It’s a time to enjoy the company of family and friends with festive music, thoughtful gifts and colourful home décor. But for anyone watching their waistlines, the holiday season is also a time of temptation.
Between office Christmas parties, dinners with family and friends and those seemingly endless boxes of chocolates, there are numerous opportunities to indulge.
But if you’re planning to skip a meal before that big holiday feast, registered dietitian Yvonne Mullan wants you to think again.
Mullan, who works in the diabetes program at McMaster University Medical Centre, said those who fast before a big meal often end up consuming more calories than they initially intended.
Instead of denying yourself that slice of cake, fried chicken or buttery mashed potatoes, Mullan said people can still indulge during the holidays without fighting the battle of the bulge.
“It’s all about moderation,” said Mullan. “You can indulge a little bit and have small portions of your favourite holiday foods.”
When it comes to the buffet table, Mullan recommends advance planning to make healthier choices.
“Try to include vegetables at every meal,” she said. “They help to fill you up and allow you to be satisfied with smaller portions of a more indulgent meal.”
When the meal is finished, Mullan recommends offering healthy options for dessert like mandarin oranges and other fresh fruit.
Before the meal is served, guests should also beware those hidden calories found in beverages such as eggnog, alcoholic drinks and those ever-present bowls of mixed nuts. If you’re attending a pot-luck dinner, try to ensure guests have some healthy snack options, like veggies and dip instead of fatty sausage rolls and spring rolls, or gingersnaps instead of shortbread cookies.
As a simple rule of thumb, if you consume an extra 500 calories per day for one week, you can expect to gain one pound. To put that in perspective, a single macadamia nut cookie can have as many as 480 calories and a blueberry scone can pack up to 460 calories. A single serving of mixed nuts can account for 16 grams of fat or one-quarter of the recommended daily allowance.
“Mindless snacking can add a lot of extra calories,” said Mullan. “People often do it without realizing it.”
When choosing your dinner selections, Mullan said vegetables should account for 50 per cent of your plate. If you’re watching your weight, limit starchy foods to one quarter of the plate. Examples include mashed potatoes, stuffing, rice, noodles and bread.
Meat, fish or protein should account for the remaining portion of your meal, at roughly the size of the palm of your hand.
Starting your meal with a salad is a healthy choice, as long as you carefully select your dressing. Try a raspberry vinaigrette instead of ranch or Caesar for a lower fat, calories and sodium.
If you’re cooking the meal and counting calories, try these tips for healthier eating.
- When baking, replace some (up to half) oil, margarine or butter with fruit puree
- Use less sugar when baking cookies or cakes
- Cut the carbohydrates in mashed potatoes by adding cauliflower.
- Offer healthier snacks, like fresh veggies and hummus instead of a bowl of potato chips.
For more helpful tips, Mullan recommends the Eatright Ontario website (www.eatrightontario.ca), which is maintained by Dieticians of Canada.
EatRight Ontario allows individuals to ask nutrition-related questions and receive feedback by phone or email from a registered dietitian. The website provides links to additional resources on healthy eating habits for individuals and families. Readers can also enjoy feature articles on food and nutrition, meal planning advice, healthy eating tips and recipes. Regular topics include family nutrition, healthy eating, seniors nutrition and disease prevention.