It may seem like the year has barely started, but the holiday season is here! A little bit of planning now can go a long way toward avoiding that, “I blew my diet and need bigger jeans” feeling. Believe it or not, there are holiday treats that are nutritionally guilt-free, as long as you don’t go overboard. As with so many other things, moderation is the key! Below are some classic holiday favorite foods with hidden health benefits:
Sweet Potatoes: It’s no secret that sweet potatoes are good for you – but they may have even more benefits than you think! Sweet potatoes contain a lot of Vitamin A. That’s a great source of alpha and beta carotene that helps keep your eyes, bones and immune system in top shape. Sweet potatoes are also one of the top food sources of potassium, with almost twice as much of the mineral as you find in a banana. When choosing sweet potatoes, look for ones that are firm with tapered ends and a uniform shape and color. Miniature sweet potatoes are fun and pack the same great health benefits.
Cranberries: Bright red cranberries are a little too tart to eat alone but they add a beautiful festive touch to any holiday table. With only 45 calories per cup plus a healthy dose of Vitamin C and fiber, they’re a winner all the way around. Cranberries also have more disease-fighting antioxidants than almost every other fruit and vegetable. Buy cranberries fresh in the fall and winter and use them soon, as they don’t last long. Store them in a tightly sealed bag in your refrigerator to keep them fresh longer.
Nuts: Yes, they’re high in calories – and fat – but nuts are also loaded with vitamins and minerals. Eating a handful of nuts a few times a week may lower your risk of heart disease. Nuts are full of antioxidants, energy and protein. Think of nuts, in moderation, as a Christmas gift for your body!
Cocoa: What better way to begin – or end – the day than a steaming hot cup of chocolate? Knowing the health benefits of cocoa give us even more reason to love it. Remember those healthful antioxidants? Dark chocolate is loaded with them. In fact, if you choose dark chocolate with a high percent of cocoa solids, you may help lower your blood pressure, improve your blood vessel health and control your cholesterol. So, give in to those chocolate cravings – in moderation, of course!
There are lots of ways to make healthier holiday dishes. Check with your local UF/IFAS Extension Office for delicious recipe ideas that won’t break your budget or your waistline.
We all have family traditions that make our holiday celebrations special. From your great-great-grandma’s sweet potato casserole or pecan pie, to your mother-in-law’s sausage stuffing or decadent plum pudding, there’s one thing that always seems to be a common factor among traditional holiday dishes: a massive amount of, fat, sugar, salt, and calories!
It’s not only a single meal but rather an entire season of parties, events, gatherings festivities, and unhealthy choices that add up to that holiday weight gain we resolve to lose when January rolls around. As the holiday season begins its rapid approach, take time and consider those past eating habits that set your new year off on the wrong foot. Why not make a resolution now to eat healthier this holiday season?
Just a few simple strategies can help make the difference and keep those unwanted pounds away. Here are some suggestions:
- Don’t skip meals. Eating healthy on a regular basis will keep you from overindulging at holiday gatherings.
- Use smaller plates for meals and gatherings and be mindful of portions
- Choose more vegetables and smaller helpings of entrees and desserts
- Drink more water and minimize alcoholic drinks and eggnog
- Make healthier recipe ingredient substitutions when cooking and baking (Mayo Clinic):
- Instead of heavy cream, use fat free half and half or evaporated skim milk
- Instead of bacon, try Canadian bacon, turkey bacon or smoked turkey
- Decrease sugar in baked goods by half and add vanilla, nutmeg, or cinnamon to intensify sweetness
- Substitute applesauce or prune puree for half of the butter, shortening, or oil
- Use two egg whites or ¼ cup egg substitute for each whole egg
- Replace salt with fresh or dried herbs and spices.
We can all still experience the joy of the holiday season, without making food the focus. Make a resolution to be mindful and eat healthier this holiday season, and your waistline will thank you.
Some additional links that you may find helpful:
Wedding showers, baby showers, graduation parties – let’s face it, about half the celebration is based on the food that is served. Trays and plates of tasty morsels include a variety of colors, textures, sizes, and tastes. Why not include some healthy, whole grain options to join in on the fun?
