Ask St. Ann’s – Facing Down Those Holiday Desserts

You’ve been eating right all year, making healthy choices and keeping the extra pounds at bay. Suddenly, everywhere you look there are cookies of every description, pies of all kinds, cakes of indescribable beauty.

Welcome to the holiday season! It’s the time of year when desserts seem to have us surrounded.

Well here’s an early gift from a registered dietitian: It’s OK to partake.

It is unrealistic to expect yourself to avoid sweets during the holidays. They’re simply part of the celebration, adding to the feeling of good cheer we’re all entitled to enjoy. Unreal expectations (“I will not eat any sweets”) will only cause resentment and disappointment, and that’s not how any of us should go through the holidays.

A more realistic approach? Arrive at the holiday party with a plan. Make an agreement with yourself to follow these steps so you can enjoy without overdoing.

  •  Allow yourself some goodies. (The key word is “some.”) Limited indulgence on special occasions will not derail your healthy lifestyle unless you let it.
  • Scan the dessert table and decide on a few items you really want. Use a small plate and take only the items you decided on. When the plate is empty, call it quits.
  • Don’t sit next to the dessert table! Why create unnecessary temptation?
  • Take advantage of the festive occasion to engage with those around you. Enjoy the time together to socialize and converse, rather than making eating your central mission.
  • Drink plenty of water. This will keep you hydrated while also helping you feel full and avoid overeating.
  • Bring a healthy dish to pass (roasted vegetables, a salad, the recipe below) so you have something good to fall back on. Enjoy the veggies and fruits on the hors doeuvre tray.
  • Listen to your body. Are you eating because you’re hungry or because the cookies just look so good? It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain you’ve had enough. Take a time out and let that message get through.
  • Take a short walk after eating. This can help with digestion and maintain a healthy blood-sugar level after a high-carb meal. And be sure to keep up with your normal fitness routine throughout the season.

The holidays are a special time of year, one we all deserve to enjoy. The key is to keep your goals in mind, your urges in check, and your healthy habits in place when the party’s over.

Bonus Recipe: Healthy (and Tasty!) Green Bean Casserole

½ cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 ½ lbs. green beans
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
8 oz. baby bella (crimini) mushrooms, sliced
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% milk
7 oz. Greek yogurt
1 tsp. kosher salt, ½ tsp. black pepper, 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

Topping: Stir the breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley, and olive oil together.

Casserole: Blanch the green beans, pat dry. In a sauce pan, saute onion and mushrooms in oil. Add the flour and stir. Add milk and spices. Stir, then let sauce reduce. Remove pan from heat, add yogurt.

Spread half the green beans into a baking dish, then layer half the sauce on top. Finish with the remaining green beans and sauce. Top with breadcrumb mixture. Broil for 1 to 3 minutes until  browned then let sit for 10 minutes. Serves 10.


Christine Walsh, a registered dietitian, is Nutrition Services Manager for St. Ann’s Community. She can be reached at [email protected].

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