Q. It’s the holidays. I want to have fun and enjoy the festivities! How can I do that without gaining weight?

Food is an important part of holiday festivities. The key is to preserve the tradition and avoid the binge. This is the season to splurge – not on endless trays of fudge and cookies, but rather on the real meaning of the holidays – enjoying the company of others. That means putting food in its place. Mindlessly inhaling a third helping of stuffing won’t satisfy your soul and build memories like holding grandpa’s hand during the Super Bowl or the belly laughs with your sister in the kitchen.

Nurture the spirit of giving by planning parties around loved ones, not around eating. Instead of a sit-down gorge session, appetizer trays the size of the White House Christmas tree, or batches of cookies to feed an army, invite family and friends over at a non-eating time, such as mid-afternoon or late evening. Serve a beverage and a few low-calorie snacks as a compliment, not the focus, of the event. Then, consider any of the following as ways to spend more time with loved ones:

  • a cruise through the neighborhood in search of the best holiday decorations,
  • a holiday movie, like “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
  • sing hymns, such as Maoz Tzur, around the piano.
  • caroling, either at a nursing home or through the neighborhood.
  • sledding, tobogganing, skating, or cross country skiing.
  • a snowball fight, or a snowman or snow fort-building contest.
  • a tree-trimming or house decorating party, complete with stringing popcorn and cranberries, armfuls of holly, and mistle toe.
  • a wreath-making party with wire hoops, strips of wire, and lots of scotch pine, white pine, fir, cedar bows, holly, rhododendron, berries, pine cones, and fox wood.
  • a “get to know you better” party (people bring personal stories, play Charades, do magic tricks)

Q. How can I make my favorite holiday recipes more healthy?

It’s a myth that food has to be dripping in fat to taste good. You can cut fat, sugar, and salt and never even miss them. Better yet, it doesn’t take any more time to prepare low-calorie foods.

Most people know to remove the skin from chicken before cooking, use broth and wine for sauteing instead of oil or broth instead of butter in your stuffing, and to use cornstarch and broth instead of butter and flour for a roux when making creamed sauces. You also might know that you can dilute calories by adding more vegetables and salads to the center stage. But you might not know that you can:

  • Use potatoes instead of cream to make a rich and creamy soup.
  • Use baby prunes, applesauce, or apple butter in place of all or part of the fat in baked goods, such as breads and muffins.
  • Use a fat-separator cup to separate the fat from the liquid in turkey drippings before making gravy.
  • Take advantage of the fat-free products on the market: Fat-free half & half, cream cheese, sour cream, whipped cream, evaporated milk.
  • Use healthy foods in recipes, such as 8th Continent Complete soymilk instead of milk for mashed potatoes.
  • Cut sugar in recipes by up to one-third without altering the taste. Also, several no-calorie substitutes are available that would make any Sugar Plum Fairy proud, such as Splenda or Nutrasweet.
  • Season with flavor-packed ingredients and you won’t even miss the salt, such as roasted red peppers, cilantro, fresh ginger, or salsa. Cut the salt by half in recipes or use salt substitutes.

Just because you cut the fat, sugar, and calories, don’t sabotage yourself by eating twice as much! You still need to watch portions.

Q. How can I avoid overeating at parties?

First, decide what occasions and foods are really special to you, that enhance the tradition and meaning of the holidays, then plan those into your schedule. Decide to attend only the most valuable parties; you don’t have to say “yes” to every invitation.

Second, once you’re in the door, sample foods that are special or unique to the holidays and bypass the everyday goodies. You can eat a handful of nuts, chips and dip, or a chocolate chip cookie anytime, but a thin slice of pumpkin pie or a special appetizer only comes around once a year.

Remember, it’s the first bite that counts; after the fifth Christmas cookie or the fourth gulp of egg nog, they all taste the same. So, take a sample, don’t pig out, and savor the flavor and the company. Of course, don’t tempt yourself by standing near the appetizer table. If you find yourself overeating at a party, try to disengage and get away from the food. Take a tour of the house, admire the decorations, or step outside may be all you need to break the overeating cycle.

Q.What is the best appetizer to eat to avoid weight gain?

Think about what you are drinking before you ponder the appetizers. You definitely need a plan regarding alcohol. Alcohol dissolves your resolve so that once you start drinking you are likely to eat more. Even one light beer or one wine spritzer can topple your willpower.

Steering clear of alcohol also has some added bonuses. For one thing, you’ll save 100s of calories. Switch from light beer or wine to sparkling water and you’ll save 100+ calories, grab a diet cola instead of a mug of egg nog and you’ll save up to 300 calories, and sip on iced tea instead of hot buttered rum and you’ve banked up to 400 calories. Some holiday drinks pack up to 450 calories, that’s the calorie load of a double cheeseburger. Teetotalers also may have more fun. Don’t drink and you’ll be amazed how much you’ll learn about your friends and co-workers who are drinking!

