Healthy Through the Holidays

With Thanksgiving less than 3 weeks away I wanted to share some tips and tricks to help you navigate through all the delicious food and treats that come along with the holidays. These 5 tips have helped me stay more mindful at parties, family dinners, and celebrations so that my health and wellness aren't compromised during the  6+ weeks of holiday festivities.

1) ALWAYS offer to bring a dish, snack, or dessert to share!

Whether it's a work party or a nice family dinner, I always volunteer to bring a dish to the gathering. This allows me the option to choose a healthier, real food item that I feel comfortable eating myself. Some of my favorites are autumn/winter salads, roasted vegetables, mashed sweet potatoes with coconut oil, a vegetable tray with hummus, fruit salad, or a Paleo dessert. I am guaranteed to eat at least one healthy item (or cleaner dessert) if I bring it, and I don't have to worry that there won't be anything healthy to eat (which can sometimes lead to giving in and indulging in all of the treats because you feel deprived).

I have linked some great recipe options to make for celebrations here:

Creamy Poppyseed Berry Apple Salad

Roasted Brussels Sprout & Beet Salad

Mid-West Winter Salad

Autumn Breeze Salad

Salmon Herbed Quinoa

Creamy Broccoli & Cauliflower Dill Salad

Dark Chocolate Coconut Bites

Paleo Pumpkin Spiced Cookies

2) Pack healthy snacks when you travel and/or stop at a grocery store when you arrive at your destination.

This tip goes for anytime of the year, but since I travel more around the holidays it is a good reminder. I like to boil some eggs a head of time and make either granola, Paleo muffins, or my breakfast cookies for both breakfast and snack options on the road or once I get to our hotel or relative's home. In addition, I pack vegetables like baby carrots, snap peas, sliced bell peppers, and cucumbers. I always bring apples as they are a fruit that travels well. Typically, I'll pop some homemade popcorn and pack that in a gallon ziplock as well (popcorn is my keep my awake snack while I'm driving ;)). Other snack items I will pack include: RX bars, Larabars, collagen peptides (to put in my tea/coffee/smoothies/water), almonds, and maybe some dark chocolate if I know I'm going to want something sweet. I can't tell you how many times I've been on a road trip and stopped at a gas-station and been tempted by all the candy, only to find there are no clean chocolate options! I stay away from all dyes and most added preservatives so gas-station food is usually not an option, thus why I prepare in advance! Of course many of these snacks would be difficult to bring if you are flying, but you can still get creative. Boiled eggs will be totally ok up to 8 hours unrefrigerated, as will most cut vegetables, and of course many fruits (apples, pears, plums, oranges, grapes, etc.) are good for days without refrigeration. If I know my husband and I are going to need to eat more than one meal on the road, I usually make tuna or chicken salad so my husband and I are guarantee some good nutrients during our drive.

Another helpful thing I have learned over the years is to not be afraid to go to the grocery store when we arrive at our destination if I have access to a refrigerator. Since I'm a huge foodie and nutrition nerd, I like picking out my own groceries and browsing stores I am not as familiar with. Some items I may pick up would include: grass-fed or dairy-free yogurt, almond milk, eggs, frozen berries, vegetables to roast, spinach for salads and smoothies, and ingredients for homemade dressing (if I don't pack it with me). These items would be for breakfast and any other meal where my family or friends aren't all eating together. 

3) Fill your plate with 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 protein, and 1/4 carbs! Skip the rolls, traditional stuffing, and green bean casserole.

If I find myself in front of a buffet of food at a party or am seated at a nice dinner with family, I ALWAYS pick out which vegetables I want to eat first. If I have the opportunity to fill half of my plate with leafy greens, salads, or cooked vegetables I will! From there, I look for the a good source of protein. This could include roasted turkey, dishes with chicken, chili with ground beef, or maybe even pulled pork if I am lucky (I love pulled pork)! Lastly, I fill the remainder of my plate with a healthy source of carbs like mashed sweet potatoes (hopefully not loaded with brown sugar and conventional butter), baked squash, or a baked potato. Since my plate is full and I know I'll be satisfied, I am way less likely to reach for the rolls, stuffing, or green bean casserole which all likely have been made with conventional butter, soup cans full of preservatives, or processed breads. In addition, these foods/dishes are typically  more nutrient poor in comparison to everything else already on my plate. These types of foods tend to be higher in poor quality saturated fat and carbs as well. Please hear me out: I absolutely LOVE my mom and aunt's homemade stuffing, and I may have a small portion because I know they use real ingredients and it isn't made from a box; my point is to not fill up on nutrient poor items. If you or someone you know has put a lot of time and love into making true homemade dishes by all means it is ok to have a small portion! I plan to try making a homemade Paleo green bean casserole this year at some point, and trust me I'll be eating a fair portion of it! This tip is more beneficial when you know the foods most likely are not 100% homemade and you are given a large amount of food options to choose from. I always encourage: 1/2 a plate of vegetables, 1/4 plate quality protein, and 1/4 plate quality carb source.

