It’s okay to gain weight over the holidays, right? It’s the time of year when we all give ourselves permission to overeat and excuse some weight gain. Well, why sabotage all the good habits we spent months establishing? Luckily, there are lots of ways to enjoy spending time with family and friends and feel the joy of the holiday season without loosening our belts! Here at Well & Wise, we’ve already covered some ways to prevent holiday weight gain, but for many of us desserts are hard to pass up! I know I’ve often told people the fun “fact” that sugar causes your stomach to expand and so there’s always room for dessert. Here are some books and their recipes for delicious and light desserts you can indulge in without totally breaking your diet.
Just off the new shelf, we have Hungry Girl 200 Under 200 Just Desserts. This entry in the popular series of cookbooks brings recipes for cake-in-a-mug, cupcakes, cake pops, cheesecakes (and normal cakes), brownies, fudge, pies, softies, whoopie pies, ice cream treats, crunchers, dessert cones, cream fluff snacks, trifles, parfaits, creme brulees, fruity desserts, and finally, “desserts in disguise.” Whew! A lot of these recipes are surprisingly simple, and a separate listing in the back pages gives lists like 30 Minutes or Less, 5 Ingredients or Less, and Pumpkin Attack! Those of us trying to find something quick and low-calorie to take to a workplace holiday party can definitely find it in this book.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the TV show The Biggest Loser, but The Biggest Loser Dessert Cookbook may have me looking the other way. Many of the desserts in this book are downright impressive. Cookies, cakes, rum balls, pies, pumpkin ice cream, sorbet, even dessert pizza. Just think of how impressed everyone will be when you bring a Naked Apple Tart (120 calories, p. 44) or Strawberry Cloud Souffles (75 calories, p. 62) to the table! Not to mention, Pumped Up Pumpkin Pie Bites (94 calories, p. 172).
Last, we have some oldies, but still goodies: Healthy Homestyle Desserts brings cookies, pies, tarts, cakes, and more “with a fraction of the fat and calories” while and Perfect Light Desserts promises cakes, cookies, pies, and more made with real butter, sugar, flour, and eggs “under 30 calories per generous serving.” Now those are some taglines I can get behind. I can even promise you that nobody will scoff at the Very Berry Swirl Cheesecake (p. 162) from Healthy Homestyle Desserts. The secret to this cookbook is replacing high calorie and fat ingredients with lighter choices like using fat-free cream cheese, egg whites instead of whole eggs, and so on – it even provides a scorecard to show how many calories and grams of fat were reduced. Perfect Light Desserts on the other hand has a lot of recipes that are a bit outside the box of traditional American fare: Coconut Poppy Seed Coffee Cake (p. 84), Butterscotch Pie (p. 98), Coconut Tapioca with Lime and Mint-scented Pineapple (p. 141), Snow Eggs (meringue eggs with a custard sauce, p. 157), and Earl Grey Sherbert (p. 218) – and those are just the recipes I want to try.
I didn’t forget about those of you with specialized diets. No longer does vegan cousin Tallulah have to watch as everyone eats that delicious cake full of eggs and milk – as long as you make something from Chloe’s Vegan Desserts, which is a brand new cookbook full of vegan versions of everyday favorite desserts, from cookies to cake to pie. For raw diets we have Everyday Raw Desserts, low-carb fans can enjoy sweets from Everyday Low-Carb Desserts, and organic eaters can check out the dessert section in The Organic Family Cookbook, which boasts very unique organic desserts, many of them vegan to boot.
So, it looks like you can have your cake and eat it too! You’re sure to find the right recipe when you browse HCLS’ extensive collection of healthy and low-calorie cookbooks for your holiday fare.
If you have young children, these dinner games will make meal time- including holiday meals- go smoothly
It’s not just busy schedules that are difficult when arranging family dinners, children can turn dine time into whine time. They’re fatigued after a full day of school or daycare in addition to being hungry. Managing those emotions is difficult for them and they often use dinner as their opportunity to explode. I’m constantly threatening the loss of dessert if my kids stand up, act up or spit up at the table. It’s amazing how siblings can fight over the salt shaker like it’s a ticket to Disney World. Does this happen at your table? To decrease indigestion and increase family bonding, I’ve found some solutions to distract the kids into better behavior and foster that family bonding that dinner’s supposed to provide.
