12 Healthy Tips for Mindful Eating and Celebrating this Holiday Season
No one in the world can argue that 2020 has not been a challenging year for us. We continue to endure lifestyle changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic such as job losses, online schooling, social distancing, mask-wearing and other strange happenings such as shortages in paper goods. The pandemic lockdowns and quarantines have impacted our health in many negative ways from weight gain to decreases in physical activity, not to mention the effects of stress on our mental and overall health.
The holidays can provide a much-needed escape from the problems that have plagued us this year. Holiday celebrations and gift buying can sometimes cause additional stress but this year most of us will be celebrating differently. In our home, we usually have a large gathering of family and friends on Christmas eve. This year we will have a very small gathering of immediate family and no one is travelling into town. It is saddening but it is also an opportunity to embrace the spirit of the season more mindfully without getting stressed by the minutia of preparing for a busy holiday season.
I am trying to stay focused on feeling gratitude for our blessings this year despite our losses. I will make sure that my family and friends feel loved, even if some of the love is expressed via a video call. I will find joy in the small things such as a walk with my dog, trying a new holiday recipe or roasting marshmallows with my kids. Being present and grateful while spending time with our loved ones is more important than the details of holiday preparation.
This year, it is more important than ever to focus on love and use this time as a break from all the other nonsense we have been coping with. When we feel stressed it is not unusual to binge on unhealthy food choices. Food is an important part of celebrating the holidays and should be enjoyed. For the next 12 days, I will share tips that will help keep your diet on track while still enjoying holiday treats in moderation.
Healthy Holiday Tip: Remember your “Why”
The holiday season is wrought with tempting treats, from the holiday cookies at the office to your aunt’s Pecan Pie. In order to stay on track with your health goals it is helpful to remember your “why”. Remember why you started the diet and what your goal is. Reminding yourself of this may help you to stay on track during the holidays. Do you have to eat completely perfect? No. Enjoying food for pleasure is part of what makes life enjoyable but making sure you don’t go overboard might be easier with a little bit of a reminder from yourself. You started this diet because you wanted a change. Change can be uncomfortable. Change requires real effort and allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable for a while. Be honest with yourself as to what pleasures you should allow and what the consequences may be.
Baked Pear Trail Mix (Vegan, Gluten Free)
Recipe adapted from Sharonpalmer.com
- 2 medium pears (try Green Anjou), unpeeled, diced into small pieces (about ½ inch); (about 2 ½ cups diced)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 cups old-fashioned oats, gluten-free
- 1 cup raw almonds
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
- ¼ cup peanut or almond butter
- 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
- Preheat oven to 275 F.
- Place diced pears in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice, stirring to coat the pears.
- Add oats, almonds, cashews, and sunflower seeds.
- In a small bowl, mix together peanut or almond butter, maple syrup, vanilla, water, and pumpkin pie spice until smooth.
- Mix the butter-maple syrup mixture into the pear-oat-nut mixture, combining well to moisten dry ingredients.
- Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and spread trail mix evenly in the pan.
- Place in oven and bake on top rack for 1 ½ hours, stirring every 20 minutes. Turn off oven and keep pan in oven for an additional hour to dry pears.
- Remove from oven and transfer to an airtight container.
Day 2: Healthy Holiday Tip
Enlist Support from Family and Friends.
Having support from a family member, friend or co-worker will help keep you from going overboard on holiday food and alcohol. Let family know in advance of your health goals and ask for their support. Find a co-worker who is also on a health kick and you can support each other when the doughnuts are in the break room. Whether they are following a similar diet or just want to help you succeed, having someone in your corner makes all the difference when achieving behavioral and health goals. It has been demonstrated that having support of one’s partner (or lack thereof) influences health behavior. (1)
- Jackson SE, Steptoe A, Wardle J. The influence of partner’s behavior on health behavior change: the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Mar;175(3):385-92. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.7554. PMID: 25599511.
