I am often asked to create strategies for dealing with the food temptations at this time of year. My response has always been that it is important to recognize food is more than nourishment for the body. It reflects our ethnic heritage. It marks note-worthy holidays. It measures the passage of time. It reminds us of family traditions, and through handed down recipes, it connects us to loved-ones no longer with us, and passes on our unique recipes to young family members. Finally, food gives us sensual pleasure. With all this in mind…how sad it would be to anticipate a holiday meal with dread, guilt, and inflexible restraint.
In my mind, it is all about mindful eating. I suggest eating lightly on a holiday, saving the majority of the day’s calories for spending at the holiday meal. Remember, fat is the most fattening thing one can eat. Try to eliminate unnecessary sources of fat. One tablespoon of oil has 120 calories, and there are 8 tablespoons in a half cup…that makes almost 1,000 calories. That amount of fat can sneak unnoticed into many of our holiday dishes, adding calories without adding pleasure. Prepare steamed or roasted vegetables, instead of serving them with melted butter [100 calories per tablespoon], or oil. Put the gravy and salad dressing on the side. Use light margarine [with no trans-fat] in mashed potatoes.
Nuts have about 800 calories in one cup because of their fat content. Monitor the impulse to nibble them. Control all portion sizes. Animal protein should occupy no more than 1/4 of the plate. Be generous with vegetable portions, and keep starch servings to 1/4 of the plate surface.
Alcohol holds second place in density of calories. Men should consume no more than 2 servings, and women are limited to one serving. A wine spritzer can be very satisfying, and is a larger portion than a 5 oz. glass of wine. If you enjoy sweets, do have dessert. But, again, watch the fat: buttercream frosting, whipped cream, flaky pie crusts, chocolate ganache, and rich, full-fat ice creams can add hundreds of calories and many grams of saturated fat to a meal. I scrape the buttercream off the cake, eating the cake alone. I eschew the whipped cream, or limit it to one tablespoon. I leave the pie crust crimping on the plate, and select soy or almond milk ice cream. The chocolate ganache might make it into my festive meal, if I have saved room for it, and if it is exceptional. I call this approach, Damage Control.
Bottom line…I recommend eating reasonable, modest servings of all preferred holiday foods. As for New Year Resolutions? I do not think they are a kind, realistic, or helpful approach to managing our health, weight, and caloric intake. It is what we eat every day that makes the real difference. Over-eating during the holidays, need not be catastrophic. Wishing you all a Healthy, Happy Holiday season, and a wonderful New Year full of promise!
Dateline: Latham, Albany County, New York