Mix props with the potatoes: I had a too-cute-to-toss card box that I use to collect encouragement cards I found at a local store. Right before dessert, the kids close their eyes, reach in the box and pick a card to read. They love the thrill of mystery and the cartoons on the cards. I like the positive messages, often from the book of Psalms or Proverbs. There are so many ways to do this project. Kids love surprises, even if it’s a Post-it note message out of a jar. Start collecting jokes, interesting things from your day to share or fun questions to ask. Jot them down on index cards and everyone picks one to read. These can also be theme-related. Christmas is coming, after all. Yes, this activity takes advance planning, but the cards are reusable and you can keep adding to the box. (You can also go to Amazon and type in “family dinner games” to order something similar. Now you have no excuse to try this fun family game.)
Don’t just prepare the food, prep the conversation. Put a photo or a cut-out from a magazine under everyone’s place mat and have them pull out their surprise one at a time, maybe during dessert to keep them in suspense. When junior holds up the family photo of going down the water slide at an amusement park last July, ask: what do you remember most about that day? Or, do you remember where we were when this was taken? For laughs, toss in one of your baby pictures, or one of theirs. Kids love to see pictures of themselves. If you’re feeling extra creative, cut out a picture from a magazine or downloaded from the internet and ask them to make up a story about the scene.
Family dinner time is probably the only segment of your day where everyone can be in the same room. Make the most of it by discovering the little details that made up each other’s day. You’ll be surprised at what you discover. Chances are, however, if you belt out, “How was your day?” you’ll get a one-word answer. It’s too vague a question. I have a neighbor who used to ask her kids, “So who got in trouble in class today?” That got the conversation stirring. Another way to do this is to play a round of Fibs For Fun. Everyone tells three things about their day, two are real and one is not. Then you have to guess which is the fib. Maybe the winner gets first dibs at dessert?
Another table friendly game is “Can You Remember?” It calls for one player to close their eyes and guess things like, what color shirt are you wearing or where is the napkin holder on the table, etc. Another variation is “What’s Missing?” Remove something from the table while one player closes their eyes, then ask them to guess what it is when they open them.
Of course, bad moods and manners will seep in from time to time. If your child can’t be redirected into better behavior, it’s best to separate him from the table and explain that he’s welcome back when he can act appropriately. This way you don’t spoil it for the rest of the family. In time, the tantrums will decrease, especially when the rest of you are having so much fun at dinner.
As your family gathers for holiday dinners, I challenge you to pick one of these dinner bonding tips for your next feast. I bet your ham goes down smoother, even if you are sharing it with Auntie Ruth and her half dozen cats.
Since my husband has gone vegan, it has been a challenge to prepare a vegan Thanksgiving meal to satisfy both sides of the meat divide. In the beginning days of my husband’s vegan lifestyle, we ordered an entire Thanksgiving meal from Roots Market in Clarksville. My sister’s Thanksgiving table was half vegan, half omnivore that year, with two versions of cornbread, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie (among other items). It was a lot of food for eight people. And while it was a cozy Thanksgiving gathering, there was a subtle line between my vegan husband and everyone else.
Thanksgiving should be about inclusion. That’s why this year we plan on making vegan sides of roasted garlic mashed potatoes and cornbread to share with everyone. Also, bringing these two sides should help with the burden my ambitious (and pregnant) sister has placed upon herself to prepare the Thanksgiving meal. If these dishes had previously failed to meet my sister’s standards for taste and quality, she would not have relinquished the responsibility for these dishes to us.
