Written by Stephanie Roque, MS, RD, CD

Some days are much harder to maintain motivation than others, and this can be especially true during the preparation, stress, and travel that the holiday season often invokes. Statistically, Americans tend to consume more calories throughout the holiday season leading to an average weight gain of one to two pounds. When coupled with the stereotypical—and often very accurate—excess of food prepared for holiday feasts, a perfect storm is created, resulting in an uncomfortable food coma with your pants unbuttoned. On the bright side, this year will be different. This year, you will be mentally equipped to maintain health throughout the holidays and adhere to your wellness goals. Consider the following areas of encouragement on those days you might need a little extra guidance:

1. Pleasing Portions

Listen to your body. Take the holiday season as an opportunity to develop your mindful eating skills which will, in turn, influence portion control. Mindful eating is the practice of being fully present while eating, and acknowledging and building a positive relationship with food with respect to your body. By using all five senses, mindful eating becomes a powerful practice to familiarize yourself with your internal hunger and satiety cues (feeling full). As a result, portion control becomes inevitable despite the temptation of being a member of the infamous Clean Plate Club.

2. Boundless Beverages

Whether you enjoy soda or alcoholic beverages, it’s easy to forget that calories add up quickly from what we drink. Lounging around with friends and family is conducive to mindless calorie consumption, and the same is true for beverages. Before you know it, you’re sipping on your third glass of Coca Cola and adding hundreds of unnecessary calories to your day of holiday relaxation. Furthermore, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages offer little to no nutrients considering the amount of calories they provide. The essential take-away messages regarding beverages are moderation and remaining mindful of hydration.

3. Power of Positivity

Perhaps the most important area of encouragement is the promotion of self-love and compassion throughout the holiday season. It’s far too easy for us to fall into the “good” versus “bad” food mentality, which unsurprisingly results in shame and guilt for making “bad” choices. We’ve all been there, and it’s time to break that cycle. Eat because you love your body. Eat because you want to provide your body with nourishment. If you indulge in a meal that sends you into an immediate food coma, use that meal as an opportunity to learn. Rather than put yourself down with words that you would never say to someone else, empower yourself to make nourishing decisions in the future because each and every meal is a chance to work toward your goals. Treat your body with the respect it deserves, proper nourishment included.

Oftentimes, traditional holiday recipes are loaded with excess calories. To decrease the temptation of indulging in these dishes, be the change that you seek in the typical holiday menu to accommodate your goals. If you have the opportunity to provide a dish, give it a makeover into a healthier, equally-as-delicious version for everyone to enjoy. Even if Uncle Bob rolls his eyes, your contribution could provide the encouragement and support that others around the table need as well. As alternatives to green bean casserole and candied yams traditionally prepared with cream-based soup and sugar galore, here are a couple examples of simple menu makeovers from EatingWell:

© Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved. Used with permission. EatingWell magazine and EatingWell.com.

Healthy Green Bean Casserole

Servings: 8

Active time: 50 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoons white or black pepper
  • 2 ½ cups low-fat milk

Crispy Onion Topping

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil or butter
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Preparation:

  1. Position racks in upper and lower third of oven; preheat to 235 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Toss green beans in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon oil until well coated. Divide between 2 baking sheets and spread in an even layer. Roast, stirring once and rotating the pans top to bottom about halfway through, until tender and beginning to brown, 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft and golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Add flour, salt and pepper; cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add milk and continue to stir, scraping up any browned bits. Cook, stirring, until the sauce bubbles and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  4. When the green beans are done, remove from the oven. Preheat the broiler.
  5. Transfer half the green beans to a 2-quart, broiler-safe baking dish. Spread half the sauce over the green beans. Add the remaining green beans and top with the remaining sauce.
  6. Combine breadcrumbs and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a small bowl (skip this step if you are topping with cheese).
  7. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture (or cheese) over the gratin. Place under the broiler and broil, watching closely, until the gratin is bubbling and beginning to brown on top, 1 to 5 minutes, depending on your broiler. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Nutrition information (per serving size of 1 cup):

  • 188 calories                                       4 milligrams cholesterol
  • 7 grams fat                                        1128 IU vitamin A
  • 1 gram saturated fat                           18 milligrams vitamin C
  • 5 grams fiber                                     182 milligrams calcium
  • 25 grams carbohydrates                     70 micrograms folate
  • 8 grams protein                                 485 milligrams potassium
  • 10 grams sugar                                  2 milligrams iron
  • 0 grams added sugar                          348 milligrams sodium

Maple-Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Active time: 10 minutes

Total time: 1 hour and 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Arrange sweet potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes; toss to coat.
  3. Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to 50 minutes more.

Nutrition information (per serving size of ½ cup):

  • 92 calories                                          5 milligrams cholesterol
  • 2 grams fat                                         11108 IU vitamin A
  • 1 gram saturated fat                            12 milligrams vitamin C
  • 2 grams fiber                                       32 milligrams calcium
  • 18 grams carbohydrates                       4 micrograms folate
  • 1 gram protein                                     294 milligrams potassium
  • 9 grams sugar                                      0 milligrams iron
  • 0 grams added sugar                            119 milligrams sodium

Wishing wellness from my home to yours,

Stephanie Roque, MS, RD, CD

References:

  1. eatright.org/resource/health/lifestyle/holidays/a-healthy-approach-to-holiday-eating
  2. thecenterformindfuleating.org/IntroMindfulEating
  3. eatingwell.com/recipe/250376/healthy-green-bean-casserole/
  4. eatingwell.com/recipe/252258/maple-roasted-sweet-potatoes
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Stephanie Roque

Stephanie Roque

Stephanie is a Vermont native and registered dietitian at the Utah Department of Health. She graduated from the University of Vermont with a Master of Science in Dietetics degree with a focus on community nutrition, and enjoys exploring cultural cuisines, spending time with friends and family, and cooking as the optimal form of meditation.
Stephanie Roque

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