With your whits about you, use some common sense. Load your plate with low-calorie appetizers, such as raw vegetables and fresh fruit. Add a few steamed shrimp, a slice of turkey breast, and an ounce of nuts. Then remove yourself from further temptation by standing as far from the buffet as possible.

Q. What should I stay away from on the appetizer table?

You need a game plan. A vague intention not to overeat leaves you wide open to every whim and temptation when faced with a scrumptious buffet table. Instead, decide ahead of time, before you even set foot in the door, exactly what you will and won’t do, then stick with it. For example,

  • Plan to taste 5 interesting hors d’oeuvres while munching mostly on the raw vegetables and fresh fruit.
  • Eat whatever you want, but serve half your typical portion.
  • Choose the foods you want and limit yourself to one turn at the buffet table.
  • Establish a trade off system where you decide to have 3 pieces of a co-worker’s homemade fudge at the office party this afternoon in exchange for avoiding desserts for the next three days.

Always look over the buffet table carefully before you even pick up a plate; load up on the fruit, fresh vegetables, and other fill-you-up-without-filling-you-out items; and then compliment the healthy stuff with a few decadent items. Plan ahead to side-step stumbling blocks, i.e., stand somewhere other than by the buffet table, visit with people who are not eating, and cover your plate with your napkin to signal you’re done. Finally, listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry, not because the food is there or because others are eating.

12 Tips for Managing Your Waistline During the Holidays

You can maintain your waistline and your health and still enjoy the holidays if you face them with a plan that includes:

1. Be choosy. Attend only the parties and eat only those foods that are most important to the tradition of the holidays.

2. Don’t skip meals. Skip breakfast to bank the calories will to lead to overeating at the party. So front load your calories, by eating a light and healthful breakfast and lunch. For example, have a bowl of whole grain cereal topped with 8th Continent Complete soymilk and served with a glass of orange juice for breakfast and a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread served with a spinach salad for lunch.

3. Sample, don’t gorge. The enjoyment of tasting new foods comes in the first few bites. Savor the flavor of one appetizer, but don’t eat the whole bowl.

4. Be polite, not nice. Rehearse ahead of time how you will gracefully say “no” to food offers, coaxings, and coercions.

5. Have a specific plan. Decide ahead of time exactly what and how much you will eat and drink. Then stick with your plan.

6. Just say “no” to alcohol. Even one beer or wine spritzer can breakdown your defenses and lead to overeating. Avoid alcohol altogether, dilute your drinks, or alternate one alcoholic beverage with two non-alcoholic beverages.

7. Loosen up. Give yourself permission to attend a party, even if you don’t eat or drink.

8. Never arrive hungry. You are less likely to overeat and more likely to feel relaxed and ready to enjoy the festivities if you have a healthful snack or mini-meal before a party.

9. Think veggies. Fill your plate with vegetables, fruit, low-fat crackers and cheese, and an extra-lean slice of meat from the buffet table and enjoy the company guilt-free.

10. Liquify: Stay hydrated by drinking good-for-you beverages, such as water, sparkling water, 8th Continent Complete soymilk, low-sodium tomato or V8 juice, and diluted fruit juice.

11. Scape it off. You can scrape lots of calories off treats and still enjoy the experience. Scrape the icing off a piece of carrot cake and you save 245 calories. Eat pie without the crust and save 120 calories. Pizza cleared of cheese saves 100 calories. If you made these small concessions every day, you’d prevent a 5-pound weight gain over the holidays.

12. Work it off. Now is the time to exercise. Move more throughout the day to burn off any extra calories. Go for a walk after meals, walk once around the mall before shopping, use stairs instead of the escalator, park a few blocks from your destination, walk to a co-worker’s station rather than email her, put away the remote control and the mobile phone and get up to change the station or answer the phone. Don’t put off a workout because your don’t have time for the whole 9 yards. Daily spurts of exercise are useful, too. Remember – exercise is the currency with which you “pay” for all the yummy holiday fare.

The Top 7 Holiday Super Foods

Make sure you daily or weekly menu includes these foods during the holiday season:

1. Soymilk: Soymilk has moved from the fringes to mainstream,. This simple way to add soy to the diet packs a major nutrient punch. Fortified soymilk is a great alternative to cow’s milk in supplying calcium and vitamin D, plus it contains phytoestrogens that lower heart disease risk, promises to reduce the risk for memory loss and osteoporosis, and even might help with weight loss. 8th Continent Complete is even better, since it also contains the omega-3 fat DHA, which helps lower heart disease risk and is essential for brain and vision development in kids. Plus, 8th Continent Complete packs 3 grams of fiber into every glass.

How to Use: Use instead of milk in holiday recipes, or in coffee, on cereal, or add to smoothies

2. Bagged greens: This time of year, the secret to healthy eating is simplicity. It doesn’t get any easier than with bagged lettuce and spinach. It is almost impossible to meet all your nutritional needs without including dark green leafies. A one-cup serving of spinach supplies 150mg of magnesium, or more than half of a woman’s daily recommendation. Dark green leafies also boost your intake of fiber; vitamin C; folic acid, the B vitamin that lowers risk for heart disease, memory loss, and birth defects; vitamin K that helps build strong bones; and the minerals calcium, iron, and potassium. But, that’s just the tip of this nutritional iceberg. A study from Cornell University found that of all the vegetables studied, dark greens have the highest score for inhibiting cancer cells. Greens are especially good sources of the phytochemical lutein, which lowers the risk for age-related vision loss.

