to get you started on your holiday cooking, here's a recipe for one of our childhood favorites, recreated with less sugar, butter and cream, but still delicious!
Sweet Potato Pecan Streusel Casserole
Serves 10 - 12
3 pounds sweet potatoes (about 5 large)
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup of half and half
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or bourbon
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 cup pecans, chopped if desired
½ dark brown sugar
¼ cup butter, melted
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place whole sweet potatoes on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Pierce with a knife. Place in the oven and bake for about an hour, or until very tender. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
Scoop the flesh of the sweet potatoes into a large mixing bowl. Add maple syrup, half and half, melted butter, vanilla, eggs and salt. Blend with a mixer on medium-high until smooth.
Make the streusel topping. In another medium bowl, blend together the whole wheat flour, pecans, brown sugar, butter and salt, until the mixture is coated with butter.
Pour sweet potato mixture into a buttered casserole dish. Top with streusel topping. Place in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until casserole is puffed and streusel is browned on top. If it starts to get too brown, cover with foil.
Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.