Happy, healthier holiday eating

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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According to a nutritional consultant in St. John's, the thing to remember about the holidays is it's the most wonderful time of the year.

If it doesn't feel that way, you might want to start by taking a look at what you're eating.

Tara Antle has studied both the traditional and holistic sides of the dietetic field and now offers consultations through Healthy Balance.

Antle's approach is about bettering lifestyle. She said foods with high amounts of salt, fat and sugar can affect your energy level and mood. But also, taking on too much in preparing your holiday meals and party treats can cause unnecessary stress.

She recommends keeping it simple and recently invited The Telegram into her home to show us just how easy great food can be.

Fruits and veggies

Fruit and vegetable trays are a great switch from holiday chocolate and can make for a good host/hostess gift, she said.

Cutting up produce yourself is her preferred way to go, simply because it is more likely the produce will stay fresh for you. However, don't be afraid to buy a fruit or vegetable tray from the grocery store if you just don't have the time or inclination.

One thing Antle typically does with store-bought trays is replace the little containers of dip that come with them. For fruit, she suggested mixing cinnamon into some vanilla yogurt for a light dip. For vegetables, she said picking up a container of hummus or tzatziki can give a taste of something new.

The reason for her typically making the switch, she said, is found on the labels of what often comes with the store trays.

To illustrate, she showed the label on the generic "ranch dip" that came with a vegetable tray she had bought the day before.

It contained 240mg of sodium for every two tablespoons. Comparatively, the PC-label hummus (a dip made from chickpeas) she picked up, for the same portion size, contained 130mg of sodium.

A "cream cheese dip" that came with her store-bought fruit tray did not even have its own food information label.

"That sends up a red flag," she said.

For a twist on the fruit tray: a collection of larger dried fruits, like dates, paired with nuts still in their shells (and a cracker on the side, of course) can make for a coffee table plate that is unique and festive.

On their own, small bunches of grapes or clementines can be popular with guests.

The heartier snacks

The key to the holidays is to avoid holding out to gorge yourself on the big meals, Antle said. Instead, eating periodically throughout the day will keep you happy.

"It's all about moderation and portion size."

Instead of depriving yourself, munch on the fruits and vegetables. You can even get into some heartier offerings.

Do not jump to the boxed hors-d'oeuvre right away - the sodium levels and preservatives can sometimes be off the charts. Instead, think about trying some quick and easy homemade snacks.

For The Telegram, Antle offered up a homemade chili, homemade chicken bites with a chili dip and her patented "tuna tarts."

The tuna tarts began with a bread base - a muffin pan, a touch of oil on both sides and a few minutes under the broiler gives you a good base for a hearty tart.

For various salads, Antle said her recommendation would be to go "light" before "fat free" and "reduced" over "salt free" or "sugar free" when you're picking ingredients, noting those labels are sometimes achieved through substitution of other, unappealing, ingredients.

She has posted recipes for her tuna tarts and chicken bites on the Healthy Balance website: www.healthy-balance.ca.

The baked goods

The holidays are often a time for baked goods. And having a piece of mom's cherry cake is never off limits for Antle. She said it is a case where tradition can trump strict nutrition.

Yet portion size can be considered and, when baking, she said, some simple substitutions can make your own cakes and cookies a little easier on the body.

Antle said apple sauce can be substituted for one quarter or, in some cases, one half of the butter or shortening in a traditional recipe, reducing the fat.

The natural sugars of honey or molasses can be substituted for tablespoon after tablespoon of raw white or brown sugars.

Antle said with baked goods, homemade is again the way to go, increasing your chances of avoiding unwanted additives.

Into the new year

New Year's resolutions often revolve around food - too often about losing "x" number of pounds rather than about eating better to feel better. Some people vow to cut out certain foods and drinks from their diet.

Antle said cutting back is better than cutting out. Again, depriving yourself is not the way to go.

She recommended little things: drinking more water, cutting back on the sugar in your tea or coffee, 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon at a time, for example.

And if your resolutions do not revolve around food, do not to use food as a treat or reward for sticking to your chosen resolution.



Geographic location: St. John's

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