Gorging Yourself on Cheap, Coin-Shaped Candy? You Are SO Better Than That
Chanukkah (or however the heck you spell it) is a time of lighting the menorah, recounting yet another story of the resilience of the Jewish people, and celebrating miracles both great and small. It’s also a time of eating things you wouldn’t dare touch the rest of the year, letting your standards slide, and finding yourself hung over on January 1st, loathing yourself as you struggle to button your jeans.
Don’t be that person.
Thinking outside of the junk food box is easier than you may think. (It’s certainly a heck of a lot easier than spelling Hanukah.) Here are some handy tips and tricks for pigging out responsibly this holiday season.
IDEAS FOR SNACKING AND GIFTING:
These are all simple recipes that you can find online or in most cook books. See if you can get through this Chanukkah without gifting candy!
Spiced Nuts: Combine any combination of raw, unsalted nuts of your choosing, like almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pecans. Coat with a little bit of honey, and sprinkle with cinnamon or allspice. Bake at low/medium for 10-15 minutes. This is a delightful little treat with a satisfying crunch. It packs a great protein punch to boot.
Creative Corn: Think beyond the predictable kettle corn and caramel junk. I’m talking about real popcorn here! Pop it yourself on the stovetop (you can do it in a covered pot, no fancy popper required), in real butter or coconut oil. Melt a little butter or coconut oil separately to drizzle on top. For a savory, cheesy flavor, sprinkle with nutritional yeast and dill. For a little kick, sprinkle with curry powder. And for a sweeter crunch, sprinkle with cinnamon and cardamom. If gifting, place in a clear cellophane bag and tie off with a bright blue ribbon. (Wait until it’s cooled, so the hot kernels don’t melt the bag!)
Home Made Dips and Sauces: Don’t you get sick of people giving you cheap candy around the holidays? I know I do. Feel free to spice things up with home made salsa, pesto, tomato sauce, hummus or other delightful dip. Pour your creation into a mason jar, slap on a decorative label, and prepare to impress.
Chocolate-Covered Fruit: For a decadent, eye-pleasing creation, choose brightly colored fruits like strawberries and pineapple. Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler, dip the fruit, and let it cool in the fridge on wax paper. I recommend using dark chocolate (80% cacao content or higher) to let the sweetness of the fruit balance out the bitter chocolate. Plus you’ll feel less guilty about reaching for a second piece. A real treat for kids and grownups alike.
Make Your Own Trail Mix: This ain’t no boring blend, so skip the raisins and peanuts, puh-lease. Throw in exciting treats like dried blueberries, goji berries, dried cherries, and shredded coconut. Be sure to balance out the sweet with some good fat and protein, like almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, and pepitas.
TOO BUSY TO BAKE? BURN EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH?
I empathize. But you’re still not off the hook for eating and gifting junk. Hit up the home goods section of your local Marshall’s, Ross, or TJ Maxx for creative gift ideas. You can also cruise the aisles of your local health food store for treats like these:
Fancy Tea in a Decorative Tin: Bonus points if it’s aromatic. If buying loose leaf, consider gifting a strainer or teapot.
Organic, Fairly Traded Coffee: The fastest way to any American’s heart. Throw in a funky mug or a milk frother to seal the deal.
Raw, Unpasteurized, Local Honey: Hit up your local health food store or farmer’s market for a dose of nature’s medicine. Raw, local honey can even help stave off the seasonal allergies that await you come spring! (Note: it is not recommended to give honey to babies.)
Coarsely ground sea salt: If it’s grey, pink, or black, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be good. Stay away from the plain white table salt.
Fancy Nut or Trail Mix: If you transfer it into a cellophane bag, tie a ribbon around it, and say you made it yourself, I promise not to snitch.
GENERAL THOUGHTS ON FOOD, MOOD, AND THE HOLIDAYS:
You are invariably going to cheat on whatever diet you’re on around Channuka and New Years. It’s bound to happen. Whether you’re counting calories, swearing off sugar, or powering through Paleo style, something will slip by your lips that might not during other times of the year. Take a deep breath. Commit to accepting and loving yourself this season.
…And now let’s review some ways to make sure it all happens in moderation, so the little indulgences feel like treats instead of blows to your sense of self worth.
Vegetables: More than any other time of year, it’s important to eat your veggies! Try to make half of your plate at every meal plant-based. Potatoes and corn don’t count. The goal here is for you to get full mostly on vegetables, so that when the less healthy dishes come around you’re eating them for fun and not to actually get full. Going to a potluck? Bring a salad. Hosting a dinner? Don’t let your guests cop out by bringing wine or tortilla chips; ask them to bring a vegetable dish. This is especially important vegetarians, who are often stuck with pasta and latkes at family gatherings – foods low in nutritional value and high in quick-burning carbohydrates.
No Skipping Meals: Skipping lunch so you can pig out at dinner is a recipe for disaster. Plus it actually makes you gain weight, because you’re confusing the heck out of your metabolism. Promote normal metabolic function by eating three meals and three snacks daily. Yes, even if you’re getting Chinese takeout tonight. Oh, and on that note, let’s get this down in writing: coffee is not – and has never been – an acceptable meal replacement.
Eat a Savory Breakfast Every Day: You will have so many opportunities to eat sugar through the rest of your day; there is no reason whatsoever to start your day off with it. Focus instead on nutrient-dense, protein-rich, breakfasts like eggs, whole milk yogurt, chicken sausage, sautéed vegetables, even dinner leftovers.
Balance Your Blood Sugar: If you’re eating something sweet, try to pair it with a little fat and protein to dampen the insulin spike. Skip the applesauce and put plain, whole milk yogurt on your latkes. (On that note revamp your latkes with a little more nutritional content and a little less quick-burning carbohydrate by adding lots of shredded zuccini to your recipe.) Also, try to eat sweets and starches around mealtime, to soften the blood sugar blow to your system.
Watch the Liquid Sugar: One can of cola contains more sugar than two frosted pop tarts and a twinkie combined. Gross. With all the opportunities to eat sugar this season, there really is no excuse for drinking soda. Think you’re off the hook for drinking diet? Research actually shows that people who drink diet sodas consume more calories per day than non-diet drinkers. This is because a chemical in diet softdrinks suppresses the hormone that lets your brain know you’re full after you’ve eaten. Scary stuff.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention…
Move Your Tuchus! Exercise is the SINGLE best thing you can do for your health, every season. This is especially true around the holidays, when you’re eating more calories and getting stressed about your dysfunctional family. Use exercise as your anchor this season. You can even turn it into a family activity, with everybody going for a stroll after dinner. Try to get a light sweat going if you can. The goal is 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.
May this Hanukkah be one filled with light, miracles, and healthy eating!
P.S.: Check out my free online talk on these and other tips for eating healthy during the holidays.