10 Simple Tips to Handle Holiday Feasts
The weeks leading up to the annual autumn/winter seasonal food fest—which for most of us Americans, at least, begins with Thanksgiving and ends after New Year’s Day—is a mine field of potential dietary disaster. Or it can be without some strategic planning. So make a plan!
- In the week or two running up to Thanksgiving, commit yourself with an added measure of focus to following your nutritional regimen. You may even want to pare you carb intake back to a transitional level of 15 effective grams a meal or down to a corrective level of 5 to 7 effective grams or even go Zero Carb for a bit in preparation for the added food that’s sure to come.
- Plan, now, to limit your indulgence to the actual day of the feast; try not to let the holiday eating pattern extend from several days before to a week afterward. It’s very easy to get into the mind set of ‘oh well I already blew it’ at lunch, or today, or this week, so I might as well have (fill in the carb-rich blank).
- If you plan to undertake a lot of holiday baking, wait as long as you reasonably can to do it. Goodies that sit around are an open invitation to start the celebration early. Immediately freeze anything that can be frozen, and if possible, save the preparation of foods that can’t be frozen or sealed away out of sight to the last few days, thereby limiting your easy access to them. Try new lower-carb [and paleo] recipes for holiday goodies. You’ll find dozens of recipes for pies, cakes, cookies, and candies in the host of wonderful paleo cookbooks, such as Gather, that have flooded the shelves, . You’ll be able to enjoy them with less risk to your maintenance commitment.
- Consider modifying your traditional holiday meals. The meat, fish, or poultry portion of most holiday meals—the turkey at Thanksgiving, the Christmas goose or ham—doesn’t pose a problem. It’s the side dishes and the desserts that can undo you. Many carb-rich dishes can be deliciously replaced by lower-carb options. For instance, substitute butternut squash for yams, cauliflower or celery root puree for mashed potatoes, and fresh cranberry relish sweetened with a bit of stevia or xylitol for cranberry jellies and sugar-based sauces. Shaving a few (or more) carbs off every item in your holiday cornucopia can make the feast much easier on your waistline. Here are some options I pulled from the archives: Yellow Pepper Consomme, Cauli-Cauli, Mincemeat Pie, Simple Nut Crust, Mulled Wine.
- Start your holiday morning with a high-protein, carb-controlled breakfast—bacon and eggs, cottage cheese with a few berries, some cream cheese, a protein shake with plenty of good fat, or even a cup or two of ‘Bulletproof Coffee’—to keep your blood sugar stable and your hunger at bay. You’ll be less likely to nibble at higher-carb feast foods before dinner is served.
- Begin your holiday feast with a clear soup course. Filling your stomach with a cup or two of clear broth soup and waiting a few minutes before digging into the main feast will take the edge off your ravenous holiday hunger. You’ll find that you’ll be satisfied with smaller portions on your plate.
- Serve plenty of fresh, raw veggies—broccoli, cauliflower, celery and carrot sticks, and green onions—to add color, fiber, variety, and crunch.
- Try to match the amount of food you prepare to the number of people you’re feeding, so that you will have few, if any, leftovers, particularly of foods in the higher-carb category. We know that leftovers are a part of the enjoyment of a holiday feast—who doesn’t like a turkey, dressing, and cranberry relish sandwich the next day? Try having one with Cauliflower Bread or on a low-carb tortilla. If you love to enjoy leftovers for a day or two, then make enough for that, but don’t go overboard.
- If you choose to keep your traditional menu and recipes, try cutting your normal portions of the dressing, potatoes, yams, rolls, and desserts in half. Enjoy the food and then wait for a full fifteen minutes after finishing these smaller portions before you consider going for seconds. You may be surprised to find that your satiety center has kicked in and you really don’t feel hungry.
- Participate in something fun and physical; many communities have holiday fun walk/runs. Or you could just enjoy a good long walk with the whole family before (or after) dinner. You may find that a good workout before the feast makes you feel less like gorging and more conscious of healthful eating.
BONUS TIP: Consider starting new traditions. Volunteer to serve meals at a community kitchen on Thanksgiving Day and then regularly thereafter. Your heart will be nourished and your sense of the real meaning of thanksgiving and community will deepen your own celebration.