Healthy Holiday Habits

Editor’s Note: This post created by Guest Blogger: Katie Graham MS, Dietetic Intern 



Is it just me or does the holiday season come faster every year? Of course, with the season comes parties and events packed with festive foods. On average Americans gain 1-2 pounds between Halloween and New Year’s. Without change, these additional pounds can start to add up over the years. Luckily, with a few slight tweaks, you can stay on track and be one step ahead of holiday weight gain. 

Healthy Habit #1 – Look out for Liquid Calories

Alcoholic and sugar- sweetened beverages are a major source of empty calories. Make water your beverage of choice, try adding cranberries or oranges for a festive twist. 

Healthy Habit #2 – Snack Attack

Calorie intake before the meal can often be as much as the meal itself. So, limiting your food intake to the main course is best. If you do choose to partake pick a small amount of your favorite appetizer and pair with an array of fruits and veggies so you are not tempted to go back for more. 

Image from rawpixel.comHealthy Habit #3 – Vary your plate

You can make half your plate vegetables, by using a larger serving utensil for vegetable dishes. Choose a lean protein option like; white meat turkey without the skin, ham with the fat cut off, or beans. Skip the roll with butter; it won’t be missed. Pick a small amount of one of your favorites like potatoes, stuffing, or macaroni for a well-balanced meal. For increased calorie savings try using low-fat plain Greek yogurt in place of butter or swapping out traditional potatoes for a cauliflower mash. 

Healthy Habit #4 – Get Creative with Desserts 

Make healthy substitutions when baking. Cook with unsweetened applesauce or mashed ripe bananas instead of butter. Use spices such as cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg instead of salt to add flavor. To save more calories choose a mini portion of your favorite dessert and don’t go back for seconds. 

Healthy Habit #5 – Focus on More than the Meal 

Eat slowly during the meal so you have time to feel full and enjoy the company of others. After the meal steer social activities away from the table. My family enjoys making memories by being active together during the holidays. Each year we hold our own Turkey Trot! 

Healthy Habit #6 – Relax 

Give yourself a break! If you feel stressed out or overwhelmed over the holidays find support, connect socially, and get plenty of sleep. You can also try mediation, breathing exercises, and yoga.

Happy Holidays!

Happy Healthy Halloween!

Candy reigns supreme on Halloween. Little trick-or-treaters will be knocking on doors soon to see what treats they find. It is estimated that children accumulate between 3,500 and 7,000 calories of treats in one night of trick-or-treating. Halloween should be fun for the children but there are things you can do to make it healthier for them.

Young playful girl with her Halloween jack-o'-lanternBefore Trick-or-Treating: 

  • Serve a healthy meal before the kids leave the house such as homemade fish sticks, or spaghetti. You can make English muffin mini-pizzas and let your kids decorate with using cut-up veggies, or apples with low -fat caramel dip. 
  • If kids are full before they go trick-or-treating, then they may eat fewer pieces of candy afterward.
  • Plan to walk to each house instead of drive. This can create bonding time with your kids while also increasing daily exercise. 

After Trick-or-Treating

  • Make healthy snacks for when you and your kids return home. Some healthy treats to offer are animal crackers, pretzels, popcorn, popcorn balls, granola bars, fruit, trail mix, whole- grain cheddar cheese crackers.
  • Have the children divide their candy into two piles: the candy they want to eat and the candy they don’t. 
  • Donate the candy they don’t want to a local charity

There is nothing wrong with letting them eat candy on Halloween night as long as you limit the amount. A little goes a long way and it’s best to allow kids to have no more than 1-3 pieces of candy a day, starting with lunch at school, as an afternoon snack, or after dinner, making it a regular part of meals. The rest of the candy can go in the freezer so that it is out of sight and out of mind.

No Candy Trick-or-Treat Alternatives: trickortreat

  • Finger puppets
  • Glow sticks
  • Bubbles
  • Stencils 
  • Spider Rings
  • Playing cards 
  • Mini Play-Doh

Candy alternatives can be a great option for children who have food allergies. 

The fun part of Halloween is dressing in costume, spending time with family and friends and getting surprise treats. Trick or treating is a fun family tradition but try something different this year to make it healthier for the “little ghosts and goblins.”   


Kick Off Your Super Bowl Party With Healthy Options

The biggest football game of the year is only days away. It doesn’t matter if you are a football fan or not. People don’t just go to Super Bowl parties for the football—they go to watch the commercials and half-time show, and most importantly, enjoy the food. From appetizers to main dishes to desserts, super bowl parties usually include a wide variety of foods. Some of the most popular Super Bowl foods are chicken wings, sliders, pizza, dips, meatballs, potato skins, cheese balls and cakes. People can consume as much as 2400 calories during the four-hour game. If you want to offer your guests choices, there are plenty of ways to offer delicious and healthy options alongside the traditional “super bowl” foods.

