It’s time to PARTY! Right? It’s that time of year when all the fun festivities come rolling out like the domino effect: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Mardi Gras, throw a Super Bowl in there, and they just keep coming! The time between October 31st and February 12th can be a daunting one for many New Orleanians. Extra treats, holiday parties and commitments with family and friends somehow trick us into overindulging and adopting the terrible habits that interrupt our will to lead healthy lives. Avoiding holiday weight gain is one of the most common requests I hear during the holiday season. And, that’s why I’m here! To help get you through this holiday season, each and every one, the healthy way!
So, remember this before you head out to celebrate: when you’re mindlessly munching as you’re mingling, those calories can add up fast.
HALLOWEEN: candy and sugar and candy – oh my!
What are you handing out for Halloween this year? Let me guess…CANDY! A mix of chocolate bars, chewy gummies and sour suckers. Well, tons of parents will thank you when you hand out one of these healthy ideas that are alternatives to Halloween candy. And you know who will also thank you? YOU in mid-November when you can still fit into your skinny jeans!
Healthy Halloween treats: yogurt covered raisins, all-natural fruit strips/snacks, individually packaged (whole grain) Goldfish or Teddy Grahams. And, if you want to stick with “candy,” plain dark chocolate is better than candy. Make sure it has no cream filling or high sugar content. Toys are always a fun alternative, too! Think stickers, bouncy balls, bubbles, spider rings and temporary tattoos.
THANKSGIVING: aka can we all just wear maternity pants for the day?
It’s the official holiday of relaxing, enjoying family and watching football! It’s the national day to stuff your face and be okay with it, even if you don’t feel okay afterwards. I want to share some ideas for “stuffing your face” the healthier way so that you’ll have no excuse for not playing in the family backyard football game at halftime!
Turkey: stick to the breast or the white meat; the dark meat is much higher in calories, saturated fats and sodium.
Potatoes: instead of the classic mashed potatoes with globs of butter and cream, use sweet potatoes with apple butter instead! Or try this recipe for “healthified” mashed potatoes.
Green bean casserole: skip the canned soup and all the fat and sodium that come with it and exchange it for some fresh green beans with slivered almonds. Or change it up completely with sautéed brussels sprouts with bacon and onions!
Pecan/Pumpkin Pie: why not try something completely different than pie – muffins or breads! I love making carrot-raisin muffins or banana-nut bread, both very fitting for such a holiday! I recently tried this amazing recipe for banana cake and it was so good!
Cocktails: what’s a fancy Thanksgiving dinner without some booze?! Totally acceptable in my book, but just keep an eye on how many you’re kicking back. I usually always limit myself to 2 glasses of wine – one with dinner and one with dessert – and I always chug some water with and in between refills. Lower calorie substitutes include wine spritzers (half wine/half seltzer or club soda), champagne and spiked apple cider.
CHRISTMAS: Ho, ho, oh no my pants don’t fit!
It’s Christmas morning, Santa has come, and the kiddos are up bright and early ready to open all their wonderful gifts! It was always this way at my house, so we started the family tradition of serving Christmas brunch rather than Christmas lunch or dinner. I mean, opening presents did build up quite an appetite, and then after brunch we would burn off tons of calories playing with all our new toys! Here’s what a typical brunch menu looks like at my house (lucky for me, my dad is a scratch chef!)
Sausage: It’s easy to make your own patty sausage with just a few healthy ingredients like ground chicken, onions and spices like sage and fennel. You can use ground turkey instead of ground chicken if you prefer. Dad would often make chicken apple sausage patties – yum!
Pineapple Coffee Cake: Mom’s specialty is baking, so she makes her favorite! She uses nonfat plain yogurt instead of sour cream to add moisture. And, the pineapple adds a sweet and sour flare.
Cocktails: Mimosas with freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice and orange flavored liqueur, such as Grand Marnier.
NEW YEAR’S: I swear I will eat better this year … after a huge dinner and champagne, that is!
It’s hard to bring the new year in without an array of tantalizing appetizers and delicious cocktails. Whichever appetizer recipes you choose, it’s all about getting your New Year’s off to a healthy start!
Spinach & Atrichoke dip: take your classic spinach and artichoke dip recipe and cut in half! Try spinach and brie topped artichoke hearts: stuff artichoke hearts with lightly seasoned cooked spinach and melt brie on top. Super classy and low-cal!
Nuts: it’s such an easy dish to have out for roaming hands, but too many trips to the dish can be dreadful to the waistline! Serve plain, unsalted mixed nuts like almonds, pistachios, and cashews (they are the lowest-calorie nut) and you can even add in seeds like pumpkin and sunflower!
Veggie Trays: stay away from the ranch (or blue cheese) dressing, which are 150 calories and 16 grams of fat per two tablespoons. Yes, I said two tablespoons! I love pairing my veggies with either hummus or guacamole or even just eating them “plain-jane.”
Cheese and Crackers: I’m so over the cheese and cracker trays! I like to fancy-it-up with bruschetta and toasted whole wheat crackers or pita bread.
Cocktails: An easy – and healthy! – way to liven up a glass of champagne is to add fresh fruit like strawberries, raspberries or pomegranate. Fun tip: freeze fruit ahead of time to help keep champagne cold for that midnight toast.
MARDI GRAS: what’s an outdoor party without beer and king cake?
It’s all about partying these few carnival weeks, but let’s try to turn that “Fat Tuesday” into a skinny one!
Gumbo: try to keep it simple with just the essential ingredients: turkey sausage, brown rice, okra and a little spice, and I prefer low-sodium chicken broth as my base!
Po’Boys: leave the fried at home and go for a grilled or blackened salmon, catfish or shrimp sandwich. Spread some avocado and light mayo on a whole wheat bun and you’ve got a Rich’boy…rich in healthy fats, vitamins and antioxidants!
Bread Pudding: this is a Mardi Gras fav, but it’s also full of calories. Try this recipe for a lighter, healthier version! Bananas in Brown Sugar-Rum Sauce: stir brown sugar (2Tsp), butter (1tsp) and canola oil (1/2 tsp) in a medium skillet over medium heat until bubbling. Add dark rum (2Tsp), lime juice (1tsp) and cinnamon (1/8 tsp) and cook until slightly thickened. Add bananas (2-quartered) and cook, stirring, until tender. Divide between 2 bowls and top with a dollop of low-fat vanilla greek yogurt.
Cocktails: the Louisiana coast is definitely know for it’s hurricanes, but we much prefer the fruity drink! Try this recipe to cut calories by eliminating grenadine and using light juices to reduce sugar. It’s the Healthy Hurricane. Or, if you prefer the late night-cap drink, Brandy Milk Punch, combine brandy or bourbon with low-fat or fat-free milk, agave nectar in place of sugar, and nutmeg.
King Cake: who can’t resist a slice (or 2) of King Cake?? If you can’t, limit yourself to one piece – and that means during the entire parade season – because one slice is packing in anywhere from 350 to 450 calories! This year, try making a homemade King Cake with a sugar substitute, egg whites and whole-wheat flour. Or, buy an Angel Food Cake and top it colorful fruit to mimic the colors of Mardi Gras (purple, green and gold).
It’s a fun time of year, and New Orleans is never short of something to celebrate! So this season, follow my healthy tips, and when you pull out your party pants, they’ll be your skinny jeans. Celebrating NOLA style doesn’t have to mean ending your diet. Just plan ahead, adjust your diet to include your party plans, and cook smarter and healthier. Hopefully when the last gift is unwrapped or last Mardi Gras float rolls by, you’ll feel good about the choices that you’ve made and you’ll be one day closer to reaching your weight-loss goals.