Curried Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger
**Makes 12 servings 1 cup each
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 thin slice of fresh ginger, peeled, grated
- 10 cups cubed butternut squash (about 3½ lbs.)
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 2 tsp. yellow curry powder
- 6 cups low-sodium organic vegetable broth
- 1 cup coconut milk
- Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat.
- Add onion, garlic, and ginger; cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until soft and fragrant.
- Add squash, salt, and curry powder; cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes.
- Add broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until squash is soft.
- Place soup in a blender or food processor, in small batches; cover with lid and kitchen towel. Blend until smooth.
- Place blended soup back into saucepan. Add coconut milk; cook, over medium heat, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until heated through.
Day 3: Healthy Holiday Tip
Having dietary restrictions or preferences can cause you concern when going to someone’s home for dinner, not to mention the embarrassment of having to refuse a dish when it is offered to you by the host or cook who prepared it. A great strategy is to bring an appetizer or dish, as well as a healthier dessert option to the party. Knowing you have food you can rely on will help you moderate your overall intake. Planning ahead on the holidays will allow you the maximum amount of stability for your diet while still allowing you to indulge a little.
Mashed Cauliflower Bake
(Low Carbohydrate, Keto)
- 1 head cauliflower coarsely chopped
- 1 4 oz package of cream cheese, softened
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 3-4 strips cooked bacon pieces as topping (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- Place a steamer insert into a saucepan and fill with water to just below the bottom of the steamer. Bring water to a boil. Add cauliflower, cover, and steam until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer cauliflower to a bowl.
- Mash cauliflower with cream cheese until smooth; stir in Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper. Spoon mixture into a 1-quart casserole dish; top with Cheddar cheese
- Bake in the preheated oven until bubbling and Cheddar cheese is melted, 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle bacon pieces over the top of the casserole if desired.
Day 4: Healthy Holiday Tip
Keep Hunger Under Control
Saving yourself for the big holiday dinner by not eating all day is certain self-sabotage. Don’t allow yourself to get too hungry. There is no way you will be able to stick to your plan or make good decisions if you show up to an event or meal starving. Make sure you are eating throughout the day and choose more foods that promote better appetite control, like high fiber foods, lean proteins and healthy fats.
- Eat a high protein breakfast
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day and before eating
- Load up on high fiber foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Curb afternoon cravings with a handful of nuts
- Limit sugary foods like candies, desserts and refined grains
Festive Broccoli Salad *Makes 8 servings
- 8 cups broccoli cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1/3 cup diced red onion
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds
- ½ cup bacon crumbled into small pieces
- 3 Tb cider vinegar
- 2 Tbs sugar or Swerve sugar substitute
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- Salt and pepper
- Whisk together cider vinegar, sugar, mayonnaise, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine broccoli, onion, cranberries, sunflower seeds, and bacon bits. Pour the prepared dressing over and mix well.
- Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.
Day 5: Healthy Holiday Tip
Fill Up on Vegetables
Load up on produce to keep you feeling full and boost your overall nutrition intake. Many veggies and fruits are very low in calories and high in fiber and key nutrients – doing wonders for your appetite, energy and mood. Aim to stack half of your plate with non-starchy veggies and fruit when available. Hit the veggie platter for an appetizer, fill half your plate with leafy green salads, or choose a fruit salad for dessert. Headed to a party? Bring your own healthy veggie dish you can enjoy without guilt. The recipes included in this blog series provide options and ideas for tasty plant-based dishes you can bring to the celebration.
Green Beans with White Wine Cream Sauce (Gluten-free, Grain-free, Dairy-free, Egg-free, Soy-free, Refined Sugar-free, Vegetarian)
- 4 cups fresh green beans
- 2 Tbs ghee
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 1/8 cup full fat coconut milk (or heavy whipping cream if not dairy free)
- ½ cup sliced almonds
- Kosher or fine sea salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Prepare the green beans by washing them and cutting off each end. Using a steamer basket over a large saucepan or a steamer pot, steam the green beans for 5 minutes. You want them cooked a little bit but not to the point where they lose their crispiness.