If you have a favorite recipe but want to “lighten” it up, there are easy substitutions to make without sacrificing the flavor.

  • When making dips, substitute low-fat sour cream or plain yogurt for regular sour cream to reduce saturated fat and calories.
  • Try reduced-fat cheese in recipes or choose a sharp cheese so you can use a smaller amount but still get the flavor.
  • For those Buffalo chicken dip fans, there are easy ways to cut the calories and saturated fat. Use low-fat cream cheese and lite Ranch dressing (or plain yogurt with Ranch dip seasoning packet) and serve with veggies as a healthy option. Another option is to cut out the cheese, and uses low-sodium chicken broth, chicken, cauliflower, Buffalo sauce and cream cheese.

People like to snack during the game. For those fans who want healthy choices:

  • Offer a vegetable tray with lite dip or hummus.
  • Make meatballs and chili using extra lean ground beef or low fat ground turkey in place of regular ground beef. Another great option is White Chicken Chili. These foods are easy foods to make the day before the game and serve in a slow cooker.
Chili provides a healthy and hearty option for Super Bowl fans. The best part is it’s super easy to make with a slow cooker!

A party is not complete without desserts.

  • Fruit trays are always a popular and healthy choice. If you are more creative, try carving a small watermelon into a football helmet and fill it with a mixed fruit salad.
  • Add more themed treats with chocolate-dipped strawberry footballs, which use white chocolate “strings” to transform this favorite Valentine treat into a perfect Super Bowl menu option.
  • Another unique and low-fat dessert is a chocolate Rice Krispies football. Make them with Cocoa Krispies instead, add unsweetened cocoa powder to the melted margarine and marshmallow mixture and shape them to look like one big football or several small footballs. Decorate with melted white chocolate for the strings and stripes on the football.

Enjoy the Super Bowl without feeling super stuffed by offering healthy options along with some of your traditional foods.  For more recipe ideas, visit Cooking Light or Taste of Home.

Reward Your Achievements Without Food

We’ve been talking a lot about goals these past few weeks, but that’s because setting and achieving goals is hard! This is especially true if you’re trying to make a lifestyle change. “Getting healthy” means breaking old habits and creating new ones that stick, which is no easy feat.

Dhruti mentioned rewarding yourself, but that can also be tricky. The reward must fit the effort and it shouldn’t undo any of the progress that you’ve achieved. For instance, don’t reward yourself for losing five pounds by celebrating with a cheeseburger, french fries, a soda, and a brownie sundae. Rewarding yourself is no different than planning out how you’ll achieve your goals—you still need to be strategic.

When you’re starting out, it may help to schedule regular, small rewards to keep you motivated. Aim for inexpensive rewards that celebrate your achievement for just sticking with a plan. Say you start with 40-50 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise for your first week, and then slowly increase that by 20 minutes every 1-2 weeks until you’ve reached a goal of 150 minutes per week. Rather than waiting several weeks to reward yourself for achieving that goal, you can motivate yourself to follow your plan by scheduling small rewards every 2-3 weeks. These small rewards can be relatively inexpensive items or activities that you may otherwise think twice about getting or doing, like:

  • A metal water bottle,
  • A new workout shirt,
  • Your own yoga mat (freedom from other people’s sweat and stink!),
  • A cookbook,
  • Taking a nap or going to bed early.
yoga mat_pexels-374694
The moment in every class when I wish I had my own yoga mat. Every time I think about buying one, the thrifty side of me says, “How bad can those gym mats be?!”… which really makes it the perfect reward.

Remember, you have to actually follow your program to get the rewards. While these motivational rewards may help ease you into the rhythm of working towards your goal, once you feel like you’re in that rhythm, shift towards rewarding yourself for achieving bigger goals. These bigger goals, like achieving the 150 minutes of exercise per week, deserve something a little more exciting, like:

  • New shoes or hiking boots,
  • Base layers to keep you comfortable outside,
  • A subscription to a music streaming service,
  • A cooking class,
  • A pass for specialized exercise classes (yoga, boutique spin class, rock climbing).

Just because you may have reached your goal of 150 minutes of moderate exercise in a week, doesn’t mean you’re done. You want to strive for that amount of exercise until it becomes a habit. So you can also use those rewards to celebrate, say, six months of regularly exercising 150 minutes/week.

Once you’ve adopted your goal as a lifestyle (you’ll know when you start thinking about new goals), then you get to have some real fun with bigger rewards, like:

  • Tickets to a comedy show, concert, sporting event, or play,
  • Upgrading your blender or slow cooker—or even, hand tools,
  • A massage,
  • Sessions with a personal trainer,
  • Part of a day to be on your own and do what you enjoy.

