It’s almost here. Holiday season! We all know what this means: deliciousness in the form of pumpkin-everything, travel, potlucks, parties, sweet treats galore, and other food temptations nearly everywhere. It’s understandable how anticipating these challenges might create a bit of anxiety when you’re trying to build in healthier eating habits.
The most important thing to remember this holiday season is a healthy habit:
“Focus on the people, not the food.”
This isn’t a license to eat mindlessly. It’s encouragement to spend this holiday season focused on relationships instead of what’s on the menu. It’s about loving our friends and family well and not worrying about or over-indulging in food. It’s permission to eat with purpose, to keep your goals in the front of your mind, and to love yourself and others well.
Enter the Truth Nutrition Holiday Guide. I’m hopeful that some of the information and tips in this Guide will help you to feel confident in your ability to enjoy this holiday to the full without being stuffed full of food! To truly embrace balance in your eating and to focus on the true meaning of the holiday season: deliberately engaging with those we love.
1. Half is best! When it comes to recipes for holiday foods, you’d be surprised by how often half-portions of fat or carb heavy ingredients work well in recipes. You can often cut butter or oil down to ½ of what a recipe calls for and be just fine. If you’re worried about moisture or are baking, you can substitute oil/butter for unsweetened applesauce. You can also use a combo of oil/butter and unsweetened applesauce. I do this often! If a recipe calls for nuts or dried fruit, you can typically eliminate them or easily ½ the suggested amount and save a lot of fat or carbs. Making small changes like this don’t typically alter the taste of the dish but have a big impact in the “macro-friendliness” of a recipe.
2. Have lean protein! One of the easiest ways to stay on track over the holidays is to have lean protein items on hand. If you’re preparing the meal yourself, opt for turkey breast or trimmed ham. If you’re not preparing the meal, plan to bring a dish that has higher protein/low fat. If you’re not sure what will be served then load up on a high protein (low fat/carb) meal RIGHT before heading out. That way you’ll be ahead of the protein curve right out of the gate. If the only options for protein are high fat (most beef options like roast beef or prime rib), do your best to choose a small portion and supplement your protein, if needed, when you get home.
3. Cook items separately. Leave the grease! A lot of people cook with pan drippings during the holiday season. Stay clear of doing that as it adds a tremendous amount of fat to an otherwise lower-fat dish (like veggies or gravy). Also, if you’re going to have stuffing/dressing, choose from the option that wasn’t stuffed into the bird as the bird releases fat as it cooks and the stuffing absorbs it! Choose cooking spray or small amounts of added oils when cooking savory dishes as it will allow you to better control the fat content of the dish.
4. Low fat doesn’t mean unhealthy. Don’t be afraid to substitute with light butter (Land ‘O Lakes), light cream cheese, or reduced fat cheese. Your guests won’t notice a difference and neither will you, I promise! (Except maybe on your scale the next time you weigh in!)
5. Ditch the casseroles. I know this one is likely the hardest. Casseroles speak love in a lot of families, mine included! Corn Casserole or Corn Pudding is loaded with fat. Green Bean Casserole is fat laden, too. Cheesy Potatoes, hot/cold dips, 7 layer salads – all of those are very unbalanced options. Instead, try to substitute different recipes that have a similar feel. For Corn Casserole, opt for charred corn with grilled peppers and onions. Green Bean Casserole can simply be fresh green beans tossed with grilled onions and finished with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Balance doesn’t have to be boring or tasteless. Balance can be super tasty and feel indulgent!
6.When it comes to dessert, control your portion and brush your teeth! Desserts can be really high in fat and carbs, which can negate all of your hard work of choosing balanced options for your main meal. If you find yourself tempted when walking by the dessert table, take a knife and cut a half portion of what you really want, put it on a plate and walk away. Sit down to eat it, enjoy it, and then go brush your teeth! Seriously, brushing your teeth signals an end to the meal! Take your toothbrush and paste with you and discreetly use the bathroom. No one will be the wiser!
7. Go in with a plan. When it comes to enjoying yourself within reason, sometimes just having a plan is more powerful that you might think. Make a plan with yourself to fill your plate with balanced options first: protein, lots of veggies and a denser carb source. After you build a balanced plate add in a few of your holiday favorites, like a small serving of sweet potato casserole or stuffing. If you’re more of a dessert person, then save room for a sweet treat. Also have a plan for how many alcoholic beverages you plan to enjoy. Go in with a set limit of 1-2 drinks for and rotate your alcoholic beverages between water or another calorie free beverage to help you stay on track. Make a deal with yourself and plan for success, and then execute. You’re stronger that you think!
8. Don’t arrive hungry! Instead, have a high protein/low fat meal right before you leave so that you are able to load your plate wisely when it comes time for the main holiday meal. You don’t want to be so hungry that the first walk through the buffet line ends in disaster! And, remember, eat slowly so you can truly enjoy and taste your food. Eating is not a race!
This Survival Guide is meant to help you feel assured and confident that you’re set up for success this holiday season. One of the biggest lessons is that it’s okay not to be perfect. Finding the right balance between sharing special moments and sticking to your goals is important, so don’t be overly critical of yourself. Remember, it’s about focusing on the people and loving them well, not about stuffing yourself with food. When you focus on the people, the eating seems to fall into place. Enjoy this holiday season!