- In a saucepan at low heat, add the ghee and garlic, and sautee for 2 minutes.
- Add in the white wine and coconut milk and whisk continuously for another 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat. Stir in the green beans and top with almonds.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. This recipe is doubled easily for additional guests.
***Great side dish for Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner
Day 6: Healthy Holiday Tip
Be Mindful of Overeating
Try not to eat until you feel stuffed. It is exciting to eat the traditional holiday foods you loved as a child or to sample every decadent dessert on the table but we need to keep control over the amount we eat to prevent stomach discomfort or other symptoms like heart burn. Also consider the metabolic stress you are putting on your body when consuming too much sugar, fat or even protein. Eat until you are 80% full and step away from the food. You will feel good physically and mentally without the guilt of over doing it.
Mini Turkey Meatballs
(Gluten free, Dairy free, Nut free, Soy free, Refined sugar free)
- 1 pound of lean ground turkey
- Juice and zest of ½ medium, orange
- Juice and zest on ½ medium lemon
- Juice and zest of ½ medium lime
- ¼ cup fresh flat leaf chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
- ¼ cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
- ¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
- 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil plus more for frying
- ¼ tsp chili powder
- ½ tsp kosher or fine sea salt
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons ground red lentils
- 25 small skewers or picks for serving
- In a bowl, mix the turkey with the juice and zest of the orange, lemon and lime.
- Add all the chopped herbs and olive oil. Season with chili powder, salt, and pepper, and stir well.
- Cover with plastic wrap or other cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Take the turkey mixture out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature.
- Crack the eggs into the bowl with the turkey, add the ground red lentils, and stir until fully combined.
- Using your hands, form the mixture into 25 (1 and ¼ inch) balls.
- Heat a large frying pan over high heat and add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Fry the meatballs for 4 minutes per side, until crisp and golden.
- Thread 1 ball onto each skewer or pick. Place on a large plate.
- Scatter some parsley on top and serve.
Day 7: Healthy Holiday Tip
Stick to Low Calorie Cocktails
Alcohol can ruin a healthy diet by adding excess calories and lowering your inhibitions – leading to decreased willpower. Not to mention, binge drinking may slow your metabolism, promoting more body fat storage, and cause your appetite and blood sugar to be slightly out of whack the day after. It is possible to enjoy a few cocktails and stay on track. Your best bet is to just drink less, and alternate between low calorie cocktails and water. Here are some options to look for and some to avoid:
- Clear liquor mixed with soda water and citrus
- Champagne and wine
- Light beer
- Scotch on the rocks
- Martini straight up
- Cream based drinks like egg nog, white Russians and mudslides
- Juice and sugar sweetened mixers
- Frozen drinks
- Long Island Iced Tea
100-Calorie Healthy Moscow Mule
Makes 2 drinks
Prep time: 15 minutes
- 110 grams ginger root
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons stevia
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 cup sparkling water
- 1/4 cup vodka
- 2 sprigs of mint
- Half a lime, cut into wedges
- In a blender, combine the water and ginger root (no need to peel) and blend until the ginger has completely pureed. Pour the mixture through a cheesecloth into a saucepan Alternatively, you can use a clean dishcloth or coffee filter.
- Put the saucepan on high heat on the stove and add in the stevia and lemon juice. Boil the mixture for approximately 10 minutes until the liquid has reduced to half. Take it off the heat and allow it to cool.
- In a cocktail shaker, combine the cooled ginger liquid with sparkling water and vodka and shake to combine. Pour drink into two glasses or copper mugs with ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint and a lime wedge.
