Enjoy Healthy Holiday Eating

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Peg Canal

By Peg Canal, MS, RDN, CDCES Grace Cottage Diabetes Educator

Healthy, holiday, and delicious – can these words go together? Most definitely!

Enjoying a holiday meal doesn’t have to wreck your health plan. With some advance planning, you can find a balance and enjoy the holiday festivities while maintaining your health goals.

What’s the worst thing to say to yourself when you arrive at a holiday gathering and see all the food choices? Don’t say, “I can’t have that,” because this creates a feeling of being deprived. Instead, decide what you want most, and build your other choices around that.

For example, it’s better to say, “I’ll have the mashed potatoes and skip the stuffing.” Or have a small taste of everything, not a heaping mound. Moderation is the key. Make your choices count.

Here are a few other tips that are easy to keep in mind:

  • Try to eat close to your usual time, as this will help keep your blood sugar steady. Don’t skip a meal to save for a holiday party. You’re more likely to overindulge when your resistance is down.
  • Drink lots of water. Water helps you to feel full and aids digestion. Aim for 8 cups daily.
  • Bring a healthy appetizer so you can be sure to start the meal off right. You can also bring a food offering for the meal that is healthy for you.
  • Look over the choices and make a plan, so you can prioritize and savor small portions of your favorites.
  • Slow down, eat mindfully.
  • If you plan to have a sweet treat, try to cut back on other carbs during the meal. Or focus on fruit. For example, having a fruit parfait of unsweetened yogurt, with berries or apples and a nut topping, or even a mini pumpkin tart might provide a lower carb option.
  • Finish off the meal with a cinnamon- or vanilla-nut-flavored unsweetened warm tea (with or without a small portion of dessert).
  • After a holiday meal, you may be tempted to collapse on the couch. Instead, try starting a new tradition with family and friends — an after-dinner walk. Even 15-20 minutes of leisurely walking can help to balance your blood sugar.

Other than that, you can adapt your favorite foods to make them healthier without sacrificing taste. Use whole grain flours. Add extra non-starchy vegetables whenever possible.

Here are three of my favorite healthy holiday recipes.

Crispy Smashed Beets with Goat Cheese: Trim and scrub/peel one lb. beets (6 small/4 medium). Place in a single layer in large saucepan, with ¼ cup balsamic vinegar and 2 sprigs fresh rosemary. Add water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer; cover and cook until beets are very tender (approx.1 hour). Meanwhile, whisk ¼ cup goat cheese (at room temperature) and 2 T milk until smooth; stir in 2 T fresh snipped chives and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Set aside (at room temperature). When beets are tender, transfer to cutting board and cut each in half horizontally. Lightly press each beet with a sturdy small plate or mason jar to flatten, but keep it intact. Sprinkle a bit more salt and pepper on both sides. Heat 1 T oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beets and cook, turning once, until brown on both sides and crispy at the edges. Cook in batches if necessary. Serve with a dollop of the goat cheese mixture.

Parmesan-Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts: Preheat oven to 425˚ F. Toss 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved, with 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, and ¼ tsp each salt and pepper in a large bowl. Spread in an even layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 8 minutes. Remove from oven, add ½ cup sliced shallots to the pan, and stir to combine. Roast for 8 more minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese and 1 T balsamic vinegar; toss to combine. Turn off the oven and return to the warm oven until the cheese is melted, about 2 minutes.

Spiced Walnuts: This recipe uses the holiday spices of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, along with walnuts, and because it has less sugar, it’s healthier than candied nuts. Preheat oven to 325˚ F. Whip one egg white into a foam and coat 3 cups raw walnuts. Mix ¼ cup brown sugar, 1 tsp allspice, ¾ tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp salt, and ¼ tsp cayenne pepper together. Sprinkle over walnuts and mix well. Add 2 T orange juice and mix well. Spread walnuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 10 minutes, then flip walnuts and bake another 10 minutes to help them toast and crisp on each side. Serves 12. You could also make this recipe using pecans.

Check out the American Diabetes Association Food Hub for additional recipe ideas.

Wishing you a happy, HEALTHY, holiday season!