A holiday how-to guide for celebrating without sacrifice

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

By Cathleen Kronemer

You have finally achieved a healthy, clean meal plan to accompany your fit, active lifestyle.  Now here come the holidays…are you prepared to celebrate mindfully? 

That treasured “most wonderful time of the year” is upon us. There is a distinct chill in the air, colorful leaves are rapidly dropping, and malls are resplendent with gift ideas at sale prices. While this truly is a magical season for so many of us, it also tends to be fraught with anxiety about how to remain on a healthy nutrition plan when surrounded by delicious and oh-so-tempting treats that only make an appearance once a year.

As with many families around the world, ours has culinary specialties reserved for seasonal holidays. A few years ago, I found myself pondering why it is that we never prepare these foods at any other time of the year? I reasoned that if these dishes were enjoyed all year long, there would not be as strong of a desire to eat more than necessary during the holiday season, secure in the knowledge that we can serve it anytime. I have tried this tactic with latkes in the spring, and it works very well! 

While tucking this suggestion in your “to do in 2019” suggestion box, how can we best proceed during 2018’s holiday/family gatherings? Consider offering to be the host/hostess. True, this entails a considerable amount of work, but it also allows you to strategize and plan what is being placed on the serving buffet. Dressing up year-round “clean foods” for the holidays is simpler than you may think! 

Many low-fat and high-fiber treats transform nicely. A platter of colorful fresh vegetables accompanied by delicious homemade hummus (or store-bought, in consideration of the busy holiday season) makes for a high-fiber addition that is also low in calories. Crust-less miniature quiches prepared with lower fat cheeses, egg substitute, and diced vegetables are creative finger food. Try using diced colorful peppers to add to the festive décor. Latkes, a Hanukkah mainstay, can be altered by baking them with a minimum of oil and serving with no-sugar-added applesauce and light sour cream.

If you host an adult gathering, consider a special cocktail for the evening. Blend low-fat sherbet with reduced-sugar apple juice, add a splash of champagne, maraschino cherry juice for color, and serve in a champagne flute. Sipping and savoring provides a healthier holiday alternative to eggnog.

Assuming the family gatherings are already spoken for, navigating a holiday spread does not have to equal the ruin of your commitment for the last 11 months. With advance planning, you can enjoy once-a-year favorites mindfully. Upon arriving at the home of the host/hostess, take your time perusing all the offerings on the buffet table.  Strategize what you will truly savorand not just consume; you can save calories by skipping ordinary bread rolls or Ranch dip and instead enjoy a small slice of Grandma’s traditional pumpkin pie.

To the best of your ability, try to avoid arriving at a holiday celebration with a voracious appetite, the result of having skipped breakfast and lunch to save up for holiday calories. This method always seems to backfire, rendering the over-consumption of unhealthy holiday dishes. Instead, fill up during the day on higher fiber foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Even some natural peanut butter on whole-grain crackers or spread on apple slices can provide satiety. Include ample hydration throughout the day, preferably unsweetened, non-carbonated drinks.

Mindful eating does not always top everyone’s holiday to-do list. If you are one such individual, try enlisting the help of a like-minded health-conscious friend or family member. Stick together at the dinner table and support each other’s commitments to choose wisely and keep portion sizes to a minimum. Remember: the host/hostess will undoubtedly offer take-home leftovers!

Party-going this holiday season can be healthy, delicious andredolent with treasured family favorites. Make an investment in time for advance planning, and you will treat yourself to an enjoyable and anxiety-free celebration!