When it comes to a satisfying, no-fuss holiday entrée, I recommend the Hazelnut Cranberry Roast En Croute from the Field Roast Company. This is usually available in the freezer section of your local health market. Everyone at last year’s dinner table enjoyed the En Croute. In fact, when a colleague at work mentioned she was having a vegetarian guest for Thanksgiving dinner, I happily offered the En Croute suggestion unsolicited. It’s an easy-to-prepare foolproof meal.
Finally, the following are the recipes for cornbread and mashed potatoes from 500 Vegan Recipes and Vegan Cooking for Carnivores. Have a happy and healthy holiday!
Sweet Skillet Cornbread (serves 8)
You may use a 10” cast-iron skillet or a round, nonstick baking pan to bake this cornbread.
1 T nondairy butter
1 C all-purpose flour
¾ C cornmeal
3 T raw sugar
2 ½ t baking powder
Equivalent of 2 eggs (Ener-G)
1 C plain soy milk (or other nondairy milk)
¼ C canola oil (or other vegetable oil)
1 C yellow corn kernels
- Preheat oven to 400F. Add the butter to oven-safe pan/skillet. Place in the oven to allow the butter to melt. Remove pan and swirl melted goodness around to coat the pan evenly..
- In a bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
- In another bowl, mix Ener-G, milk, and oil.
- Add the wet solution to the dry ingredients and combine. Fold in the corn, but do not over-mix.
- Pour batter into baking pan/skillet and bake 20 – 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes (serves 8)
This recipe was originally Roasted Garlic & Chive Mashed Potatoes. I omitted the chives and replaced the cashew cream with soy milk & apple cider vinegar.
1 whole bulb garlic (8 large garlic cloves)
¼ t extra-virgin olive oil
4 large, organic russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
4-6 T vegan butter, melted
⅓ cups soy milk
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
salt & pepper
- Roast the garlic. Preheat oven to 400F. Slice ¼ inch off the top of the garlic. Rub garlic with olive oil, wrap in foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake 30 – 35 minutes. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the cloves in a small bowl. Mash into a paste and set aside.
- Place potatoes in a saucepan, add one-teaspoon salt and cover with cold water. Bring potatoes to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cook until soft, about 15 – 20 minutes.
- Drain potatoes, place in oven-safe baking/serving dish and pop in the oven for 3-5 minutes.
- In a small bowl, combine soy milk with vinegar to create “buttermilk.”
- Remove potatoes from the oven.Working quickly, mash the potatoes and add the garlic, buttermilk, and butter to taste/desired consistency. Salt & Pepper to taste.
Many thanks to Greatist for the use of their work on Well & Wise.
The holiday season is upon us and with that comes Thanksgiving dinner, holiday gatherings, and an abundance of sweets and extra helpings. It can be challenging to practice portion control during this festive time of year (understatement).
Our first contributor to those extra holiday pounds is Thanksgiving dinner. You stuff yourself until your stomach surrenders, waddling away from the dinner table only to go back for a second round later in the evening. And for some, the preparation for Thanksgiving tips-off the seasonal non-stop grazing of all the goodies that seem to be around. Following this indulgence is Christmas and many interspersed holiday gatherings brimming with assorted meats, cheeses, cakes, pies, cookies, eggnog, and other calorie-laden beverages. Then, there’s the self-dialogue. That conversation you have in your head justifying the extra piece of pie or the third helping of mashed potatoes and gravy, “It’s the holidays! They only come once a year! Enjoy yourself!” We’re all guilty of some holiday indulgence and those extra calories add up and can negatively impact your body.
According to a report published in The New England Journal of Medicine, a study from Tufts University wanted to see if the commonly touted assertion that “adults typically gain 5 or more pounds during the 6-week period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s” was true. What the study found was that those who were already overweight were likely to gain more weight over the holiday season versus those who were considered average weight. This may not seem like much, but this increase in weight is a significant find for adults who are already overweight and a reminder that we’re all susceptible to holiday weight gain.
Dr. Steven A. Schnur’s book, The Reality Diet, affirms our susceptibility further: “ the holidays can be stressful for people and one of the most common ways to deal with stress is to eat. And with all the holiday food lying around, it’s all too easy to indulge in this method of escape.” Dr. Schnur recommends finding other outlets for your seasonal stress in order to curb overeating at holiday parties or while cooking holiday meals. He suggests some simple exercises like sipping water, chewing gum, or deep breathing.
