Health Blog

Maximize Flavor and Your Health This Holiday Season

Here’s your recipe for staying on track no matter what’s cooking.

‘Tis the season for family, festivity, and food—lots of food. Temptations are everywhere, and parties and travel disrupt daily routines. And usually, these celebrations and activities go on for weeks.

How do you stick to your healthy eating program when everyone around you seems to be splurging? Here are some tips that can help.

Avoid the processed foods
Many processed and prepackaged foods contain loads of salt. Stick to fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade side dishes, and fresh meats rather than processed meats like bacon and sausage are good choices.

Buy a fresh turkey
Many companies around the holidays inject the turkey with salt water to “plump” them. Read the label carefully or buy a turkey directly from a farm or butcher to better control the amount of salt in your turkey.

Use herbs and spices rather than premade seasonings
Many pre-mixed seasonings contain salt. Using fresh or dry herbs, spices, lemon, and garlic can add tons of Flavor to your cooking without adding salt.

Make your own gravy
If you can make your own gravy, make sure to use a low-sodium broth as the base. If you do buy one, many brands sell low-salt varieties.

Choose homemade for stuffing and potatoes
You can maximize the Flavor and minimize the salt by making your own cornbread for stuffing and making homemade mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes. Use unsalted butter, herbs, and spices to reduce salt.

Load up on veggies
The more veggies, the merrier at your holiday dinner. Begin your meal with a big salad or loaded vegetable soup. And there’s nothing easier to make than a big tray of roasted vegetables.

Limit portion sizes
Enjoying the holidays is all about eating what you want in moderation! Control your portion sizes by filling your plate half full of vegetables, a quarter with meat, and a quarter with starch, like stuffing or mashed potatoes.

Eat mindfully
Take a bite or a small portion of the dishes that look good to you to satisfy that special seasonal craving. Sit down when you eat, eat slowly, and put your fork down between bites. It takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to realize you’re full. You can even mentally prepare for a holiday meal by thinking of the foods you are looking forward to, what foods might tempt you to overeat, and how to prevent that.

Think mostly veggies for appetizers
Many appetizer foods, such as crackers and cheese, meats, pretzels, and nuts, are high in salt. Limit your portion sizes by filling half of one appetizer-sized plate with vegetables and smaller portions of high-sodium options.

Fit in favorites
If you plan for it, no food needs to be on the naughty list. Choose the dishes you really love and can’t get any other time of year, like auntie’s pumpkin pie. Slow down, savor a small serving, and count it in your meal plan. Remember, you can always go back for a bit more. Pies, cakes, and cookies are often hidden sources of salt, so you can eat the pie filling and leave the crust.

Keep moving
You’ve got a lot on your plate this time of year, and physical activity can get crowded out. But being active is your secret holiday weapon; it can help make up for eating more than usual and reduce stress during this most stressful time of year. Get moving with friends and family, such as taking a walk after a holiday meal.

Get your zzz’s
Going out more and staying out later often means cutting back on sleep. Sleep loss can make it harder to manage your blood sugar, and when you’re sleep-deprived, you’ll tend to eat more and prefer high-fat, high-sugar food. Aim for 7 to 8 hours per night to guard against mindless eating.

CCP Holiday Hacks

  • Have pumpkin pie instead of pecan pie. Even with a dollop of whipped cream, you’ll cut calories and sugar by at least a third.
  • Break physical activity up into smaller chunks, so it’s easier to schedule, like walking 10 minutes several times a day.
  • Schedule some “me” time every day—a nap, dog walk, or hot bath to get your energy back for the next celebration.

And most of all, don’t forget what the holiday season is about: celebrating and connecting with the people you care about. Focusing more on the fun makes it easier to focus less on the food.

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