Whole grain foods contain the whole edible part of the plant – the bran, endosperm, and germ. Consuming whole grains offers many health benefits like reducing risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Look for 100% whole grain on a package or “whole” as the first item in the ingredient list. Think of whole grain party foods as an extra “present” to give new moms, graduates, and engaged couples a healthy boost.
Try serving whole grain crackers topped with your favorite cheese and herb, whole grain pancakes or French toast with fruit, oatmeal cookies, ham and grainy mustard on mini whole grain rolls, finger sandwiches on whole grain bread cut into festive shapes, or popcorn (a whole grain) with a dash of chili powder, cumin, and garlic. Click kingarthurflour for even more whole grain party ideas.
Here’s a light spring side salad with a whole grain sure to please guests at your next shower.
Spring Grain Salad
1 Cup cooked brown or wild rice or whole grain barley, bulgur, couscous, or other grain
6 Cups spinach or kale, stems removed
1/4 Teaspoon each salt and pepper
1/4 Cup fresh mint leaves
1/3 Cup lemon juice
1/4 Cup olive oil
1 Garlic clove, finely chopped
1 Pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 Chopped cucumber (preferably seedless)
3/4 Cup mozzarella cheese, small dice (optional)
- In a food processor, combine the spinach and mint and process until finely chopped, scraping down sides of the bowl, if necessary.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Add the whole grain of choice, spinach mixture, tomatoes, cucumber, and cheese. Toss to combine.
To incorporate whole grains into your shower days and every day, go to MakeHalfYourGrainsWhole.
And the next time you get the whole gang together, go whole grain!
It is that time of year when we think about giving special gifts to the people in our lives that mean the most to us. Your list might include teachers, neighbors, friends and co-workers. Gifts don’t have to be expensive, it is the thought behind the gesture that means the most to your friends and family. Whoever is on your list this year, think about using your kitchen as grand central for gift making. Gifts of food are heart felt and send a message that you spent time making something special that looks good and tastes yummy. These gifts say thank you in a thoughtful way. Don’t forget to include your kids in the process of cooking and assembling gifts to teach them something about budgeting and enjoying the simple pleasure of gift giving.
The way the gift is presented can be just as important as the food itself. Try to pair up containers with the food gift that will be used after the food is gone. This can be a gift that keeps on giving. Examples are a decorative plate filled with cookies, pie plate filled with your favorite pie or a trifle bowl filled with goodies. You get the idea. Another thought is to put together items that say “sit and take a break” like a loaf of quick bread paired with a pound of coffee, homemade salsa with chips and a favorite beverage. The main goal is to show that you put thought in the gift and spent time preparing the presentation.
With everyone watching their budgets this year, plan ahead to get the creative juices working by purchasing ingredients on sale and found locally. Local products in December include pecans, sweet potatoes, honey, peanuts, persimmons, satsumas and jams and jellies sold at local farmers markets. So get going and unleash your creativity, and give a few gifts from your kitchen and your heart. Have fun making these gifts, and remember to enjoy the process.
One of my favorite festive cookie is the Chocolate Crinkle. The crackle on top with the chocolate and white sugar says it is holiday time. These cookies make a good food gift as they stay firm and will last up to a week. They also freeze well if you need to make ahead of time. Package the gift by placing on a nice festive plate and wrap with clear wrap and decorate with ribbon.
Chocolate Crinkle Cookie
½ cup of shortening
1 2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
Two 1 ounce squares of unsweetened chocolate (melted)
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup of milk
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
Cream together the shortening, sugar and vanilla. Beat in the two eggs then add the melted chocolate. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture slowly to creamed mixture alternating with the milk until thoroughly blended. Stir in walnuts. Chill for 3 hours. Form in 1 – inch balls and roll in confectioners’ sugar. Place on greased cookie sheet 2 to 3 inches apart. Bake in moderate oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Cool slightly then remove from pan. Makes 48.
They are now ready to put in a container and give to friends. This cookie freezes well.
Prepare this nut bread then decorate with wrapping and ribbon. You might include the loaf pan as part of the gift. Include a brick of cream cheese along with a decorative butter knife for a complete package.
Cranberry Nut Bread
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2 tablespoons shortening
1 egg, well beaten
1 tsp vanilla flavoring
1 1/2 cups Fresh Cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in orange juice, orange peel, shortening and egg and vanilla. Mix until well blended. Stir in cranberries and nuts. Spread evenly in loaf pan. Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely. Makes 1 loaf (16 slices). Bake loaf in decorative pan as part of the gift. Make sure you cool after cooking then replace in pan and wrap as part of the gift.
