Chestnuts roasting on an open fire... and you are trying very hard not to think about all the foods that are a part of the holidays but not a part of a healthy diet.
Don't despair. We bring you news of great joy: you can have a healthier, happier holiday season. Here are four ways you can improve your holiday season:
1. Put a Spin on Holiday Classics
You can still have most of your favorites, only slightly improved. It's OK to tweak Mom's recipe, especially if it calls for a can or two of Cream of Whatever Soup. Go for the real food version. Season your food with spices and herbs. Replace the canned creaminess with a simple bechamel or veloute sauce, or use cooked blended veggies.
Veloute sauce is basically the same as bechamel; instead of milk, you use a stock of your choice. The beauty of making your own sauce is that you know exactly what's in it and you can make adjustments for people with food insensitivities and allergies.
Now, imagine the "traditional" green bean casserole, made with fresh green beans, sauteed mushrooms, a touch of homemade bechamel sauce with nutmeg and fried onions on top. All the familiar textures and flavors will be there, it will just taste ten times better.
This article brings few more tips for healthier "swaps". Do you have a new and improved holiday classic? Let us know in comments!
2. Knowledge Is Power
First, know your enemies. There are many offenders in the "traditional" holiday fodder. Number one? Sugar. We have been told for decades to avoid fat like plague but it's really sugar that's responsible for a host of health issues.
Sugar is rather addictive and it can be hard to eat it in moderation. The Whole30 program talks about a "sugar dragon" inside of us that grows bigger with each sweet bite and as it grows bigger, it demands more sugar.
To make things more difficult, the cold, short days of the holiday season often bring us emotional discomfort and sugar seems to be the perfect substance to chase away the holiday blues.
Second, know yourself. It's important to understand why you eat what you eat. It's twice as important when it comes to sugary food. If you absolutely have to have your Mom's Christmas cookies because the taste brings back good memories and she would be hurt if you didn't eat any, go ahead. Eat slowly and mindfully. Savor every bite. That way, it will be much easier to really eat just one.
If you know that sugar is your drug of choice to cope with more difficult issues, try to look for alternatives. If you can, go for a walk or stretch. Hug someone you love. Try to do something rewarding - your brain chemistry will provide you with that same "sweet" feeling and your body won't need to cope with all the negative side effects of sugar.
Do you still just want that sweet taste? Good news: Mother Nature gave you plenty of sweetness in a form that's much healthier than that white stuff (no, I don't mean snow). Have you guessed yet? Right! It's fruit! To get the most health benefits, choose whole fruit over fruit juices; the fiber in whole fruit will help your body process the naturally occurring sugar more slowly. Unsweetened dried fruit can be a good choice as well, just keep in mind that the sugars are more concentrated, so you should only eat small amounts.
3. Fill Up on the Good Stuff
Before you head to the next party, eat something healthy. Go for protein and vegetables, to feel satisfied but not uncomfortably full. The veggies that are in season during winter months are hearty and many are perfect for roasting. How is that for comfort food? Add a quickly seared serving of grass-fed beef and you are ready to face whatever the season throws at you! Or, whatever is served at the party.
If you like spicy food, 'tis the season to eat some! Especially if you are worried about portion control. That wonderful heat will not only brighten your day, it will also tame your appetite.
Our holiday to-do lists tend to be too long for comfort. In order to get everything done, we often put a lot on a back burner, including eating. Going hungry all day and stuffing yourself at dinner is far from ideal. Stopping for a quick bite at a fast food place is also a bad idea. Be prepared: stock up on healthy snacks that are easy to carry around.
The holidays tend to center around food but it doesn't mean we should focus on it too much. Remember, stress is not healthy! So, if you are stressing over eating too many cookies, take a deep breath and give yourself a break. That extra adrenaline is worse than the extra sugar.
Managing stress during the holidays will help you manage what you eat. Here are a few tips:
The most important thing to remember about the holiday season: all of it is supposed to be fun and bring you joy.
Thanks for reading! We would like to wish you and your family a peaceful and healthy holiday season.