Safe Holiday Eating

Q: With the festive season approaching, quite frankly, I’m dreading it! I have carefully lost 20 pounds over the past six months, and the prospect of blowing it over the holidays frightens me. Everyone is coming home for the holidays, and I don’t want to be like the Grinch who stole Christmas. Any advice?

A: Don’t I understand! It seems I have the same problem—six months to take it off, six days to put it on. Those fat cells not only can increase in size twenty-fold at the drop of a hat (or a chocolate bar!), but it seems like they are waiting for the slightest excuse to increase in number.

The trouble with the holiday season is that we have equated gluttony with festivity, and excess with generosity.

It begins with our equating eating with sociability, and abundance with unselfishness. But we are in danger of becoming slightly obscene, especially if we consider the homeless, the poor, and the children in need.

You are in a fantastic position to make a change, seeing that you will be the hostess this season.

I suggest you start by planning well ahead. Look at the foods you will serve and the way you will prepare them. There’s a huge difference between roasted potatoes or baked or boiled. Also, take a look at some of the dainties you leave around littering the side tables and coffee tables, piano, etc.

The first step is to choose wisely. Pick out lots of low-calorie fruits and veggies. Look at the colors, especially the reds and greens. Bring on the broccoli, the green beans, the cabbage, the collards, even the Brussels sprouts (there are folks who just love them!). The carrots, tomatoes, sweet peppers, and sweet potatoes add color and nutrients, and need not be very energy-dense. Plan salads, and for the main meal, go really “ritzy” and serve a low-calorie soup. By stretching out the meal with soup and a salad, besides making everyone feel this is a special meal, you allow time for the sense of satiety to kick in, which usually takes 20 minutes. Then you can offer smaller portions. That way, folks eat well but don’t have to mimic the turkey and be stuffed!

Vegetarian fare is always better—and of lower calorie content—but I’d be dreaming if I didn’t realize that many people who are vegetarian the rest of the year want turkey over the holidays. Even here, plan ahead. Why buy the biggest? If you can get by with a 12-pounder, why get a 20-pounder? We only encourage gluttony by overloading the table. Again, remember the key to whatever you offer: smaller portions.

Instead of creamy, sweet desserts, choose colorful fruits. Instead of ice cream, use sherbet. A nice touch is to serve a diminutive blob of the latter as a course all by itself, with the murmured words, “This is to cleanse the palate.”

Instead of littering the house with chocolates and nuts and other treats that tempt people to eat between meals, buy some of those sugarless hard candies—they give the appearance of abundance without the risks.

Then, instead of lolling about like medieval lords and ladies, why not plan an afternoon of going out as a family to help others? Your local social services will give you names of people in need who could benefit from a food basket. There may be shelters that would welcome your assistance over the holidays. If you know a family going through tough times, why not invite them over? Instead of spending on all those boxes of chocolates, rich shortbreads, and high-calorie cookies, buy some gifts for others. Even if you are in a cold climate, a good, brisk family walk will help dissipate some of the excess energy (and calories).

So here’s to your having a happy holiday season—without ballooning the waistline!