The Real Sweet Potato Pie
Use local sweet potatoes to promote locally grown produce. After baking, cool then give as a gift in a nice pie plate. Wrap, refrigerate with instructions on reheating for serving. For added effect, bundle with whipped cream and pie knife.
Prepare your sweet potatoes for the pie mix. Select 6 – 7 large sweet potatoes and cut in half or quarters. Boil potatoes slowly for about 30 minutes. Let cool. Peel potatoes after they cool. The peel should come off very easy. Measure six cups of sweet potato in a mixing bowl. Use a stand mixer to beat the sweet potatoes and do not scrape off any mixture from beaters. This will contain the stringy part and you do not want it in your pie. Discard the strings.
6 cups cooked mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup evaporated milk
½ cup butter
2 tsp vanilla flavoring
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp butter flavoring
1 cup sugar
Mix all ingredients in a stand mixer until well blended. The mixture should be smooth and free of lumps. The mixture will keep in the refrigerator up to a week and may be frozen for future use. Be sure to label with date and amount before placing in freezer.
For the Pie
Place mixture in unbaked pie shell and smooth to the edges. You will need about 2 ½ cups for each 9 inch deep dish pie shell. Mini tart shells may also be used for individual pies. This recipe makes about 3 pies or 12 individual mini pie tarts. Cook at 350 degrees until puffed and browned slightly on top. About 40 minutes.
Visit your local farmers market to purchase local nuts, honey, produce and jams and jellies. Be sure to look for locally grown and support our area growers. For additional information about local produce visit: http://wfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/panhandle-produce-pointers/
During the holiday season nothing carries good cheer and holiday spirit across the miles like receiving a package full of homemade treats.
If you go to the effort of preparing food gifts, you want to be sure the contents arrive in the condition they were sent in. The first step is to pack it right.
- Select a strong sturdy cardboard, plastic, or metal container. Round oatmeal boxes or coffee cans with re-closable lids work well.
- On the bottom of the container place a generous layer of filler, such as crumped tissue paper, waxed paper, brown paper bags or plastic bubble wrap.
- Next, wrap baked goods individually or in pairs placed back to back. Begin with the sturdiest first. Moist, firm baked goods ship better than the brittle kind. Brownies, fudge and moist cookies pack well. Top with another layer of filler and repeat ending with a thick layer of filler.
- Fill the container full so the contents can’t shift when it is shaken.
- Be sure to pack several inches of cushioning material in the bottom of the shipping carton and enough material around, over and between items so that the contents cannot move easily. Brown paper bags and newspaper provide adequate cushioning for most packages. Save Styrofoam peanuts or foam packing pieces in packages for use when cushioning your packages.
- Place a card with the address of the sender and the receiver inside the carton, just in case.
- Wrap the carton in heavy brown paper, if desired, and seal it securely with transparent packing tape. Clearly label the carton; put the transparent tape over the address to keep it from getting wet and smeared. Mark it “perishable” to encourage careful handling. One of the best ideas yet is to give a gift within a gift that serves as its own alternative wrapping. Great tasting recipes become even more special when attractively packaged for giving.
- Embellish small metal coffee tins for packaging tiny truffles or other candies. Replace plastic tops to seal.
- Consider using an empty potato chip canister for packaging. Cover it with Christmas wrapping paper, fill it with cookies, candies or salty snacks, and replace its plastic top to seal.
- Fill a Christmas stocking with a favorite snack mix or nut mix. Package the mix in a re-sealable plastic bag and tuck it and holiday napkins into the stocking.
- Top off decorative jars of homemade desert sauces or jelly with raffia or decorative ribbon. Attach a homemade gift tag and a spoon.
- Bake and transport homemade bread in light weight recyclable aluminum pans available at most supermarkets. Wrap pans of bread with a large linen napkin or place bread in gift bags and tie with holiday ribbon.
- When giving a variety of foods together, include items to be eaten with your goodies or utensils that might be needed for further preparation.
Remember it’s the thought behind the holiday package that counts; the link with loved ones and the knowledge that someone is thinking of you during the holiday season. A package filled with homemade treats says “love” with every bite.