As the leaves begin to change color, we naturally get excited about the approaching holiday season. Halloween costumes are replaced with Thanksgiving decorations, and we anticipate the tastes and aromas of the holiday kitchen. We also think about the 5- to 10-pound weight gain that can occur from October to January and vow that this year will be different. Impossible? Not with these strategies!
Sometimes, making a family favorite healthier means simply replacing the fat and sugar with better ingredients. Many cookbooks today offer “light” or “healthy” versions of recipes, so check out the latest offerings at your favorite bookstore. Nothing replaces the satisfaction and comfort of a family favorite—or the potential for high-fat, high-calorie indulgence—but you can still prepare your specialties. Try replacing high-fat dairy in sauces and dressing with equal amounts of low- or no-fat yogurt. Mix steamed cauliflower in your food processor with low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, salt, and pepper for a healthy alternative to mashed potatoes. Switch your oils to olive or canola; look for spritzer bottles in any housewares department, and replace your cooking sprays with heart-healthy oils. Sneak more vegetables into every recipe, from soup stocks to stuffings. Swap half or more of the white flour in your gravy with whole-wheat flour—you’ll never taste the difference, and you’ll benefit from the extra fiber. Vow to create one vegetarian holiday classic each year. Or do what the experts at the American Heart Association recommend: Splash vegetables with a little vinegar or citrus right before serving to bring forth their full flavor.
Food and mood
Do you have any of those harmless Halloween miniatures hidden in your kitchen cabinet? Are you tempted to lick the bowl while baking brownies for your daughter’s holiday school party? Give in to these temptations and you write the script for mood swings that divert you from the happiness you desire. Here’s why: It’s believed that carbohydrates increase the brain’s production of serotonin, a feel-good chemical that gives you a temporary sugar high. But then comes the crash as your body absorbs that free-floating sugar from your bloodstream, followed by cravings for more. That temporary binge sets off a host of reactions in our bodies that can affect our moods, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
. We often reach for food for comfort, especially during the frenetic holidays, with their influx of parties, relatives, and expectations both fulfilled and denied. But you end up hurting yourself even more when you use food to medicate your feelings. Instead of a chocolate-chip cookie while you mindlessly wrap packages, watch a fun family video such as home movies from holidays past. Rather than ice cream on the road to Grandma’s house, try stopping for a walk in the woods en route. When you must indulge, do so in a healthy way: Have one premium dark chocolate or a glass of rich, smooth merlot. Stop and savor the moment—this is, after all, an indulgence. Treat it like one.
Celebrate your guests
The holidays should be centered on good food, friends and family. Spend a few moments preparing activities and treats that will help your loved ones stay their healthy best. Invite them to join you for a walk through the neighborhood or a local park before you dine. Take a tip from the movie The Big Chill
and challenge your friends to a little front-yard football—winner sets the table and, well, everyone else does the dishes!
Set out heart-healthy nibblers like cut vegetables, popcorn, roasted nuts or dried fruits and raisins. But put them in a brandy snifter or a similar rimmed bowl so that your family and guests have to lift and pour to indulge. This will keep them from mindless munching as they mingle. Place food throughout your house so that your guests have to stand and move around—don’t set up a buffet line; that encourages a subsequent sit-down chow. Most of all, relax. Take time to look at your food. Enjoy its colors and textures. Savor the aromas drifting up from dishes around you. Enjoy each bite as you focus on how your food feels and tastes in your mouth. Put your fork down between each bite, and always remember to compliment the cook—even if that’s you!