For health, rethink your holiday meals

By Elise Verdegan

University of Wisconsin-Stout dietetics student

Does the holiday season stress you out as you go about starting to prepare for your big festive meals? It’s that time of year where we all worry about the inevitable holiday weight gain so many of do our best to avoid, but still struggle to prevent. When we think winter specifically, it’s only natural that we think comfort food, cookies, hot chocolate, and going back for seconds or even thirds. We try not to overindulge, but for many, a small weight gain during the holiday season is almost inevitable. It’s easy to overlook the pounds we might put on as we approach the New Year, which is why so many people are faced with the resolution of losing the weight they recently gained. So, to try and make it through the holidays without moving the scale too far in the wrong direction, here are a few simple tips to follow to make some healthier choices during the winter months.

Eat Breakfast
While many of us might choose to skip breakfast so we can save room for the holiday cookies, doing so will likely lead to binging out on more food later and likely consuming more overall calories by the end of the day. Starting the day with a healthy, nutritious meal can be a great way to control overeating later. High-fiber options such as oatmeal with fruit, whole wheat pancakes, or a green smoothie can be a great way to go. Pairing that with a high-protein option such as a veggie omelet or a Greek yogurt parfait can also help curb hunger later.

Start light
While it may be most tempting to dig right into the main courses of a winter feast, doing so might make it difficult to add in healthy options afterwards when we’ve already become too full from the richer options. Research has shown that when we start our meals with lower-energy dense foods such as a soup, salad, or fruit before moving onto the main course, we will consume fewer overall calories before we start to feel full. So, this holiday season try starting with some lighter options before moving on to the main course; this way you can eat just as much food until you feel full, but consume fewer calories overall. Some strawberries into a big green salad would be a great option, or perhaps a vegetable tray with a hummus dip would be a great fit for the occasion.

Cut Out Liquid Calories
It’s easy to underestimate the number of calories we drink with our meals, but very often they can be a source of undesirable excess energy intake. Liquid calories have almost no effect on suppressing appetite, so it’s very easy to continue to consume large quantities of them without feeling full. Instead of juice, consider flavored/sparkling water or unsweetened ice tea. Swap out soda with diet soda or skim milk. A glass of regular egg nog can have over 400 calories, so try looking for a light version with less fat and sugar. Consume alcohol in moderation if at all. If doing so, avoid highly sweet or rich mixed drinks, drink light beer, and opt for a dry versus a sweet wine.

Be Active
So often we use the wintertime to be completely inactive, waiting until after our New Year’s resolution to make changes like going to the gym. Instead of putting it off, there are many great ways to include physical activity into your busy schedule. Simply going for a walk outside and inviting other family and friends can be a great way to not only be active, but also a great bonding activity and a time to enjoy how beautiful the winter season can be. The winter is also a great time for many outdoor activities that aren’t just a great time, but also help keep us active. Skiing, snowboarding, skating, sledding are all popular options, but some others worth trying include snowshoeing, show tubing, and curling. Shoveling the driveway is a little less enjoyable but still a great workout! If you aren’t a fan of the cold, group classes at a gym, bowling, mall or walking can keep us active while staying warm.

Indulge, But Don’t Forget Family
Remember, it’s OK to indulge a little. Savor that apple-cranberry pie and don’t be afraid to go back for seconds, just remember that moderation is key. The holidays should be enjoyable, not stressful. With this in mind, taking some time to set aside the distraction of the dinner plate and focusing more on those around us can help not only avoid overeating, but also focus on the more valuable aspects of this holiday season.

In addition to these tips, if you’re wanting to try a healthy take on your holiday meal this year with a dish that’s simple to prepare, nutritious, affordable, and will help you stay warm on the coldest of days, try this chili recipe that substitutes beef with lean turkey, replaces regular sour cream with a tasty Greek yogurt alternative to include more protein and cut out fat calories, and add quinoa for an extra nutritional boost.

Start to finish: 30 minutes
Servings: 6

You will need:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds ground turkey meat
2 cups coarsely chopped onions
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 large sweet red pepper, cored, deveined and coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 jalapeno pepper, cored, deveined and finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 cups canned diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup dry quinoa
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 15-ounce cans of red kidney beans, drained
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat the oil over high heat in a large heavy pot and add the turkey meat. Cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes, chopping down and stirring with the side of a heavy kitchen spoon to break up any lumps.
Add the onions, garlic, sweet pepper, celery, jalapeno pepper, oregano, bay leaves, chili powder and cumin. Stir to blend well. Sautee for 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, quinoa salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
Add the drained beans and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes longer. Remove bay leaves once finished.
Prepare the Greek yogurt sour cream by combing the yogurt with the lemon juice in a small bowl and stirring gently with a spoon.
Serve in bowls with a dollop of yogurt on top and cheddar cheese if desired.

Elise Verdegan, of Burnsville, is a graduate of Apple Valley High School. She is a member of the University of Wisconsin-Stout Student Dietetics Association and a student member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.