These ideas are just some of my favorite things. To make sure you’re effectively motivating and rewarding yourself, choose something that excites you and fits your goals.

Be S.M.A.R.T. About Your Goals

Carrie and Dhruti have recently posted some helpful tips about settings goals and sticking with them. Dhruti talked about starting with realistic and small goals, but it can be hard to know what that means. So, I’ll be providing more detail about how to set effective goals.

To make them achievable, they must be SMART. The process to making SMART goals applies to any goal—whether you have resolved to improve your financial situation, lose weight, get in shape, or start school.

S – Specific
I used to teach first-year college students, some of whom learned the hard way that college is much different than high school. After a month, they were getting failing grades. When asked about their plans, they almost always said they would study harder. As you can see, these plans are not very specific and the students rarely achieved the desired result. An example of a good financial goal is to save $500 a month to purchase a car by the end of July.

M – Measurable
You must be able to measure your goal: number of minutes you exercise each week, the steps completed to apply for school, pant size, ounces of water you drank today, how early you got to bed last night. In the example with the car, there are two ways to measure. First, the overall goal, which is the total price of the car. Second, progress along the way, which is to save monthly until you’ve reached the total.

A – Achievable
Did you establish a goal that you can achieve? If you bring home $1,000 a month and you plan to put $500 toward the car, is that possible? Will other bills or spending habits prevent you from saving that much money? These are all things to consider when determining if your goal is achievable.

goals_unsplash 396889-estee-janssens
Plan out the steps of your goal by breaking it down into manageable pieces and setting a deadline for them – even if you think it will take you several years. (Photo by Estee Janssens)

R – Realistic
When I was younger, I wanted to be a professional football player. While it’s good to pursue your dreams and aspirations, there comes a time when your dream becomes unrealistic. Striving for unrealistic goals can cost you time and money. Make sure your goal is realistic. It can help to break up the goal into smaller, more manageable steps that build up your ability and confidence.

T – Time Oriented
Goals can be short-term (up to 1 year), intermediate (1-5 years), and long-term (5 or more years). The important component is that it must have an end date.  Goals can be forgotten when there is no time frame or way to measure progress. A good example is saving money for a house. You may need as much as ten thousand dollars. By setting a date and measuring your progress, you will stay motivated to reach the end goal.

Keep your goals fresh and review them on a regular basis. Once a goal is achieved, create a new one. If you are no longer making progress, reassess, and try something else. Don’t let your goals get stale.

Good luck in the New Year and be SMART!

Create New Year’s Resolutions That Stick

You may be familiar with the excitement of setting New Year’s resolutions and the disappointment that comes when you aren’t able to reach those goals. Resolutions often fail because of lack of in-depth planning, inconsistency with motivation, and insufficient information. Carrie recently posted about using previous successes and failures to determine what does or doesn’t work for you. Today, I’m offering a few more steps to help make your New Year’s resolutions stick.

Bring your heart and head together to create a great resolution
Get in touch with your emotions, beliefs, and true purpose of “why” you want the resolution fulfilled. Then use those feelings to create a logical process and plan. Research materials, talk to experts, and ask for help to get comprehensive idea of what it will take to achieve your goals.

Keep it realistic—Start small!
Once your overarching goal is identified, break them down to several smaller, more realistic goals. Realistic goals are more easily executed and they can help boost your morale. Let’s say you want to run a 10K next fall, but you haven’t been active in some time. To build strength, stamina, and confidence, you would start by walking, jogging, or running smaller distances a few times a week.

Be your own critic
No one is perfect. You will make some mistakes. When you do, take note and own your mistakes with compassion. Then let it go and divert yourself back on-course again. Be an honest friend to yourself, one who is unafraid to tell the truth with love and compassion.

Dining out_Pexels 1528013_Daria Shevtsova
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you ate too much at brunch with your friends or have had a hard time getting back into gym after a cold. It’s important to acknowledge that you slipped and think about how to avoid that situation again, but then let it go, adjust, and try again. (Photo by Daria Shevtsova)

Write it, draw it, craft it
Pick any hobby you like­—writing, drawing, crafts, graphics—and create a visual representation of what your goals look like. Be specific and have fun! Pour your personality and feelings into visualizing what it looks like to achieve your goals and the process to get there. Then display your goals in the most visited spot in your home.

Announce it and share it
It is easy to revert back to old habits when you keep your goals to yourself. By declaring your resolutions to your family and friends, you will build in more support and accountability. Your loves ones will cheer you on and you will work harder so as not to disappoint them.

Be your own cheerleader
Take time this year to appreciate all of your accomplishments, struggles, and hard work. Starting right now! Raise your one arm towards the sky (I know its awkward, but please go with it). Bring down your raised palm and touch your back. And now give yourself a loving pat for all the wonderful things you will accomplish this year.

