It’s officially sweater weather. My weather app says it is 33 degrees, (brrrr) and we are moving briskly towards Thanksgiving and yet another holiday season. How did that happen? At this time, we find ourselves in a lot of situations where we may make less nutritious food choices out of a sense of nostalgia, or even just seasonal routine. “It’s not a football party unless I have that chili and beer.” “It’s not Thanksgiving unless I have the turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and pie.” “I’m at the movies so I just have to get the movie popcorn. With butter. I know it’s not really even butter, but I have to have it!” “It’s cold, I’m tired of salads. I’m just going to get hot soup every day for lunch.”
Let’s take these one at a time.
Living where we do, just a stone’s throw from Gillette Stadium, there’s no escaping weekend football gatherings. Whether you are a season ticket-holder, tailgating every weekend, or just a casual Patriots fan, you are finding yourself at a football party of some sort. For me, it was our neighborhood block party. This year’s theme was football. There was even a chicken wing contest! But instead of bringing another wing recipe, or another cheesy dip, I decided to make something for a small subset of my neighbors. There are a few of us who follow a gluten-free diet, (and some other food restrictions) – and I wanted to bring something that we could really dig into (other than the obligatory veggie tray. So, I came up with this Shrimp Quinoa Salad. I started with a bag of Trader Joe’s large de-veined, raw shrimp that I sautéed in coconut oil. I tossed the shrimp with 3 cups of cooked quinoa, a diced red pepper, a cup of cherry tomatoes (halved), chopped cilantro, lime juice, sea salt, and olive oil. It was delicious! And at the party – my Shrimp Quinoa Salad was gone in a flash! You can eat something more nutritious than traditional football food – and still have a great time.
I used to buy into the “It’s not <insert special event name>, unless I eat <insert unhealthy food name>”. On Thanksgiving, I would eat dinner and then have dessert. Then later, I would have a turkey sandwich (on a roll, with cranberry sauce and gulp, mayo) and then, even more dessert. All in one day! Did you know that the average American consumes 4500 calories on Thanksgiving? It’s crazy! And maybe that would be OK. Except for some, Thanksgiving is not just a day. It is the first day of an entire four-day weekend of eating like the day I just described.
So, as we sprint towards the holiday, let’s remember that Thanksgiving is a meal and not a 4-day eating bender. Those are LeAnna Sheehan’s words of wisdom and I blogged on them last year at this time. If you are looking for a way to reframe your thinking on Thanksgiving, check out that post. And here are a couple of additional tips:
· Instead of the food, what is it about the holiday that gives you the most pleasure? How can you emphasize that? For me, it has been making sure that all my guests have a few moments to privately reflect on gratitude. I have a “What Are You Thankful For” Jar in a quiet place so that everyone can write words of appreciation. We share them later – usually after our meal.
· Consider adding a salad bar to your holiday menu. I know, I know – anyone who is hosting the holidays is going to say “WHAT? You want me to make dinner – AND then a salad bar too?” Let me explain. My sister first implemented this idea last Easter – and it was fantastic! We both deal with some food allergies/sensitivities – and so the holidays can be difficult. If we end up eating something we shouldn’t (lactose, garlic, onion) – we will be miserable for days. So, when she hosted Easter last year, she made up a salad bar along with her traditional Easter spread. It really helped those with food allergies and sensitivities to enjoy the holiday right along with everyone else. And as a regularly very healthy eater, my sister is in the habit of preparing her salad greens, veggies, and protein anyway – so it really wasn’t extra work. It was so successful, that I did the same when I hosted Mothers’ Day. If you don’t want to do an entire salad bar, be sure to add a great salad to the Thanksgiving menu, like this one from the Oh She Glows blog.
· Add activity every day to that 4-day weekend this year. I remember the first time that I went to an aerobics class on Thanksgiving morning. It was probably 1995 and I went with my mother and my sister. It seemed like the most insane thing in the world – to be working out ON Thanksgiving Day. But now – I couldn’t even imagine not beginning my Thanksgiving Day without a powerful workout in the morning. Even if you are hosting, it can be scheduled in. Plan ahead and you can absolutely do it! Then, skip that Black Friday shopping and plan an outdoor hike on Friday instead. Plan for one of LeAnna’s BarreMax or Pound classes on Saturday. On Sunday, try Athletic Stretch if you haven’t yet. It’s the perfect way to wind down before launching into the next busy season.
All the best Oscar-contending movies come out at this time of year, and with the early sunsets and colder nights, it’s time to head to the cinema. I’ve been at the movies lately (so many amazing ones out right now!) and it is hard to resist that movie popcorn, isn’t it? Here’s a fact: A large AMC popcorn (with butter) has 1030 calories and 41 grams of fat. Yup. AMC. That’s exactly where we went to the movies recently. Loved those seats you can reserve! I also love the popcorn that I make at home – with a tiny bit of oil, popped on the stovetop. Then topped with melted ghee and just a pinch of salt. It’s a little bit of an indulgence, but not even close to those 1030 calories and 41 grams of fat. And no one has stopped me from sneaking in my homemade popcorn!
It’s cold. You’re cold. I’m cold. We might be warm again, in, I don’t know – June! So, I totally get the natural inclination towards comfort food. You want something that will stick to your ribs, create a warm glow inside, and give you a feeling of fullness. A cold salad sitting in the office fridge is not going to do the trick. Soup becomes a popular choice at this time of year, but you should definitely check the sodium content if you can.
Instead of soup or a salad, I layer together a bowl (or really a rectangular microwavable dish) that has just as many vegetables, some protein and some grain. Once heated, my layered dish is a warm medley of fresh flavors – a little different each day, depending on what I add. Here are some things I typically add:
Grain Base Layer: Quinoa, Polenta, Brown Rice
Protein: Chick Peas, Goat Cheese, Pumpkin Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Chia Seeds, Chopped Cashews, Shrimp, Scallops
Vegetables: Kale, Grilled Eggplant, Bok Choy, Grilled Summer Squash, Grilled Zucchini, Roasted Butternut Squash, Halved Grape Tomatoes
The tomatoes, cheese, and some kind of nut or seed are the key to making this dish feel hearty and homey. I’m not typically a huge fan of the microwave as a kitchen appliance (uneven heating!) but in this case, it really does the trick of turning your basic ingredients into a warm and satisfying dish. Experiment with some layered dishes and I promise you, you’ll find some favorites that will get you through some cold, dark days.
Before Microwaving After Microwaving
At this time of year, nostalgia plays a big role. Do we cling to old behaviors when faced with cold weather and a harsher climate? It’s wonderful to practice time-honored traditions and customs. But it’s by opening ourselves up to new practices and new ways of thinking that we move on and grow.