Health for the Holidays

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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Every holiday season we ask a few friends to join us here at The Kitchn for a series of guest posts. The topics range from favorite holiday recipes to family memories and traditions. Today’s guest: Jess Goldman, Sodium Girl, talking about health during the holiday period. Yes, I know Christmas is over, and Hanukkah nearly is as well, but there is a whole week of feasting left through New Year’s, and these tips may come in really handy.

Most of the year, we eat for sustenance. Yes, of course, we eat to socialize, too. But in general, we snack to cure rumbling stomachs. We lunch to break from the work hours. We dine at night to close the day. And we breakfast in the morning to fuel up for the new one ahead.

And most of the year, if you’re on a special health or allergy-related diet, you navigate these food-focused engagements rather easily. You stuff your bag with treats to keep full. You eat where and when you can. You make satisfying meals at home to curb cravings, all while keeping tabs of those nutritional goals.

But during the holidays, that’s a different beast.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Family and friends constantly feast together. Evenings are spent at appetizer-filled events. And we share, love, and connect over these holiday meals, many of which are out of our hands and, most likely, outside of dietary boundaries as well.

This can be a hard holiday fact for people to swallow. And in order to keep a sense of normalcy and tradition (edible and otherwise), many trade healthful eating for ease. Which can lead to guilt, discomfort, or worse, spending the holidays in the hospital. Which, speaking from experience, isn’t so jolly.

This year, though, let’s promise to all stay on the good list.

With the right approach, you can avoid naughty nibbling while keeping your favorite traditions and your special diet. Simple tips will help you stay full, whether you dine at your own home or at someone else’s. And by inviting others in on your healthy eating secrets, you might just find that you’ll inspire them to make a few food resolutions of their own. Or make a special spread for the holiday buffet next year.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Hosting the Holidays
Step one: Do your holiday homework. Whether it is the honey-baked ham, Tanta’s tamales, or that famous pecan pie, some of your favorite treats may include ingredients you must avoid. But don’t settle for a bland piece of grilled chicken breast (no offense, chicken breast). Put your twist on traditional recipes and ready-to-eat items instead.

Decide on the snack or meal you most wish to make and then boil it down to the basic. Highlight which ingredients you’ll need to replace (whether it is salt, dairy, nuts, wheat, or other dietary challenges). Then brainstorm what will best mimic the flavor, look, texture, and smell provided by the original items.

You may not end up with a perfect low-sodium replica of a honey-baked ham. But you will create a Chinese five-spice rubbed pork chop with a maple, molasses, and apricot preserve glaze that has all the sweet savory personality of the original (not to mention many flavors of your own invention). Consider it your chance to put a personal stamp on the season.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Dining At Someone Else’s Table
Without ever having to impose, you can participate in all the culinary gatherings while sticking to your diet needs. But before we get to the tips, remember this: People want their guests to be happy and full. And if the host or hostess finds you nibbling on the edible table arrangements to stave off starvation, they will feel terrible they did not provide anything for you to eat. Sharing is caring. So here are some ways to let your family and friends cook for you, without asking too much of their time, money, or catering bill.

Option 1: Full-Disclosure
Your relatives and best friends most likely already know about your needs and may even be eager to try their hand at making special food for you. When you send that RSVP also ask if you can send a recipe or two for easy appetizer or entrees. Or if they want to make everything themselves, pass along a list ingredients to use and, of course, those to avoid.

Option 2: Helping Hand
To avoid asking the busy host or hostess to make a special meal for you. offer to bring a few share-worthy dishes yourself. Easily transportable appetizers — like apple cider pickled cherries or strawberry bruschetta — and family-style sides — like wild rice and pomegranate stuffing — will not only fill you up but will taste equally delicious to others.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Option 3: Edible Gifts
If you don’t know the host or hostess that well, and you don’t want to bring up your health needs, bring an edible hostess gift instead. I know, sneaky. Colorful, finger foods — like spiced popcorn and candied apples — will look too good (and perishable) to put in the cupboard. And when these items join the other appetizers and desserts, you’re guaranteed something safe to eat.

Option 4: Secret Stash
Last but not least, pack a snack pack. If you wish to keep your dietary needs on the down low, bring a small bag of prepared portions. You can even choose to mimic the host’s menu so your meal matches the others. And if someone realizes you have nothing to eat (gasp!), they’ll be happy to know you came prepared. Throw your food on a plate and be served with everyone else. And show them just how crafty you can be.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Jessica Goldman (recently) Foung: After Lupus caused her kidneys to fail, Jessica Goldman Foung refocused her life and her work to study food, health, and the many ways they interact. She regularly writes for Edible San Francisco, Stanford Hospital, and and hosts the blog on keeping a limitless low-sodium life. She will release a low-sodium cookbook (Bloody Marys and all) with Wiley Publishing next fall.

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Thank you so much for sharing, Jessica!
Visit Jessica’s weblog:
Sodium Girl

• See more Holiday Guest Posts here

(Images: Jessica Goldman Foung)