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Enjoy holidays with healthy eating

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The time from Halloween until the end of play at the Super Bowl is sometimes referred to as "the eating season." Celebrating with family and friends usually involves plenty of good food. Adding a few extra pounds is too easy to do.

Healthy holidays are not about giving up favorite foods of the season, nor are they about pigging out. It's good to be aware of what holiday eating can do to even the best of intentions.

But, there's also the issue of perspective. While it is important to maintain healthy eating habits during the holidays, don't let some extra calories discourage you from getting back on track in the new year. The food choices we make throughout the year will have a much greater impact on our health than will a holiday meal or two.

Here are some tips to guide you through the coming weeks of holiday feasts.

Before a holiday event, eat a snack or a light meal. An apple, a slice of toast or a glass of milk can take the edge off hunger and reduce the temptation to overeat high-calorie foods.

Survey the food choices before filling your plate. Make sure to choose the things you really love. Pass on the items that are readily available other times of the year and the ones that are not real favorites.

Move away from the buffet table. Focus your attention on people rather than food.

Eat slowly and savor the taste; return the fork or spoon to the plate after each bite. Wait 20-30 minutes before considering refilling your plate.

The first bite introduces the flavor and texture of food but will typically taste the same as the last bite. So, choose smaller servings. The third cookie isn't likely to taste any better than the first one. In fact, it may not taste as good.

If you are hosting, provide smaller plates for guests to help keep portions smaller. When the plate is larger, it is only normal to pile food on until the plate is full. Portion size is the key to enjoying all those holiday favorites in moderation.

Take larger portions of healthier options such as lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables. When it comes to dessert, take a half piece.

Drink plenty of water, as beverage calories can add up quickly. A few glasses of apple cider, eggnog, fruit juices, soda or hot cocoa can easily add a few hundred calories to a meal.

When preparing food, try to lighten the recipes with lighter, lower fat versions of ingredients such as sour cream, cheeses, cream cheese, evaporated milk and whipped topping. These will save calories without significantly altering flavor. Provide whole grain crackers, nuts and low-fat veggie dips.

Include plenty of fruits and vegetables in holiday meal planning. Most produce is low in fat and calories --and packed with vitamins, minerals and infection fighting phytonutrients. Serve fresh-steamed vegetables rather than those in a creamy sauce.

Remember that physical activity can work off some of the extra calories consumed at a holiday event. Make it a family tradition to get outdoors, if the weather is agreeable, for a walk in the leaves or a yard game.

For more information on health and wellness topics, contact me at Southwind Extension District Fort Scott office at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu. Or, contact your local extension office.

Have a happy and healthy holiday season.

Ann Ludlum
FCS Agent, Southwind District
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Southwind District -- Fort Scott office. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu.