Local nutritionist offers tips to enjoy a healthy holiday

Published 8:48 am Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The season of giving thanks is approaching, and while most people look forward to a time of bundling up and indulging in comfort foods, registered dietitian and nutritionist Monique Richard of Nutrition-In-Sight in Johnson City has some advice to help people show appreciation for good health and to make responsible decisions at the dinner table. You do not have to skimp on flavor to enjoy a guilt-free Thanksgiving, Richard said.
“Explore the tastes and use herbs and spices; that’s what it’s all about — using what you have,” said Richard. “Get back to the basics, and be thankful and take care of yourself. You’ve only got one body.”
She proposes setting a goal of maintaining weight and health through the holidays and increasing activities to prepare for the influx of additional food options.
“You have to have some self control because every little bit is going to impact your nutrition for that day, and every choice you make is important.”
We’ve all heard it, “I’m saving my appetite so I can gorge…”
But Richard says that by eating a small breakfast with a protein, carbohydrate and nutritious fat, the body begins digestion and does not feel as hungry by the main meal. She suggests staying hydrated throughout the day with water, which helps with digestion and contributes to the body’s feeling of fullness and satisfaction.
Some suggested breakfast ideas are a whole grain English muffin with peanut butter and juice, or a half-cup of oatmeal and a piece of fruit or even a smoothie with protein powder or yogurt.
“These will keep you satisfied but not make you too full,” said Richard.
The couch may be alluring, especially when waiting patiently through the grueling distance between breakfast and the main meal, or when pro football is on television, but Richard proposes getting outdoors or playing Wii to burn calories.
“Make it a family event where you go for a walk or play catch, or tag, or another game,” she said. “Any kind of movement is going to be better than heading toward the couch.”
She suggested playing a half-hour game before eating dessert or playing a board game that involves charades or physical movement.
It is easy to substitute ingredients and make higher quality healthier food that will impress the family and make them grateful that you were considering their health when preparing those soon-to-be family favorite dishes.
Richard said that substituting higher quality, whole wheat or whole grain carbohydrates can provide a much more nutritious meal by increasing fiber, B vitamins, folic acid and iron. Try substituting whole wheat pasta in your traditional baked macaroni and cheese, or whole grain bread in that secret dressing recipe. Give broccoli a try in the mac’n’cheese.
“In foods that require breading or crunchy topping, consider using crushed nuts or whole wheat crackers,” Richard said. “It’s easy to enhance ingredients to make them more nutritious.”
And when it’s time to make some savory gravy, consider a low sodium gravy mix, or using vegetable broth instead of greasy turkey drippings, or mix half and half.
“Using less butter and oil often does not compromise the flavor and makes the meal lighter,” she said.
In baked goods, substitute fruit or vegetable purees to add moisture and texture in place of vegetable oil or butter.
Using Greek yogurt in place of sour cream in mashed potatoes and dips is hardly noticeable and fat free. Richard said vegetable broth may also be substituted for butter in mashed potatoes.
She also proposed mixing in avocado and applesauce instead of oil or butter in desserts.
“Use quality ingredients and substitution to make the whole dish healthier,” she said.
Cooking real cranberries instead of the syrup-soaked canned sauce that people often enjoy this time of year, is simply done and may impress the family while improving the nutrition value. The same goes for greens beans: roasting green beans with almonds and garlic is healthier and has a crunchier texture than green bean casserole.
For desserts, she proposed making a pumpkin mousse instead of a pumpkin pie or using crustless desserts.
“Preparing real hot cocoa without all the added sugar is a delicious treat,” she said. And it can be spiced up with cinnamon or dark chocolate pieces.
She advised avoiding extremely rich foods or drinks, like egg nog, which are almost always calorie-dense and high in processed sugar.
This is important both in the kitchen when preparing a meal, and at the dinner table.
Richard advised the use of caution when adding sugar to any dish, especially with sweet potatoes or butternut squash, where herbs and spices can often add a much more interesting, traditional flavor than the unhealthy alternatives of butter and sugar.
“Portion sizing can be difficult, but the size of your palm is about a half-cup of carbohydrates or meats, so if you have six palms on your plate, you probably don’t need a second plate,” said Richard. “A fist is about a cup, so if you’re looking at macaroni and cheese, you might want to consider eating half of that.”
When gathering to eat, she proposed that family members encourage each other to make healthy selections and to choose balanced portions. If portioning is a struggle, she proposed taking a smaller plate.
Also, if there are four pies and three pans of brownies, she said someone could suggest saving half for later and setting it aside, or giving some to the neighbors or hungry people.
“Opening up your home can help take away temptation and help others in need,” she said.

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