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Be intentional with holiday food choices
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Many Mississippians find it difficult to keep off the pounds during food-oriented holiday celebrations, and hidden calories make this problem even worse.
Ann Twiner, Mississippi State University Extension Service agent in Sunflower County, said turkey, ham and vegetables can be healthy choices, but consider how they are prepared when choosing whether to eat them and deciding how large a portion to take.
“Look for food that is baked, broiled or grilled rather than fried, and choose vegetables that are prepared without added sauces,” she said. “And beware of foods cooked in a creamy sauce.”
Diners who want to make smart choices can make some educated guesses just by looking at the dishes.
“Fried foods and those prepared with a creamy sauce are often higher in fat content and calories,” Twiner said. “But remember, the holidays are a time for celebrating with family and friends. If you overdo it a time or two, it probably won’t wreck you.”
Twiner said extra planning can help diners handle high-calorie dishes.
“All the extra snacking can add up, so try to avoid all the office treats, and keep goodies out of the house,” she said. “Then, when party time or meal time comes, you can enjoy the favorite foods that you look forward to each year at this time.”
Those who are preparing foods for holiday events can do their guests a favor by making substitutions to reduce salt, sugar and fats without affecting the flavor.
“For example, substitute skim-milk-based white sauce for cream sauces or canned soups, and substitute plain, low-fat yogurt for sour cream or mayonnaise in dips and dressings,” Twiner said. “When baking, use two egg whites for one whole egg, and reduce the sugar in recipes by up to one-third with little change in flavor.”
Other calorie-saving changes include seasoning food with herbs and spices rather than butter; making gravies with fat-free broth, skim milk and cornstarch rather than meat drippings; and using applesauce to replace oil or butter in some recipes.
But the most important step, Twiner said, is portion control.
“The holidays are all about traditions, and that includes eating foods such as Grandma’s famous dressing, chocolate pie or sweet potato casserole,” Twiner said. “Change the amount you eat. Make an effort to pick out your very favorite foods, and sit down and enjoy every bite.
“We should not label foods as healthy or unhealthy, because it’s really not the food itself. It’s all about the amounts we eat and not feeling guilty about eating the food,” she said.
Pamela Redwine, Extension agent in Yalobusha County, said the goal may not be to lose weight during the holidays but simply to maintain it.
“If you’re cooking a holiday meal, find things that you can substitute to make a healthier version of a family favorite,” Redwine said. “If you’re the diner, make wise choices for the majority of the meal, and save a place on your plate for just a bite or two of holiday favorites.”
Look for foods that are as close to natural as possible, she said. For example, green beans are a healthier option than green bean casserole, although substitutions can make the traditional casserole recipe healthier.
“Sometimes it takes developing different tastes,” Redwine said.
Eating well also includes planning ahead.
“When you are offered a buffet, look at it first and decide what things you really want. Don’t just start down the buffet with a plate and before you know it, your plate’s full,” Redwine said. “Be choosy: Start with the healthier choices, and fill your plate. Then come back and add a small portion of foods you only get at Thanksgiving or Christmas.”
A final caution is to avoid loading up on a lot of calories in beverages such hot cocoa, egg nog or alcohol. She said some cocktails can have up to 500 calories in just one drink.