by: Cindy Gray
Just the thought of THE HOLIDAYS can bring pangs of panic and fear to many. For some, spending the holidays with their family brings warm and fuzzy thoughts to mind. For others, gathering for any extended period of time with THE FAMILY is just short of a train wreck. But for just about everyone, the holidays invite a different kind of wreck, call it a diet-wreck, one filled with calorie-rich and sodium-laden foods resulting in swollen fingers, puffy faces, and the kind of spare tire nobody wants in their trunk.
But, regardless of what types of holidays you and yours tend to celebrate, you can deal with them—enjoy them, even!—and yet not fall prey to the diet-wreck that often accompanies their celebratory nature. So what can you do to prepare yourself, to become a Healthy Holiday Survivalist?
To make the most of this holiday season, here are a few easy-to-use survival tips:
BYOP (Bring Your Own Pumpkin pie, that is. Or BYOT for bring your own turkey, or tofu if you don't eat meat. You get the idea.) Chances are you know the people and the places you will be visiting, so be prepared! The average holiday meal can easily exceed 2,000 fat-laden calories. Don't obsess about what NOT to eat, (guilty feelings are very toxic) instead learn about delicious, healthy foods that may already be on your shoppng list. If Great Aunt Marcy tends to cook a bit heavy-handed, offer to bring (or sneak in) a healthy version of a holiday standard. Here are a few:
Pumpkins— A beautiful veggie, loaded with vitamin A and fiber. Tailor this year's pumpkin pie with an egg substitute, light cream (or low-fat evaporated milk, or soy milk). Avoid transfat in your pie crust, or make your own without shortening. Use natural sugar substitutes like stevia, honey, brown rice syrup or agave syrup. (Bonus: Survivalists have been known to catapult pumpkins at warring tribe's camps.)
Cranberries, rich with vitamin C, naturally low in calories, coupled with dietary fiber and manganese. With an abundance of proanthocyanidins, the type of antioxidant that helps to keep bacteria from adhering to the lining of the bladder and urinary tract. Skip the canned cranberry sauce and whip up a batch of your own. Simply simmer fresh cranberries with a little orange juice and zest, sweeten with a natural sweetener, and top with mandarin oranges and chopped walnuts. You can have seconds of this, and thirds too!
The sweet potato, often ignored until the holidays, when grandma baked a casserole laden with tons of brown sugar and marshmallows. Yuk! Sweet potato is a root veggie, and a rich source of antioxidants such as vitamin C and beta-carotene. Loaded with potassium and a delicious, edible skin that provides the health benefits of fiber, making the sweet potato a healthy holiday food. Try something different this year and cut them into wedges and roast them drizzled with olive oil and rosemary or your favorite fresh herbs. Sweet potatoes are also delicous mashed with buttermilk, added to a harvest squash soup, or baked and served simply like a baked white potato. (Raw sweet potatoes also make a good weapon when needed at a holiday gathering.)
What about good old-fashioned green beans? While they may be one of the healthiest holiday foods out there, (and an excellent source manganese, vitamins A, C, K, fiber, folate, iron and potassium), the traditional green bean casserole is high in calories and sodium. Help this delicious dish to survive by making a low-fat version with fat-free cream of mushroom soup and a heart-healthy butter substitute. For extra healthy flavor, cook some onions in olive oil first, add fresh mushrooms, and mix this into the recipe.
And finally, THE BIRD... the big, bad bird... the turkey. This beloved bird is an excellent source of protein, and provides the least amount of fat per serving, compared to other meats, if you pass on the skin. And while you're passing, try passing on the ham too. Ham is loaded with fat and is high in sodium, so make it easier to pass on this holiday season by not serving it at all. (Don't forget sticks or twigs in case you need to build a fire.)
BYOP also means Bring Your Own Papaya enzymes for knotting tummies and holiday indigestion.
Fill Your Tank Before Heading Out
Before soldiering out into the great beyond, heading for your holiday destination, think smart: Start out your day with a healthy breakfast like oatmeal, yoghurt and fresh fruit—that way you're not famished when you arrive at the party. At the party, eat plenty of fresh veggies, with a low-cal dip on the side (even if you have to bring it.) If you partake at the party, drink a healthy glass of wine, even a wine spritzer to make the beverage last longer, top it off with fresh citrus for added taste and flair. Feel confident with fresh breath at a party by brushing your teeth and flossing often—remember, dental plaque has been linked with cardiovascular disease, so keep 'em clean!
Size Does Matter
Use portion control to avoid poison control! In challenging nutritional situations like these, believe me, portion control is your ultimate weapon. Aunt What's Her Name may take your refusal of seconds (and thirds!) as a personal affront to her cooking talents (cat hair aside), so become skillful at moving food around your plate (and into a foil-lined pocket—you're prepared, remember?) Eat smaller portions, and don't buy into the holiday guilt trip that can drag you down in spirit.
Use Your Senses
Using your senses is a no-brainer, but you need a brain to do it! So stay rested, feed your brain and body with a good, quality multi-vitamin, multi-mineral supplement. When visiting in-laws or outlaws, come armed and prepared with a fine-tuned sense of humor and big dose of common sense. If the energy gets weird, envision yourself observing your self...and don't let “them” get to you. Smile and nod to that cousin in the corner with the chip (and dip) on her shoulder, staring transfixed into the e-gadget seemingly built into her palm. Ignore that serving of sour grapes, even if they are organic. Sharpen your tools of defense, and proudly outsmart them by being skillfully oblivious to any real or perceived dysfunction. Luckily the holidays only come 'round once a year! So enjoy them!
Holiday Survivalist Gift List
Don't be caught with your gift-pants down! Shop well ahead of time (you're prepared, remember?!) and choose an assortment of easy-to-buy, wrap-, transport- and give- gifts. A nice bottle of wine or sparkling juice in a pretty gift bag is a good hostess idea. What about gadget-store gifts cards for the gloomy cousin, or a basket of cat toys and accessories for Aunt What's Her Name? Shopping throughout the year is my personal saving grace. I aim for being done by Halloween—but don't tell anyone, because they will hate you for your preparedness, and not invite you to their party, which could be a strategy you might find useful.
These are just a few ideas for making your holiday healthy and delicious. The two can go hand in hand. The holiday season is a season of celebration and spending time with friends and family, no matter how stressful or crazy they may be. So when Uncle Tudball dispenses a welcoming whack on your back, strong enough to dislodge a rum ball, remember this holiday season, the key word is survival! Take it with a grain of sea salt! Be prepared. Happy holidays.