I wish you a very happy and fulfilling new year.

When It’s The Most Difficult Time Of The Year

The holiday season is in full swing and all the movies, songs, cards, and social media posts are telling you that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But maybe it doesn’t actually feel that way… maybe you’re sitting there just trying to figure out how to put on a happy face for everyone. So, while I wish all of you wonderful readers a Happy New Year, today’s post is for those of you who may not be feeling the joy.

I know how isolating the holidays can feel when struggling through a difficult period. When I was in my 20s, I suddenly lost my only sibling to health complications. And with his birthday on January 2, I spent many holiday seasons feeling like my Thanksgiving pie came with a month-and-half long dose of steroids that amped up my usual levels of sadness, regret, and guilt. All of which I topped with fake-it-’til-I-make-it holiday cheer. It was lonely and exhausting.

The holidays just create so. Much. PRESSURE. As if you aren’t already living with enough stress. The University of Maryland Extension has recently started working with farmers to address their stress and mental health. Led by Dr. Bonnie Braun, the Farm Stress Management team conducted a survey of professionals that work with farmers and found that farmers are often relaying concerns about:

  • Finances
  • Anxiety
  • Farm Transfer Concerns
  • Burnout
  • Depression
  • Marital Difficulties
  • Alcohol Addiction
  • Drug Addiction
  • Gambling Addiction

While you may not be worrying about transferring your farm business to another operator, other stressors on the list may resonate with you. If your grief, family anxiety, marital difficulties, addiction, or the cumulative stress from all the parts of your life is starting to overwhelm you this holiday season, get help.

  • If you are in crisis, get immediate assistance by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or call 9-1-1.
  • Otherwise, check with your insurance company for a list of in-network mental health providers.
  • You can also visit our website to learn more about other counseling resources, including free counseling.
depression_Pexels-897817 Nathan Cowley
The holidays are difficult time for many reasons, including more demands and stress, high expectations, and more family time. If you were already struggling, the holidays may feel overwhelming. Don’t ignore or suck up these feelingsget help to deal with and manage them. (Photo by Nathan Cowley)

It’s important to find the right counselor for your needs. So when researching counselors or therapists, make sure they specialize in your specific issues (bereavement, marriage, trauma, etc.), or get references from family, friends, or your doctor.

If you are struggling with your finances and spent too much money on the holidays, try one of the many Money Smart resources provided on our website, including online tools, video tutorials, and background information on lots of financial management topics. You can also call your county Extension office and ask to speak with the nearest Financial Wellness Educator. It’s never too late to get your finances in order. Our resources can help you create a manageable plan for paying off debt and saving money.

And in the meantime, keep up with any healthy habits you’ve been working on. During this time of stress and anxiety, it’s important to continue eating well, exercising, getting outside, and taking care of yourself.

Look Back For Resolution Success

As 2018 winds down, you may be planning your 2019 resolutions. The beginning of a new year seems like a natural time to set goals and start planning for the future, but you should also look back on the year before jumping into your resolutions! Looking back at previous resolutions and goals can be a great step towards achieving success in the year to come.

If you’ve ever made a resolution or simply set a goal to exercise more, eat better, stress less, improve your finances, or any other aspirations (all goals count!), look back on those efforts to learn about the goals you set for yourself and the ways you have tried to reach them. Then write responses to the following questions for each goal or resolution:

  1. Was it successful? This isn’t a yes or no question ! Maybe you made some progress, but not as much as you were hoping to make. If your goal was to exercise more, taking even one walk is a small success!
  2. What steps did you take? This could include making a plan, tracking your behavior, working with a professional, getting help from your friends and family, etc.
  3. Did anyone in particular help you: a medical professional, family member, friend, coworker, even a furry friend?
Journal writing_Unsplash-598934-ana-tavares
Looking at past successes and failures can help you identify what does and doesn’t work for achieving your goals. (Photo by Ana Tavares)

After you have some things written down about how you did with your previous goals, check out what you have written. Was there a common theme for goals you were able to reach or almost reach? You may find that when you use a specific strategy, you have more success. You may also find that when you use certain strategies, you are rarely successful! The most important thing is taking the time to think about what works for you.

When you put into words all you have done to achieve your goals, you may think about those steps in a new way. For example, if you write down a goal, but can’t think of any steps you took to achieve that goal, you may realize that the goal hadn’t been that important or seemed too big to take on. By reviewing how you have set your goals and the steps you took (or didn’t take) to achieve them, you can get a good idea of what strategies will most likely to lead to your success!

As you charge into a new year, think about any changes you would like to make in your life and use your best strategies to make them happen! By reviewing the past, you can plan even better for the future!