Festive parties and extravagant dinners can wreak havoc with your diet (and your budget), but it doesn't have to be that way. To avoid packing on the pounds while indulging in holiday cheer, focus on eating green and clean.
What's "eating clean"? It means choosing whole, natural foods; avoiding prepared and processed items; and keeping an eye on fat, sugar and salt. Eating clean encourages searching out organic and local produce and humanely raised meat whenever possible. And it's also easy on the wallet because prepared items generally cost more ounce for ounce than foods you make yourself.
Easy enough at the average cocktail party, right? Well, maybe not. To help navigate the sea of sweet and fatty treats this holiday, try these simple tips:
Diane Welland is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eating Clean.
Count on Color
Holiday dinners tend to center on big brown or white proteins like turkey, roast beef or ham. Give sides their due and turn your table into a rainbow of colors with an array of fruits and vegetables. Pumping up the produce is easier on the pocketbook as well as the environment, and gives you plenty of beneficial antioxidants, too.
Alcohol calories can add up fast, especially when paired with rich treats like eggnog. One "clean" alternative: think about serving some good-for-you flavored ice teas (with or without alcohol) like honey English tea or peach green tea. You can even create your own fruity blends like a breezy blueberry tea or cranberry apple tea. If you love wine, give it a spritz of sparkling water or seltzer for a lower calorie fizzy option.
Prepared, processed foods tend to multiply on the grocery store shelves during the holiday season, but think of how much more special -- and healthier -- your food will be if you prepare it yourself. The key to cooking clean: start cooking early and make as much food ahead of time as possible.
Keep It Simple
You don't have to be an accomplished chef to make wonderful dinners during the holidays; sometimes the simplest dishes can be the most memorable. Imagine crisp green beans with caramelized onions, roasted Brussels sprouts with a drizzle of honey, and sweet beets with a sprinkle of walnuts and lemony chevre. The possibilities are endless. Maximize ingredients, minimize prep time and don't stress. Keep it fresh and simple and you'll enjoy yourself just as much as your guests do.
Always include some unrefined whole grains on the menu. These nutritional powerhouses provide loads of vitamins, minerals and fiber and simple substitutions can make a big difference. Try switching out white bread for whole wheat, or subbing in brown rice for white.
Don't Use Paper or Plastic
Consider using silverware, cloth napkins and dishware, rather than throwaway paper or plastic. Don't worry if dishes dont all match -- mixing up plates gives your party personality. And clean up doesn't have to be a hassle if you corral some of your friends into the kitchen and make it a social event. Most guests are more than willing to help out.
Minimize Your Plate
To keep the calories down, take only one serving of each item and savor each bite slowly. Remember, the holidays are about spending time with loved ones, not scarfing down huge plates of Christmas cookies. To help you keep it lean and clean use a smaller dessert or appetizer plate for entrée items. It's a great way to fill up your plate without overeating or feeling deprived.
Don't Forget to Eat
Whether you're preparing for your own party or going to someone else's, it's essential that you don't skip meals before the big event -- even if you know there'll be lots of tasty morsels to try. Commit to eating small portions throughout the day so you don't overeat or make poor food choices because you're so hungry.