How to (grumble) eat better over the holidays (grumble) when you hate eating healthy and only do so in order to live longer
I do a lot of things that are healthy. I do a lot of things that are not healthy. But all in all, I think they yin and yang quite well. And while it seems noble of me to work with The American Cancer Society strictly “on props,” I really do it to force myself to make sure the healthy keeps pace with the unhealthy. If I’m telling you how to live your life so that you can enjoy more birthdays, it forces me to more or less follow along, because if not, the internet troll that lives in my head will call me out on it. Congratulations! You are all unwitting participants in my self-help strategy.
That aside, let’s talk about holidays.
Over the holidays, you eat. That is what we are supposed to do as decent human beings. You are the ghost of ChristmasFAIL if don’t indulge over the holidays. I am all about going all out on the holiday table. Any dish can be improved with an extra stick of butter (name ONE thing that can’t be). Screw measuring the sugar. Carbs = love. Be a glutton for gluten. I’m not about to take this away from you. It’s only like half a dozen meals out of the year. Enjoy the hell out of them.
But what about the 30 or so other days during the holidays? Yang is such a buzzkill sometimes, I know. But that doesn’t mean healthier meals around those few indulgent holiday meals have to be lame. These are non-lame things that I actually do to keep my waist size the same as it was in college 20 years ago.
Disclosure time: I hate eating healthy. I do it because I have to. I do it because I want to live longer and have more birthdays, because birthdays mean I can eat all the cake I want with whipped cream frosting (I hate buttercream frosting… how can anything with such glorious ingredients fail so miserably in execution?? That is fodder for another post, though). I am eating a donut right now as I type this. Transparency is the key to authentic blogging.
It is useless for me to write "without further ado" because ado is like my brand now (see above, and above that and above that).
Here are some recommendations from the American Cancer Society on how to live healthier, to which I have added some realistic ways to follow them in your day-to-day eating around the holidays. If you want more info, as well as actual recipes, click that badge on the left that I have worked so hard to try to align with this paragraph.
1) Eating lots of fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk of many types of cancer. I hate vegetables and I hate fruit (again, transparency). However, I recognize their importance when it comes to overall health. As a grownup, I will simply hold my breath and force a clump of vegetables down my throat whenever I get the chance. And I call my mom when I do, so she can tell me how proud she is of me (no, I REALLY do this. Shut up, before I punch your face). For my kids, I try to incorporate them as seamlessly into dishes as possible. Here are some tips:
- Smoothies. Once they are liquid and you use a silly straw, kids cease to define things as "healthy food." A little non-fat vanilla yogurt in there, and you're golden. I also throw some raw quick oats in there because I know oats are also good for you. But drop the kale and step away. Everything has its limits.
- Chop them into little pieces and put them into soup or on a pizza (whole wheat raw pizza dough is the best invention ever).
- Put cheese on them in addition to chopping them up. Anything with cheese on it becomes delicious. Also, anything dipped in tempura batter and deep fried, but I'm not about to replace cancer with cornorary artery disease, so let's move on.
- Chop them up, stir fry with ground chicken or turkey, add hoisin sauce or terriyaki and make lettuce wraps.
2) Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products.
- My kids have eaten whole wheat bread since birth. They don't know any different. I tell them white bread kills kittens. We hang effigies of white bread up and beat them with sticks. That's how you instill an affinity for whole grains.
- If violence against food isn't your bag, quesadillas made with whole grain tortillas are delicious, too. You can also incorporate the chopped vegetables and cheese into these.
- If you're making any kind of pie crust, banana breads or other goodies, whole wheat flour works there, too. I find it tends to be a tad drier, so go heavier on the wet ingredients, by like 10%. If some of those wet ingredients are butter... well, then so be it. At least you're eating whole grains. Rome wasn't built in a day.
3) Limit how much processed meat and red meat you eat. This one makes me a little bit sad, as I tear into slabs of meat on the regular. If you would like to follow this guideline, here are my tips on getting the most meat per mouthful without consuming a lot of meat.
- Take advantage of the concept of surface area. By maximizing the surface area of meat your mouth encounters, your body is somewhat fooled into thinking it has eaten more meat than it actually has. So take a piece of meat and cut it up into small pieces and add it to dishes like those below:
- Chili: probably the best hearty thing you can eat that's not bad for you. It's not cream based; it has cooked tomatoes in it (which contains lycopene, which fights prostate cancer); and you can throw beans and chopped vegetables in it. You can also use pretty much any kind of meat you have lying around from holiday meals.
- Stir Fry: while one steak can feed an individual, one steak can feed a whole family if you cut up the meat and use it in a stir fry with vegetables. I keep my stir frys simple: meat, scallions, onions, green and red peppers, mushrooms. Then I make a sauce using cornstarch, soy sauce, some broth, mirin or vinegar and honey. Serve some brown rice with that, and everyone is happy and has consumed 75% less meat.
- Fried rice: my post-Thanksgiving meal is always fried rice. And if you go easy on the oil, it's really not that bad for you. When I make my Jim's Super Secret Special fried rice I would never use brown rice. But if you want to stay on the healthy side of things, I will look the other way if you choose to use it. A few months ago, I wrote a full no-holds-barred fried rice tutorial, if you're interested.
4) Drink no more than 1 drink per day for women, and 2 for men. I offer this one with no comment or supporting tips. Just sadness.
5) Here's some other random things I do when I'm trying to live longer:
- Olive oil and herbs (and a bit of parmesan) instead of cream sauces for pastas, or instead of mayo for pasta salads.
- Grill vegetables (I make a marinade out of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and fresh herbs). The smoke makes them taste like meat if you're drunk enough.
- Chicken broth with chopped scallions as a soup base instead of cream.
- Corn starch instead of roux as a thickener. That's actually an Asian thing. I can't take credit. But there are a butt load of non-obese Asians in the world, so they/we they must be doing something right.
- Make everything with spinach and feta. Although it isn't meat, the combination of spinach and feta wins my allegiance over any flavor combination on earth. I'm going to try and make a spinach and feta bundt cake this Christmas.
That's all I've got. Don't stress out about holiday meals, stay mindful of healthier options on non-holiday days, hug your loved ones, and live for more birthdays, because the more you can stuff your face with cake, the more fulfilling your life will be.