No “avoiding” the holidays

I get a lot of questions around the holidays about what people should do to either avoid getting off track with their weight loss plan or how to avoid holiday weight gain in general.

In my response, I am cautious about using the word “avoid”. No matter who you are, or what your goals are, if you are trying to avoid something, you have a higher likelihood to become fixated on it and more apt to be daunted by it, only desiring it more.

So instead of suggesting you “avoid" certain things, I encourage you to think about what you can “replace”? This shifts your mindset from feeling restricted and overwhelmed to providing wider options and opportunities.

When we look at the entire Thanksgiving Day, it typically begins with hors d’oeuvres and snacks, followed by more hors d’oeuvres and snacks, followed by the main meal and desserts.

So here’s my first tip: Try cherishing your favorites during the Thanksgiving meal and replace some of the things that may be just mindless eating. For example, instead of snacking on cheeses and chips and dips, perhaps start the day with vegetables or healthier options so you feel good about going into the main meal, where you can enjoy your favorites.

If you typically go for the full-fat mashed potatoes with salted butter and heavy cream, can you replace with whipped butter, which typically has half the fat and calories, and fat-free or 1% milk?

If drinking alcohol has typically been an all-day affair, perhaps start your day with a fun, non-alcoholic drink and sip on that until the main meal where you will then enjoy your favorite wine or cocktails.

The other thing I always caution people about is that society programs us to think of the holidays as an entire season rather than one Thanksgiving meal or one holiday meal in December. So, instead of turning the leftovers into a week of indulgent eating, replace that behavior with providing take home Tupperware full of leftovers for your guests.

On those days when we do intake more calories it’s important to be a little more active. Thanksgiving Day sporting events make this hard, I know. But, it’s easy to get up and go for a quick walk during a commercial break. We’ve completed a study at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center on the health value of short, five-minute walks throughout the course of a day. So, if sitting in front of the TV watching football has been a favorite pastime, perhaps cut away periodically to take a walk, go for a hike and enjoy the time this way with friends or family members. Fit in exercise anytime you can over the course of the year, but especially during holiday season, when most adult weight gain occurs during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Here are some of my favorite ways to add exercise during the holidays:

  • Ask family members to join you on a hike or a bike ride after the main meal
  • Pack a jump rope in your suitcase or borrow a yoga mat from your hotel
  • Wake up 30-45 minutes earlier than your house guests to take a morning walk
  • Park farther away from the shopping stores
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator at the shopping malls
  • Do pushups, squats and lunges during football commercials
  • Invest in a medicine ball or free weights to use when waiting for your meal to cook

Staci Lupberger, MS, RD, is assistant director at CU’s Anschutz Health & Wellness Center and program director of the Center’s My New Weigh Program. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition & Food Science from Colorado State University, a BS in Dietetics from the University of Northern Colorado and a BA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the center in 2015, Staci's work experience included strategic development, corporate compliance, and account management with Pfizer Inc., Morgan Stanley, and the National Football League. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, running with her dogs, practicing yoga, playing the piano and spending time with family & friends.

Holiday Canapes

Ingredients: Yield: 12, 3oz portions

3 cups butternut squash, cubed

1 cup Brussel sprouts, quartered

1 cup fresh cranberries, chopped

1 medium white onion, minced

¼ cup fresh chives, minced

2 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced

2 Tbsp fresh sage, minced

1 French baguette, cut into 1/4 “ thick slices

¼ cup olive oil

Tools Needed: cutting board, chef knife, T-peeler, large spoon, three sheet trays, aluminum foil, sauce pot (2 quart), wooden spoon, bread knife

Method of Preparation:

Set oven to 375F. With a T-peeler, remove skin of butternut squash and separate bulb end with knife. Remove seeds and innards with a large spoon. Cut flesh into cubes, drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake for 25 minutes or until flesh is tender and slightly caramelized.

On a separate sheet tray, spread out the Brussel sprouts and drizzle 2 Tbsp of olive oil over the top, then bake for 25 minutes or until outer leaves become crispy.

Meanwhile, prepare baguette slices on a sheet tray. Drizzle 1 Tbsp of the oil over slices and toast for 15 minutes, then remove and set aside.

In a sauce pot, add cranberries and onion, then fill with enough water to moisten the ingredients. Place on high heat and wait for a low boil. Set to simmer when bubble appear rapid, stirring the cranberry mixture frequently.

After 10 minutes of simmering, add the herbs and remove from heat. Stir to combine.

To set up the canapes, have baguette slices out of the oven on serving platter: place butternut squash in a large bowl and mash: cranberry mixture in a bowl: Brussel sprouts on the tray. To assemble, take one slice of bread, gingerly spread 1 Tbsp either butternut squash or cranberry mixture, lay a couple quarters of Brussel sprout on top, and garnish with fresh herbs or a cranberry.

Sweet Potato Panna Cotta with Spiced Caramel Sauce

Ingredients (Panna Cotta): Yield: 6, 6oz portions

1.5 tsps unflavored powdered gelatin

2 T water

1 cup mashed sweet potatoes

1 and ¼ cups lowfat milk (can use equal amount of soymilk, almond milk, or cashew milk)

¼ cup half and half, plus 2 tablespoons (can use equal amount of coconut milk)

1 T dark brown sugar

Pinch of salt

(Caramel Sauce):

3 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters

1 cup water

1 tsp cinnamon

Tools Needed: cutting board, chef knife, strainer (with cheesecloth), saucepan, baking dish (9x13), aluminum foil, small bowl, medium mixing bowl, whisk, 6 – 4 fl oz. ramekins (or similar), spoon

Method of Preparation:

Making the Caramel – Preheat the oven to 425F, allow 10 minutes to warm up. Place peeled and quartered potatoes into a baking dish and place ½ cup water, then cover with foil entirely so no steam may escape. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, then remove dish and add the other ½ cup of water to deglaze the bottom of the dish. Place a lined strainer (or use a teatowel if cheesecloth is unavailable) over the saucepan to strain for 30 minutes, then carefully squeeze the potatoes to release more liquid. Reserve cooled and mashed sweet potatoes for the Panna Cotta.

Panna Cotta – Bloom the gelatin by sprinkling 1.5 tsps of powdered gelatin over 2 T water in a small bowl (no mixing is needed). Let sit for 5 minutes. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the lowfat milk, half and half, dark brown sugar, salt, and 1 cup of mashed sweet potatoes. Microwave the gelatin mixture for 10 seconds and mix; the mixture must not be grainy looking, or the Panna Cotta will not set correctly! When gelatin mixture is transparent, whisk into the milk mixture. Take the six ramekins and lightly spray with cooking spray, using a kitchen towel to rub the insides of the containers to remove extra oil. Pour gelatin and milk mixture into ramekins in equal amounts and let sit in the fridge to firm up, at least 2 hours (4 to be able to unmold the Panna Cotta).

Meanwhile, reduce the caramel sauce by boiling the sweet potato water, then reducing to a low simmer. After about 20 minutes, the sauce should be thickened (test with back of a spoon). Add the cinnamon and serve over chilled sweet potato Panna Cotta.

Recipes - Cameron Fiorenza, BS, NDTR, Anschutz Health & Wellness Center