4) EAT A DESSERT OR TWO at a planned gathering!

Yes, you read that right. Please eat a treat IF you really want one! Don't deprive yourself of something that is enjoyed with close family and friends just because you are tying to be "healthy".

 I usually have a game plan of eating 1-2 small desserts per gathering IF I feel there is something worthy enough to have. That is a big IF. Let me give you an example. My mom's family is HUGE. We all get together for a Christmas lunch and there are over 60 relatives in one house! This means we have to bring a lot of food AND desserts. Typically one of my aunts makes grass-hoppers for everyone, and all the other families bring a tray of homemade Christmas cookies. By this point in my life, I have tried my fair share of Christmas cookies and know which ones I like more than others. So with this in mind, I plan to enjoy 2-3 cookies (they are small) that I know I am going to love. And yes, I mean enjoy. You shouldn't deprive yourself from something you love! The key is mindfulness, truly enjoying the treat, and appreciating the moment and holiday tradition you love. I'll probably pass on the grass-hopper this year because of the green food dye (it's not worth it in my mind), but I know I will enjoy some type of cookie with caramel and chocolate and probably a reese's peanut butter cookie. Food is meant to be enjoyed, not abused or restrictively controlled.

5) Don't over-indulge during the week.

While I do usually enjoy a treat or two at planned gatherings, it was because I planned for it and truly wanted it. I try to avoid unnecessary treats during the week, like candy sitting out at stores or offices, extravagant holiday lattes or mochas that are loaded with sugar, or treats that someone has offered me out of the blue. If I wasn't looking forward to having a treat it is 10x easier for me to pass it up. When I am able to look forward to the next social gathering, knowing I've stuck true to my healthy eating for the majority of the week I am going to get so much more pleasure out of partaking in some wine or dessert at a social gathering I have planned for.

This brings to my attention: home-baked goods. Those delicious treats that sit around most  homes the month of December are so very tempting! Whether it is leftover pumpkin pie or freshly baked Christmas cookies and fudge, treats in the house ALWAYS leave a temptation. One of my family traditions is making Christmas cookies with my mom and sister.  We spend hours baking away in my mom's kitchen signing to Christmas music and laughing. It's a tradition I truly look forward to each year. With this in mind, I have learned that when my mom sends me home with a container full of cookies I can't leave them in my house otherwise I will eat them all in a week or so! Over the years I've learned that sweets are definitely my weakness and I'll be the first to admit it. So, what do I do? I keep a few in the freezer to enjoy when I REALLY want one, but otherwise I send them all to work with my husband. He can choose to share with his co-workers or not.

Now, I understand this isn't feasible for everyone as many of you have families with little ones who would like to have a Christmas treat throughout the week. If you struggle with mindfulness around baked goods and sweets, my suggestion for you would be to have your significant other store them somewhere you don't know where the container is located. When your kids want a treat they will be able to when your significant other is able to get them one and you won't know where they are hidden. After a day or two you'll likely forget all about them entirely. Yes, this seems a little silly, but it will likely work and most likely help keep your sugar dragon away! One other tip I have; if you want cleaner treat options try out some Paleo, dairy or grain-free recipes as they will have real food ingredients that won't compromise your health as much as baked goods made with conventional sugars and flours. There are some great food bloggers out there that have amazing holiday treats. See some of my favorites below:

Shortbread Cookies by Against all Grain 

Pumpkin Pie Cookie Crisp by PaleoOMG

Seven Layer Bars by Against all Grain

Paleo Peppermint Chocolate Crinkle Cookies by the Healthy Maven

Grain-Free Apple Spice Coffee Cake by Against all Grain

Paleo Fudge by Fed and Fit

Pumpkin Bread by Clean Eating with a Dirty Mind

Chocolate Coconut Bites by Pinch of Yum

I hope these tips and tricks help you have a more mindful holiday season and new perspective  when enjoying the upcoming holiday parties and celebrations!