Day 8: Healthy Holiday Tip
Make Exercise a Part of the Fun
Make being active part of your holiday tradition. Have fun walking and talking with family and friends after a holiday meal. Give gifts that encourage others to practice healthy habits such as workout DVDs, running shoes, and reusable water bottles. Don’t have time to get to the gym or go for a walk? Try the following workout at home, no equipment needed. You can modify movements to your fitness level by omitting any jumping, doing push-ups on your knees or reducing the number of repetitions while still challenging yourself
Holiday Recipe for Fitting in Fitness
- 50 Jumping jacks
- 25 Squats
- 30 second Plank
- 20 High knees
- 10 push-ups (add a Burpee if advanced)
- 50 Bicycle crunches
- Repeat for 3 to 5 sets
Day 9: Healthy Holiday Tip
Say No to Food Pushers (politely).
When following a healthy diet, we often must restrict ourselves as to what and how much we eat. It is especially difficult enduring the holidays on a restrictive therapeutic diet where not following it may cause a flare up of symptoms. During the holidays, food pushers abound offering homemade treats for you to enjoy. Telling your aunt that you choose not to indulge in her homemade cake can be tricky when she already cut you a slice. Politely refuse the offering and continue to enjoy the celebration by engaging in other non-food related activities such as socializing, dancing or playing a game. Do not get guilted into eating something you would rather avoid.
Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip
(Keto, Low Carb)
Recipe Adapted From Pauladeen.com
- 1 10-ounce package cooked in the microwave on high for 5 minutes frozen chopped spinach
- 2 13 3/4-ounce cans drained and chopped in a food processor artichoke hearts
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup grated pepper jack cheese
- Preheat the oven to 350 °F
- Grease a casserole dish with a non-stick spray.
- Combine all of the ingredients but jack cheese in a large bowl. Stir well with a metal spoon.
- Sprinkle jack cheese on top. Place in the prepared casserole dish and bake for 30 minutes.
- Transfer to a chafing dish. Keep warm over a low flame.
- Serve with bagel chips. Makes about 4 cups.
Day 10: Healthy Holiday Tip
Opt for Homemade Instead of Processed Foods
Homemade everything can be difficult when you have a lot going on, but it can also ensure that you’re eating much healthier. Canned, processed, and premade foods are full of excess salt and sugar that you can avoid by making the dishes yourself. Reduce your sodium intake by making your own cream of mushroom soup and reduce your sugar by making cranberry sauce from scratch. Both take only moments to stir in a pot before letting them simmer.
Making the food from scratch will also make you much more aware of what you’re eating and when, giving you more control and awareness in the long run.
Spiced Fruit and Nut Bake
(Gluten Free, Vegan)
- 2 cup sliced apples
- 2 cups pear slices
- 1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
- 1 cup pineapple chunks (save the juice)
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/3 cup coconut palm sugar (unrefined) or brown sugar
- 1 tbsp maple syrup, agave, or honey
- 1 tsp cinnamon (extra for topping)
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 stick melted butter (4 to 5 tbsp melted vegan butter can be substituted)
- Optional – An additional 2 teaspoons melted coconut oil or butter to coat walnuts
- 1/3 cup chopped raw walnuts or pecans
- extra cinnamon for nuts or serving
- Preheat oven to 300F.
- In a large bowl, toss your fruit and add in 1-2 tsp lemon juice. Set aside.
- In another glass bowl, combine your melted butter, spices, and honey or maple syrup. Mix in a few tablespoons of your leftover pineapple juice as well. Add this sugar/butter mixture to your fruit and coat evenly.
- Pour fruit evenly in a 9×12 baking dish.
- Pour the leftover sugar/butter/oil mixture on top baking for 1 hr.
- ***OPTIONAL – Toss your nuts in a tiny bit of melted coconut oil or butter and pinch of cinnamon. I usually just coat the nuts in the leftover butter/sugar from the fruit mix bowl. Then sprinkle the nuts to the top of dish and bake all together for 1 hr. Sprinkle any additional cinnamon and spiced over hot fruit bake before serving, if desired.
Day 11: Healthy Holiday Tip
Don’t Feel Guilty.
