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Healthy Holiday Dining Tips

New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day are just around the corner. It is the time for gift giving, gatherings, reunions, games, romantic dates, and of course banquets of sweet drinks and scrumptious food one after the other. Indeed, what are New Year’s and Valentine’s without good food?

Then again, everyone nowadays still wants to keep healthy BUT still be able to enjoy the occasion. Trying to concentrate on food during these special seasons and trying to stay healthy at the same time can be hard and frustrating, especially for families and people with diabetes. This should not be the case. Meals during special occasions should not interrupt your diabetes control.

Eating healthy but allowing a little indulgence is OK for everyone, even for people with diabetes. The trick is just pre-planning. Below are three factors to keep in mind:

Identify your schedule. Will you go travelling? Are you eating out? Will you be on a group date? Are you staying with relatives? Will you be having parties at your own home? Are you inviting him or her to your apartment? These simple questions will help you know how to go about with the type and amount of food you will be eating and gauge the activities you would probably be doing. This gives you more reasons to enjoy the occasion; not only through food, but also, through fun activities with family, friends, and your special someone.

Revise recipes
That special savoury dish or that sweet dessert you crave for can still be part of your New Year’s feast or your Valentine’s dinner. You just need to do a little tweaking to the recipe, adjust or substitute some of the ingredients with those that will provide the same flavor, yet fewer calories or carbohydrates, and keep your sugar levels and even overall health intact.

Gravy – Refrigerate gravy to harden the fat. Skim the fat off. This will save 56 grams of fat per cup.

Dressing/Topping – Use little bread and add more onions, garlic, celery, and vegetables. Add fruits such as apples. Moisten or flavour with low fat, low sodium chicken or vegetable broth and apple sauce.

Roasted chicken/ turkey Enjoy turkey or chicken breast without the skin and save 11 grams of saturated fat per 3 oz serving.

Green bean casserole – Cook the fresh green beans with potato chunks/wedges instead of using cream soup. Top with raw almonds (sliced or crushed) instead of fried onion rings

Mashed potatoes – Use skim milk, chicken broth, garlic or garlic powder and Parmesan cheese instead of whole milk and butter. Another twist may be mixing mashed kamote (sweet potato) and carrots to the mashed potatoes to give it a natural sweet flavor without adding any sugar.

Desserts – Substitute 2 egg whites for each whole egg to be used in baked recipes. Make crustless pies to lower down saturated fat intake. Replace heavy cream with evaporated skim milk in cheesecakes and cream pies.

Top your cakes with fresh fruit, fruit sauce, or a sprinkle of powdered sugar instead of fattening frostings and or candied fruits or jams. Use 1/3 less sugar from the measurements in your recipes.

Holiday treats
Choose your favorite dessert and have a slice. You may opt to prepare it yourself and bring it to the party. This will give you an advantage of improving the recipe into a healthier version. If you want to stick to the original recipe, you may do so, however talk to your diabetes educator, endocrinologist or dietitian about how to work it in your meal plan. It may mean eating less of the other treats, adjusting you medications and insulin dose, increasing physical activity or a combination of the three.

The importance of portion size
Watching your portions gives you the best of both worlds. It prevents you from gaining those extra holiday pounds AND it allows you to taste a little of every dish served on the dining table.

Here are a few easy tips for preparing meals during special occasions:

Be realistic. As the Community Resource Centre advises, you do not try to lose pounds on a special occasion. Instead try to at least maintain your current weight. Less disappointment, less stress, less stress-eating.

Take the focus off the food. Instead, focus on family, friends, and your special someone. Plan group activities that are not all about food. With the hustle and bustle of the year, New Year’s and Valentine’s offer you the opportunity to slow down and catch up with your loved ones, or bond with your spouse or sweetheart.