Another factor that may contribute to weight gain around the holidays is seasonal affective disorder (or SAD), which is a form of clinical depression brought on by winter’s shorter days. The founder and director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, Dr. Lawrence J. Cheskin, said in a previously published interview, that “there is a small percentage of the population who is predisposed to this condition [SAD] specifically during the winter months…people who show symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder may have trouble with overeating due to changes in mood and lower serotonin levels in the brain.” So how do you come up with a strategy during the holidays to manage your portions and minimize weight gain?
Here are some tips that may help prevent holiday weight gain:
- Exercise daily. Exercise releases those “feel good” chemicals, endorphins, and boosts serotonin levels. Also, exercise after a meal can help better regulate your blood-sugar levels, especially after a large meal. Take time for a walk or some running around with your friends or the kids an hour after your feast. You’ll feel better.
- Manage your holiday stress. The Blood Sugar Solution suggests “Anything stressful can trigger hormones that activate cravings. Adopt a daily relaxation routine and stick to this routine during the holidays.”
- Eat before a meet & greet. Get ahead of your cravings by eating something healthy and filling before you go to that holiday gathering. When you don’t eat before a party, you’re pretty much sabotaging yourself.
- Plan your meal(s) in your head before you arrive at dinner and swap out the junk for the good stuff once you see what’s available. If you don’t have enough options, portion-control will be your best friend. It’s also a good opportunity for you to bring a delicious healthy dish to the party too. When you finish your meal put your napkin on your plate to signal to yourself, “I’m done.”
The greatest bit of advice I can give you is this: have a plan. Sometimes you can’t avoid holiday stress, you don’t want to eat at home before the party or the big dinner, and you don’t have any time to exercise. These are all excuses. If you have a plan you can make time to walk with your loved ones, practice healthy coping activities to avoid stress-eating, and be prepared for what’s going to be on the dinner table. Make a plan and stick to it!
This is the season of food. Lots of it. Try to focus on the togetherness aspect of the holidays this year. Remember that food is fuel for your body. You wouldn’t put sugar in your gas tank, so don’t put junk in your body. Make the conscious decision to be well and stay healthy in your food choices this holiday season. The healthier choices you make today, the less weight you’ll gain and the more likely you’ll be around next year to celebrate with your friends and family.
I am not exaggerating when I say I haven’t seen or eaten a brussels sprout in more than twenty years. Unlike arugula, which I had never heard of before it became a trendy salad green in the ’90s, brussels sprouts exist in a dim memory from my childhood. A bitter, green, round, chewy vegetable, the brussels sprouts of my youth were soft in consistency and unappetizing in taste and appearance. Times have changed, and now it seems all the best food establishments have a tasty version of this mini cabbage.
In Howard County, the salad bar at the largest supermarket offers both chilled brussels sprout slaw and warm, roasted brussels sprouts. A local ale house offers grilled brussels sprouts with bacon, shallots and caramelized onions. Even in Greenville, South Carolina, where I visited this past summer, one of the most highly recommended gourmet restaurants offered “Crispy Brussels Sprouts” prepared with Serrano ham and shaved Manchego cheese in a sherry reduction. The lovely green orbs were served on a long, thin plate, lined up like the rarest of delicacies.