How to Use: Switch from iceberg lettuce to spinach or other dark lettuces for salads; layer greens into lasagna; steam, chop, and whip them into mashed potatoes; add a bag of baby spinach to scrambled eggs, soups, or stews, or saute them in a little olive oil and garlic. (Heating greens actually improves their beta carotene and lutein content, as long as you cook them quickly in a minimal amount of liquid.)

3. Sweet Potatoes: No time to fix a big dinner? You can have an evening meal on the table in 15 minutes, just put chicken breasts under the broiler, make a salad with bagged lettuce, heat some frozen peas, and put a sweet potato in the microwave. Even a small serving of deep-orange vegetables supplies five times the Daily Value for beta carotene, which might lower your risk for cancer, boost defenses against colds and infections, and protect the skin from sun damage. Beta carotene accumulates in the skin providing partial 24-hour protection against sun damage. The more carotene-rich produce you eat, the more skin protection you get. Bright orange veggies also supply hefty amounts of vitamin C, potassium, and iron, and more fiber than a slice of whole wheat bread or a bowl of oatmeal.

How to Use: Microwave that sweet potato and top with maple syrup and pecans. Puree and add cooked sweet potatoes to soups as a thickener. Use instead of potatoes in salads. Slice sweet potatoes into wedges, salt, and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes for golden fries. Cook, mash, and use instead of noodles or rice as a base for any dish.

4. Nuts: During the Holidays, make sure to always bring healthy foods with you, so you aren’t caught short with only the vending machine to choose from. Along with string cheese, apples, and other healthy carry-along snacks, bring an ounce of nuts. Nuts are an excellent source of protein, magnesium, vitamin E, and B vitamins, and recent research shows that a handful of nuts consumed several times a week lowers heart disease and cancer risk. Granted, nuts are high in calories, but the fat is heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats that helps with weight loss.

How to Use: Sprinkle them instead of croutons on salads, into rice dishes, atop cereal and yogurt, or into a stir fry.

5. Low-Sodium Broth-Based Soups: This time of year, make sure the cupboards are stocked with reduced-sodium soups. The ultimate trick to permanent weight loss is to feel satisfied on fewer calories. That trick includes two accomplices: fiber and water. Two components of soup. People who start a meal with a bowl of soup cut back on calories for the rest of the meal and stayed full longer throughout the day compared to women who skipped the pre-meal soup. In fact, people average about 135 calories less when the meal contains soup. That might not sound like much, but over the course of a year it equates to a 14 pound loss! Weight-loss experts predict that if Americans cut just 100 calories a day it would halt the obesity epidemic in this country. That’s three bites of food, 10 minutes of walking, or a daily bowl of soup.

How to Use: You can either make a big batch of homemade vegetable soup to use throughout the week. Or choose reduced-sodium canned soups, then dilute the sodium and increase the fiber by adding extra frozen peas and carrots or chopped spinach. At restaurants, make soup your main course.

6. Cans of Beans: We all know that beans are mind-boggling good for you. Whether they are lentils, chick peas, split peas, or black, kidney, navy, or pinto beans, legumes are packed with nutrients that improve mood, such as folate, calcium, copper, magnesium, iron, and zinc. The folate in beans protects against a memory-destroying compound called homocysteine. The antioxidant phytonutrients in legumes, such as saponins and phytosterols, lower cancer and heart disease risk. Beans also are the perfect diet food. They are almost fat-free, but high in protein, water, and fiber – the magic combo for feeling full and satisfied on few calories. One cup of cooked legumes has up to 16 grams of fiber! You would have to eat five bananas or four cups of corn to get that much fiber!

How to Use: Use beans in salads, burritos, and soups, or sprinkle with cilantro and serve hot on top or rice. Skip the ranch dip and dunk vegetables in hummus.

7. Whole Grains: Grains are one of the reasons we gain weight during the holidays. But not all grains are diet disasters. In fact, whole grains help you lose weight! While we eat record amounts of refined grains, typical consumption of whole grains is less than one serving a day. Eighty five percent of our grains are refined, which contributes to a huge fiber shortfall, not to mention the vitamins and minerals that are lost when grains are processed. Whole grains also supply health-enhancing phytochemicals not found in refined grains. Many refined grains, such as cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and muffins, are so high in fat that they rank #4 as a source of saturated fat in our diets. Research repeatedly reports that people who eat the most whole grains have lower risks for stroke, colon cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even weight gain.

How to Use: Switch from white bread to 100% whole wheat for sandwiches, French toast, and Holiday dinner rolls.

For more information on holiday eating, super foods, and 8th Continent Complete, go to www.8thcontinent.com