Sharing food with family and community is a universal expression of celebrating holidays. Traditional foods can connect us to our family roots and to our culture, as well as form connections across generations and across cultures.
Holiday cooking can bring friends and family together in a shared effort. Special foods can be an expression of love and warmth to others, an expression of our basic goodness and a source of joy. Our eating practices even “have the potential for making us more attentive to our life purposes, more attuned to our communal identities, and even more mindful of the presence of God,” according to L. Shannon Jung, author of “Sharing Food.”
On the other hand, the excess of food, or the inadequacy of food in the holidays can dampen the holiday spirit, take a toll on health (the average American gains five pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas), and exaggerate the inequities in our community. In the spirit of aligning eating practices with joy, health, and the uplifting qualities of the season, I offer the following tips.
1. Share food with someone who has less. Sharing brings joy, puts abundance into perspective, and fosters gratitude, mindfulness, and moderation. One good way to do this is to donate food to the Grand County Food Bank. The food bank is open Monday from 9 a.m. until noon, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Please emphasize healthy foods, and foods that can be prepared by children (soups, nut butter). The food bank cannot, unfortunately, accept opened packages or foods prepared at home.
2. Appreciate food and all those who have made it possible. Bring to the table an acknowledgement of the farmers and pollinators, the truckers and grocers, the turkeys and pigs, and our planet. When possible, make food choices that support their well-being, whether supporting small farms or “fair-trade” products (where farmers are adequately paid); using home-grown or organic foods, choosing free-range birds or wild game (or skipping the bird altogether); or simply thanking your grocer or cook.
3. Prepare and share foods to uplift the well-being of you, your family, friends and others. Typically, holiday foods are high in fat and sugar, but reducing those ingredients need not sacrifice flavor. Try recipes that use applesauce for oil, yogurt for sour cream, or contain one-third to one-half less sugar as others.
Also, balance rich or sweet foods with healthier ones that offer the nutrients that bodies and minds need. Fill your plate first with vegetable dishes, grains or lean meats. Plan ahead to ensure that when you are hungry and rushing the only item on hand isn’t leftover pecan pie.
4. Enjoy favorite foods, and enjoy moderation. Especially at a buffet, select small portions. Let go of the lesser happiness of trying everything or the fleeting pleasure of a large or second helping, for the greater happiness of feeling content in your body both post-meal and post-holiday. Support others in moderation by not foisting extra helpings on them.
5. Enjoy exercise and integrate it into the holiday. Daily exercise can help relieve stress, regulate appetite, burn up extra calories from holiday eating, and elevate enjoyment at the table. Consider a brisk walk with loved ones (or for a break from them), chopping wood for a neighbor, dancing, playing with children in the park, walking to the store for a missing ingredient, or an after-meal stroll to see holiday lights.
6. If you incline towards weight gain, start by making the goal to maintain your present weight rather than reduce it. Plan on not dieting after the New Year. Anticipation of food restriction sets you up for binge-type eating over the holidays and preoccupation with food. Instead, bestow the kindness upon yourself to enjoy what you enjoy while caring for yourself and your health.
7. Eat or offer your children or loved ones a light, healthy snack, preferably with some protein, before going to holiday gatherings. When famished, we are not only more likely to overeat, but also less likely to resist the temptation of eating the higher fat and higher calorie foods.
8. Plan time to relax into the holiday schedule. The holidays can be a very stressful season, lending to both getting sick more easily and self-medicating with food or alcohol. Work in some extra time just for you. Sit in front of the fire with a good book or your favorite magazine, pause to sip a cup of tea, take a bath. Do whatever works for you to calm you down and help you reduce stress.
9. Choose your beverages wisely. Alcohol can lead to accidents, incidents, and over-consumption (of food or alcohol). Liquors, sweet wines and sweet mixed drinks contain 150-450 calories per glass. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit your intake to one or two drinks per occasion. In hosting holiday events, have pitchers of water and non-alcoholic drinks readily available. Start a party with water and hydrate frequently with water or tea.
10. Enjoy good friends, family and community. Although food can be a big part of the season, it doesn’t have to be the focus. Holidays are a time to share goodwill, laughter and cheer, to celebrate and to give thanks. Focus on these holiday pleasures, as well as the tastes of season.
Sarah Heffron, C.N. is a certified nutritionist, with more than 10 years of experience teaching nutrition workshops and cooking classes. She emphasizes enjoyment as an essential part of health and nutrition. She teaches and offers nutritional counseling in Moab and works as a nutritionist at Cayenne Recovery Clinic. She can be contacted at [email protected]
ByBy Sarah Heffron