Certainly you protest that it’s not the vegetable itself but the creative cooking that makes the contemporary brussels sprout so appetizing. I have to disagree; when not overcooked and given the most minimal culinary respect, the brussels sprout is delicious. And healthy too. Who knew? A member of the cabbage family, the brussels sprout is a cruciferous vegetable. Other cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, collard greens, arugula and kale. These vegetables are abundant in carotenoids, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate and glucosinolates. Carotenoids and vitamin E are antioxidants, the substances that protect our cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals have been found to contribute to the development of heart disease and cancer. Vitamin C is used by the body to build the components of cartilage, bone, muscle and blood vessels. Vitamin K is essential in the blood clotting process. Folate helps prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus and may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Extensive information is available on glucosinolates, including their interaction with cancer cells and the impact of an individual’s genetic makeup, and further research is ongoing. Many studies have linked ingestion of cruciferous vegetables to a decreased risk of cancer. When foods containing glucosinolates are cooked and digested, they break down into indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a substance that has been shown to destroy the Cdc25A molecule found in elevated levels in Alzheimer disease and breast, prostate, liver, colon and stomach cancer. Of note, the sulfur component of glucosinolates accounts for these vegetables’ slightly bitter flavor and distinctive smell.
As vegetables go, brussels sprouts are also a good source of fiber and are relatively high in protein (4 grams per 1-cup serving respectively). Fiber is important to gastrointestinal health. Protein provides the building blocks for essential elements of the human body including, muscle, bone, skin, blood, hormones and enzymes. Foods high in protein and fiber also help us to feel full and not overeat.
For ideas on creating tempting treats featuring the brussels sprout, check out the wonderful cookbook collection at your favorite Howard County Library System branch. Barefoot Contessa Foolproof has a recipe for balsamic-roasted brussels sprouts. Meatless includes a recipe for brussels sprouts with grapes and walnuts. ChopChop provides kid-friendly instructions for oven roasted or pan-roasted brussels sprouts. Power Foods contains information about buying, storing and steaming brussels sprouts as well as recipes for salad and for roasting with pears and shallots.
I predict that Dame Edna, the stage performer who is such an astute observer of cultural mores, will soon be trilling “brrrruuussel sprowwt” instead of shrieking “ahrooguhla!”
So, you’ve been thinking about growing some plants. Preferably functional plants – something you can eat and enjoy (with more than just with your eyes). But what if fruits and vegetables seem too difficult? If you’ve tried to grow plants before and had them all die on you, I feel your pain. I, too, was a serial plant killer. Luckily, I’ve redeemed myself with growing herbs. Herbs are the perfect starter plants! They are easy to grow inside or outside, in hot or cold climates, and they’re functional. Herbs can be used for a whole range of purposes. Many of us use herbs to add a bouquet of flavor to our favorite dishes, while others use herbs for homeopathy. Herbs have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, and today, we’re still discovering the benefits of these incredible plants (e.g. Johns Hopkins’ recent study on the benefits of tumeric). Herbs are amazing and you can bring them into your life with a little courage and know how.
My first herbs were grown from seed (daring, I know!), and were fun from the first day their little sprouts reached up toward the sun. The easiest and most useful herbs for me have been basil, sage, rosemary, and catnip. Starting them inside in little sprout pucks made it simple, and a small plastic greenhouse let them thrive until I could plant them outside into little pots. If you’re tight on money, a single long plastic pot works great for various herbs together. It has the added bonus of looking equally cute hanging on the side of an apartment balcony (where mine began life) or sitting on the railing of a deck (as pictured above).
Your Backyard Herb Garden, by Miranda Smith, is a useful guide for those interested in growing just herbs. Smith meticulously describes how to grow herbs and explains how to use them once they’re grown. You will find all kinds of new uses for your herbs in teas, as health and beauty products, and cleansing foods. This book is capped off with a directory detailing 52 different herbs and their intricacies. Similarly, Homegrown Herbs by Tammi Hartung, is a more modern guide to herb growing. The best parts of this book are the recipes which showcase the herbs used, both for eating and medicinal purposes – think insect repellent or aromatherapy.
Go ahead, give it a shot! You can get seeds from lots of different stores for only a couple of dollars and nothing beats growing something from nothing. If that’s not your cup of tea (which you can make from lots of herbs, too, like mint or lemon balm), try starting out with a small plant from the farmer’s market or any garden center. Best of all, you’ll know exactly where your herbs are coming from. Once you’ve tasted your first harvest of herbs, you’ll know you’ve taken another step toward living well. Give it a try and never look back. Gardening can be for you, too!