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Safe and Sane Holiday Eating

As Thanksgiving approaches, here’s a special holiday gift: You may eat whatever you want.
That may sound odd coming from a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, but there is no need to abstain from your favorite holiday foods – as long as you follow three simple rules: Control your portions, exercise and, when possible, replace fatty ingredients with healthier options in your favorite recipes.

Portion control is the easiest strategy because it is the one over which you have the most control. Envision a dinner plate. Now fill half that plate with greens (no, not the condensed-soup-laden green beans your aunt makes, but salad and roasted veggies). One-quarter should be your turkey and the last quarter of your plate is free to accept the indulgences: stuffing, gravy.

Not a lot of room, right? In order to fit that food onto your already crowded plate, you will have to limit the size of your portions.

If your holiday meal is served buffet-style, sit far from the food. You’re less likely to “pick” at serving plates or go back for seconds if the food isn’t in your direct line of sight. I also advise people to stick to water. I’d rather eat my calories than drink sugary drinks or alcohol.
Also remember: Don’t show up hungry. Some people skip lunch to make room for a heavy dinner, but this is not the best strategy. Have your lunch and even have a healthy, low-calorie snack before sitting down to the holiday table, and by mealtime, you won’t be starving and throwing caution to the wind.

Another important tactic is to serve up “unlimited food.” Whether you are hosting at home or heading to a potluck, prepare a large amount of your favorite greens. In my case, I always bring roasted Brussels sprouts. That way, I’m sure to have at least one dish I can enjoy to my heart’s content.
And then there’s pie.

You’ve heard of “sometimes foods;” well, the holidays count as “sometimes.” But rather than forcing sweets down an already-stuffed gullet, wait a few hours between dinner and dessert. When you do get to the pie, slice off a small sliver. Eat it slowly, and enjoy it.
What do you do during those hours between dinner and dessert? Exercise! Encourage your family to take a walk around the neighborhood, or break out the Wii and engage in a cross-generational dance off.

On a post-Thanksgiving walk one year, not only did my relatives burn calories, they came across a car with a “for sale” sign on it and bought it. Weird, fun things can happen when you leave the table.
Another tip I encourage is to lighten up recipes. Instead of adding globs of butter to your mashed potatoes, substitute low-fat, low-sodium chicken broth. Or skip the potatoes altogether and prepare mashed cauliflower “potatoes” instead.

Every third Tuesday of the month (excluding January), Hoag’s Executive Chef Sam Sellona offers a free community cooking demonstration focusing on diabetes at the Mary and Dick Allen Diabetes Center, and on Dec. 17, he will lead a diabetes-friendly holiday meal-planning demo.
It doesn’t take much to turn the nonstop gobble fest of November and December into a saner, more diet-friendly period. So, enjoy decadent holiday fare – in moderation – and go into the New Year feeling great.

– Mary D’Avila is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Hoag’s Mary and Dick Allen Diabetes Center.