Ask a nutrition student: Hungry for the Holidays

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Photo Credit: Gaby Breiter | Daily Texan Staff

I have been working out extra hard to prepare for the massive intake of calories next Thursday —and over the holiday break. Do you have any holiday food health tips that will let me enjoy my time with my family without making me feel like a stuffed turkey?
-Party Fowl

So many holidays jam-packed into a two-month time period brings more than distant relatives and holiday traditions: November and December are filled with special once-a-year cuisines. But there’s no need to stress over food while feasting with friends and family — there’s definitely a way to have your fruitcake and eat it too! Keep reading and I’ll give you some pointers one course at a time.

I wouldn’t be a nutrition student if I didn’t start with veggies. When choosing vegetable side items, avoid creamy, cheesy and buttery sauces — I’m looking at you, green bean casserole! Baked, roasted and steamed are all cooking methods that typically result in a lower calorie count.

It’s all about preparation, people — sweet potatoes are an awesome source of vitamin A, but the marshmallows on top will just leave you sugar crashed.  Everyone loves fruit salad, but swap canned fruit in sugary syrup for fresh. If mashed potatoes are more your thing, limit the add-on butter and shake it up with some no-calorie spices instead.

And while we’re talking about mashed potatoes: don’t rock the gravy boat. Gravy is traditionally made with the leftover drippings (fat and juices from your cooked protein of choice) and cornstarch or flour and cream. For a low-fat version, consider a recipe that uses low-sodium broth instead.

On to the entrée: Go lean on meat! If you get a say in the protein served at your holiday feast, choose chicken, turkey or pork tenderloin (Pro tip: cuts of meat ending in –loin indicate leaner options.)  Pick white meat (found on the breast) over dark (legs and thighs) – dark meat has more saturated fat and calories. If you go ham for ham, keep in mind that it’s often higher in sodium than poultry due to the way it’s cured and preserved.

Enough about real food — if you’re like me, dessert is your favorite course of the meal. Choosing a sweet treat can be a piece of pie — especially if you choose pumpkin. Made with pumpkin purée chock full of vitamin A and fiber, pumpkin pie doesn’t contain nearly as many calories from butter, sugar or corn syrup as its pecan-flavored cousin. Leaving desserts a-la-mode-less and sans whipped cream will also cut some calories.

And we’ve all been there: you’ve stuffed yourself to the hilt with a pretty mediocre dessert, only to find out that your all-time-favorite is offered later. To save calories before you even start eating, take a lap around the serving area and scope out all of your options.

Skip foods you can eat on non-holidays such as potato chips and store-bought chocolate chip cookies. Your grandmother’s secret-recipe cobbler or the once-a-year cocktail your dad concocts are the ones worth savoring.

If you do indulge on a particularly hearty meal, don’t beat yourself up — one day of yummy food isn’t going to wreak havoc on your health kick. As long as you keep it to the holiday, and not the holiday season, you’ll be good to gobble.