A party it is, but do not overdo it. Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed. According to the American Diabetes Association, if the meal will be served near your usual meal time, it is still advisable to try and eat the same amount of carbohydrate recommended for a meal. As for having a portion of dessert, cut back on carbohydrates during the main course. Be sure to have reasonable portions and resist the temptation of going back for seconds.

Take your time. Do not be overwhelmed by the food. Survey party buffets before you try filling up your plate with everything. Choose your favorite foods and skip your least favorite ones. Once you are satisfied, sit down, eat slowly, enjoy the food, and savour every bite.

Drink and be merry! You may still enjoy the beverages served at parties but always remember to drink in moderation and be extra careful on the drinks you choose to take. Alcohol can lessen inhibitions and induce overeating. Eat something before drinking alcohol to prevent low blood glucose levels later on. Non-alcoholic drinks can be full of calories and sugars; whether it is eggnog, red wine or sparkling juices, these drinks can add sugars and a significant amount of calories to your meal. Keep it to one drink for women and two for men. Another healthier option for beverages is the spritzer. This is made from seltzer water, splash of cranberry juice and lime.

Eat before you eat. Do not ever skip meals or snacks early on in the day to “save” up on carbohydrates and calories for the big buffet. Skipping meals will only make it harder for you to control blood glucose levels and the hunger will make you overeat during the next meal. Before leaving for the party, have a light snack like raw vegetables or a piece of fruit to curb your appetite. This little trick will make you less tempted to over-indulge at the feast.

If you overindulge, go light on the next. There will be moments when you forget yourself and go overboard, and it is usually on carbohydrates. No fuss. This does not mean that you have failed yourself. You can always get back on track. Stop eating for the night and focus now on socializing and spending time with the people around you. Join the games and festivities, monitor your blood sugar levels, and just go back to your recommended diet and eating habits the next day.

Potluck. Offer to bring your own favourite diabetes-friendly dish to the gathering. Do not worry about what they will serve at the event. It never hurts to bring an extra dish to the feast and you can offer not only yourself, but also the other guests a healthier option to add to their meal.

Stay active. Keeping blood sugar levels in control and even keeping weight within the normal range does not only involve the food that you eat; it also involves the amount of physical activity you do. New Year’s and Valentine’s seasons may be busy with different social events but they can always be not just about eating and drinking.

Prepare games for the event that not only kids can enjoy, but adults as well.

Innovate your exchange gift portion of the feast.

Go for a walk after dinner while catching up with your friends, relatives, or special someone.

Offer to clean up after meals instead of sifting in front of leftovers. This will prevent snacking on them and will get you to move around

Practice healthy holiday cooking. Prepare favorite dishes with decreased fat and cholesterol content by limiting the butter, oil, cream or cheese. You may opt for non-fat milk or low-fat milk in recipes. Evaporated skim milk is a good substitute to cream. Reduced fat cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, vinaigrettes or other toppings are good choices. Nowadays, there are fat-free dips in the market as well. Also, serve sauces and gravies in a separate bowl and let people choose the amount to add to the food.

Choose yummy but healthy desserts. Substitute artificial sweeteners for majority or all of the sugar used in recipes. This will decrease the carbohydrate content of food and avoid abrupt increase of blood sugar levels. Serve fruit platters for dessert instead of using them merely as centerpieces.

Below are a few added tips for eating desserts during special occasions (American Diabetes Association):
Decide ahead of time what and how much you will eat and how you will handle social pressure (“No thank you, I’m too full”).

Share one portion of dessert with someone else, and skim off any high-fat whipped cream topping or extra frosting

Volunteer to bring your favourite low-sugar dessert such as plain cookies, baked apples, or sugar-free puddings.

Avoid tempting sweets and ask any of your friends, who might also be trying to watch what they eat, to join you for a walk while dessert is out on the table.

Enjoy the occasion, add enough play time to the feast, incorporate healthy recipes to the meals, and do not restrict yourself from enjoying your favorite dishes. In the long run, your body and mind will be grateful to you.

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