If you do overindulge, don’t beat yourself up afterwards. Just make sure your next meal is healthy and be sure to incorporate exercise into your routine. Avoid keeping left-overs in the house and resume your usual healthy diet the very next day. Exercising helps ameliorate any guilt regarding unhealthful food choices and you will be less likely to eat sweets or other treats after a good workout.
Slow Cooker Chili Recipe With No Beans
(Low Carb, Gluten-Free, Paleo)
- 1 1/2 pounds organic grass-fed ground beef
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups diced yellow onion
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1 1/2 cups diced carrots, peeled
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 2 medium zucchini, diced
- 15 ounce can tomato purée or tomato sauce
- 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
- Optional vegetables: Don’t be shy, ramp up those veggies! You can use bell peppers, yellow squash, butternut squash or any vegetable you love.
- In a large pan, brown the beef, garlic, and onion over medium meat, until the beef is cooked through. Transfer the meat mixture to a 6-quart slow cooker with the celery, carrots, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, cayenne pepper, zucchini, tomato purée, and diced tomatoes.
- Cover and cook on high for 4 or 6 hours or low for 7 to 8 hours, until the chili is thickened. This recipe can also be made on the stove or in an Insta-pot.
Day 12: Healthy Holiday Tip
Connect with Family and Friends
Strong social connections are important to our mental health and our physical health.
This year has been especially hard for us to spend time with our loved ones given the COVID-19 pandemic. Try to connect with family and friends in safe ways whether in very small socially distanced groups or via video call. Social connection has been deemed an essential part of aging well and staying healthy (1)
Frozen Yogurt Bark
- 16 oz container vanilla Greek Yogurt (Low sugar option: Use plain yogurt and add 2 tsp vanilla extract and stevia or monk fruit to taste)
- 2 ½ cups blueberries and diced strawberries
- Optional: coconut flakes or sprinkles
- Line a 9×9 pan with parchment paper
- Pour yogurt onto pan, spreading it throughout so it is generally the same thickness throughout.
- Sprinkle blueberries and cereal over the yogurt and freeze for 4-6 hours
- When ready to eat, lift the parchment paper away from the pan onto a flat surface and break into pieces. Serve immediately.
Kitchen tips: place leftovers back onto parchment paper and freeze immediately. Once frozen, you can transfer the frozen pieces to a zip bag and store for up to a week. After that, the yogurt tends to get freezer burns.
The easiest way to cut the frozen yogurt is with a sharp knife, with the frozen bark over a cutting board.
- Holt-Lunstad J. Why Social Relationships Are Important for Physical Health: A Systems Approach to Understanding and Modifying Risk and Protection. Annu Rev Psychol. 2018 Jan 4;69:437-458. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-122216-011902. Epub 2017 Oct 16. PMID: 29035688.
Jannell Baez (bilingual Spanish/English) has been a practicing Registered Dietitian for over 20 years. She began her career as a clinical dietitian in the hospital setting, eventually specializing in nutrition support for intensive care unit patients. Following this, she practiced as a licensed dietitian in San Juan, Puerto Rico working with endocrinology patients and later assisting in the implementation of a government-sponsored weight loss program for obese children in the San Juan public school system.
About Jannell Baez, MS, RDN, LD/N
Jannell went on to work as a consultant dietitian in 2005 providing nutrition services to patients as well as corporate accounts in the areas of bariatric nutrition, diabetes, weight management, cardiovascular disease, and wellness education. She participated in several clinical drug trials as a research dietitian, testing the efficacy of various weight loss and diabetes medications. For the past several years, Jannell has been pursuing a specialization in functional and integrative nutrition. This practice perspective for nutritional care and lifestyle changes is applied to all of our patients at Rezilir, using food as medicine to promote optimal healing and wellbeing to our patients. Jannell is passionate about educating our patients and the community about the power of optimal nutrition and its influence on health and healing. Ms. Baez received her Bachelor of Science degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Florida and a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Florida International University.
Jannell works with patients in person as well as via our virtual telemedicine platform.