Happy holiday snacking

These delicious chocolate-butterscotch nut clusters are tasty, but can they be a part of a healthy holiday diet?

By Jo Ellen Helmlinger

Visions of sugar plums, pumpkin pie, frosted cookies, latkes and cream cheese dips dance through our heads and across buffet tables during the holiday season. Even those who are strongly committed to healthy eating are tempted to over indulge in foods they don’t normally choose.

With a few tips and tricks, you can enjoy holiday eating now without feeling guilty in January. The most important tips are to eat moderate amounts and get plenty of exercise. Ideas to help you reinforce your good habits include:

• Time Out — Take time to read, exercise and just relax. Stress hormones have been tied to weight gain. Be sure you are getting plenty of sleep. This also keeps “hunger” hormones in check.

• Share the Load — Break big tasks down into smaller segments and delegate the work. Determine what’s important. Just because your grandmother baked 20 different cookies for the holidays doesn’t mean you need to do the same. Bake a few favorites and save time to do something you really enjoy, like walking around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights.

• Flavor it — Reducing fat, salt and sugar doesn’t have to mean foods are boring. Add seasonings and spices such as cinnamon and thyme, both of which are high in antioxidants that can help reduce the risk of some cancers.

• Drink plenty of water — A big glass of water before eating will help fill you up. As an added benefit, staying hydrated helps relieve itchy winter skin.

Healthy-weight Profile

Studies have shown that people who have successfully achieved long-term weight loss or who maintain a healthy weight have these common characteristics:

• Eat breakfast every day — Start the day with a low-fat, high fiber meal that has a protein source. If you don’t like typical breakfast foods, choose soup, sandwiches or any food that you might eat at any other meal. Cold pizza leftover from your children’s sleepover is not an option.

• Monitor their weight weekly — Don’t weigh yourself every day. Pick one day and weigh yourself at the same time every week. Agonizing over a 1-pound weight gain from day to day feeds the stress hormones.

• Watch less than 10 hours of television each week — During the holidays, be sure to budget your time so you won’t miss the specials featuring the Grinch, Charlie Brown, Rudolph and Frosty.

• Exercise 30 to 60 minutes each day — Holiday shopping is exercise if you go between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. so you have to park in the farthest spot in the parking lot and take a long walk into the stores. Work on your lateral moves by dodging baby strollers in narrow store aisles.

Here are some recipes to help you enjoy holiday eating.

Baked Chicken Tenders

From Hidden Valley Ranch Salad Dressing Mix

Makes 8 servings

1 (1.1-oz.) packet Ranch Dressing Salad and Seasoning mix, divided

2 c. nonfat Greek yogurt

1-½ c. low-fat buttermilk

1 (20-oz.) package fresh 99% fat-free chicken tenders

2 to 3 slices whole wheat bread (to make about 1 c. crumbs)

1/3 c. sliced almonds

1 t. garlic powder

¼ t. black pepper

Olive oil or other cooking spray

1.              Combine ½ packet ranch dressing mix with yogurt to make dipping sauce; cover and refrigerate

2.              Combine remaining ranch dressing mix with buttermilk; cover and refrigerate

3.              Rinse chicken thoroughly; pat dry with paper towels.

4.              In a large, plastic recloseable food storage bag, combine chicken and buttermilk. Refrigerate 6 to 24 hours.

5.              Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

6.              In a food processor, process bread slices into crumbs, 3 to 4 pulses. Add almonds, garlic powder and pepper. Pulse until well combined into fine crumbs. Place crumbs in a shallow dish.

7.              Remove chicken from plastic bag. Discard buttermilk mixture. Coat chicken with bread crumb mixture.

8.              Set a wire rack over a baking sheet and coat with cooking spray. Lay chicken pieces on wire rack and spray pieces lightly with cooking spray.

9.              Bake 16 to 18 minutes until no longer pink (an internal temperature of at least 170 degrees F.).

10.           Serve with yogurt dipping sauce.

Turkey Club Crackers

From Triscuit Crackers

Makes 12 servings

¾ c. chopped lettuce

1 c. chopped, cooked turkey breast (can use deli turkey)

¾ c. shredded Swiss cheese

2 T. country-style Dijon mustard

1 T. reduced-fat mayonnaise

1/3 c. chopped tomatoes

24 square wheat crackers

In a medium serving bowl, combine all ingredients except crackers. Spread mixture on crackers. This is a good choice to keep in the refrigerator for the afternoon munchies because the combination of protein, carbohydrates and fat is filling and good for you.

Fiesta Appetizer Bites

From Hillshire Farms

Makes 15 servings

1 package turkey little smokies

2 t. chili powder (choose from mild to hot)

½ t. ground cumin

4 oz. pepper-jack cheese, cut into ½-inch-wide by 2-inch-long strips*

4 (10-inch) flour tortillas cut into 1-inch-wide by 4-inch-long strips

Salsa (choose from mild to hot)

1.              Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2.              Pat sausages with a paper towel. In a medium bowl, combine chili powder and cumin. Add sausages; toss to coat evenly.

3.              Cut a thin slit lengthwise partially through each sausage. Place one cheese strip inside slit of each sausage.

4.              Place filled sausage on one end of tortilla strip; roll up and secure with a tooth pick. Place wrapped sausage on a large rimmed baking sheet (jelly roll pan) lightly sprayed with cooking spray.

5.              Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until sausage is hot and cheese is melted. Serve with salsa.

*Cheese should be cut thin enough to fit comfortably in sausage slit but not so thin that it melts before sausage is hot. You also can use chipotle (mellow), habenero (very hot) cheeses or any reduced-fat cheese.

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