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Local dietitians offer holiday eating tips

WORTHINGTON — Ah, the holiday season. It’s a time for family, gifts, thankfulness … and, usually, plenty of eating.

Food at the holidays is often awaited with mouth-watering anticipation, but with that enthusiasm comes an increased possibility of eating unwisely.

“It’s all about everything in moderation,” said Claire Jucht, registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Worthington. “I’m not telling people that they can’t have stuffing and mashed potatoes and those kinds of things — just have everything in moderation.”

With that, Jucht recommends a balanced eating approach to the traditional big holiday meal.

“There’s a lot of different healthier options, but it’s also about keeping in mind that things like stuffing and mashed potatoes are very carbohydrate-dense,” she said. “Then, your pie on top of that also has a lot of carbohydrates. You could maybe have more turkey, ham or green bean casserole … and have the other ones in smaller portions. You could fill up more on protein and vegetable items.”

It’s common to have the focus of a holiday be one large meal, with a considerable amount of snacking in between. Not surprisingly, Jucht offers words of caution.

“I tell people that they should try to have a good protein-packed breakfast with a lot of fiber, and then also drink a lot of water during the day,” she explained. “That will make sure you feel full and not wanting to snack on the goodie buffet.”

Michelle Poppen, dietitian at Sanford Worthington Medical Center, concurs that it’s wise to be self-aware about eating outside of mealtime.

“It’s not always the one or two meals that get us in trouble — it’s the in-between,” Poppen said. “For example, you have offices where each department will have a day to bring in treats. … All those sorts of things add up, versus just having a big meal. What you have to do is stop and decide, ‘do I really need that cookie or that cup of punch?’”

Treats such as cookies and pie are, of course, highly anticipated at this time of year, but there ways to enjoy sweets in a smarter and healthier way.

“I tell people they can slice a pie in 10 pieces instead of eight,” Jucht suggested. “You can still have it, but just in not as large a portion.

“Peppermint candy after a holiday meal … can kind of curb the hunger for something else,” she added. “Or, maybe have a piece of Dove dark chocolate. The higher (percent cacao content) you go, the less I feel you need. … The flavor’s a little more on the bitter side, but dark chocolate also has a lot of healthy antioxidants so it’s very good for you, too.”

Large helpings of not-so-healthy foods can also be avoided with another trick.

“If you can, use a smaller plate, such as a salad plate, that will also help cut down on portion sizes,” Jucht said.

“The main thing is, people should try to make one trip instead of two or three — get your favorite things first, but have them in moderation. (The holiday) only comes around once a year, but stop before you’re stuffed because that’s the problem.”

While Poppen is also quick to recommend small portions at holiday meals, she also touts the benefit of exercise during the holidays as well as throughout the year.

“I think one of the biggest things that people let go during holidays is exercise time,” Poppen said. “That’s just a double whammy because you’re eating more and not exercising on top of that.

“Those of us who exercise on a regular basis, keep doing that (during the holidays),” she added. “Those who normally don’t, maybe they should look at it as a good time to start.”

Food is something that makes the holidays special, but it’s important to remember that there are plenty of other sources of fun.

“Are you sitting around the TV watching football, or sitting around eating hors d’oeuvres all day long? Try doing something different — limit yourself to one plate, or maybe do something else, like doing crafts with the family or going outside if it’s decent weather,” Poppen said.

Poppen recalled a story about an acquaintance who once enjoyed cooking at the holidays, but has since taken a new approach to getting in the spirit of the season.

“She said she was backing off on the cooking,” she said. “She wanted to put more effort into the decorating … or the table.”

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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