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Healthy holiday hunger: Carle Health experts offer nutrition tips and tricks

Healthy holiday hunger: Carle Health experts offer nutrition tips and tricks

The holiday season is just around the corner, which often means a variety of delicious dishes and decadent desserts.

As we indulge in some of our favorite end-of-the-year treats, dietitians in the Greater Peoria service area have a few tips, tricks and helpful recipes for staying healthy and happy this holiday season.

Avoid skipping meals

Experts say it is common for people to want to skip meals during the holidays, whether it is to keep up with fitness goals or to get ready for that one big meal at the end of the day.

“We are anticipating eating a ton of food, so there is this fear that we should save all our calories until dinnertime,” Carle Health Community Dietitian Denae Sink said. “That can actually backfire though, because a lot of times you end up starving, and you can overeat.”

“If you skip a meal, you can overindulge and miss your body’s fullness queues,” Jeanna Rich, an oncology dietitian at Carle Health Methodist Hospital, added.

Both experts said the best way to save room without skipping meals is to enjoy fruits, vegetables, nuts and other light, healthy options throughout the day.

It can also help to avoid overeating when that big meal finally hits the table.
“It’s the best of both worlds – you're hungry, but your hunger isn’t to the point where you’ll wolf your food down or want multiple portions,” Sink said.

Preportion your plate

Oftentimes, during the holidays, sweets and snacks are readily available at the table during a gathering of family or friends.

Sink and Rich say a heavy presence of appetizers and table treats can lead to mindless eating – where one tends to overeat when distracted (perhaps during friendly conversation, while watching TV or listening to music).

“It is something we’ve all done,” Rich said. “To avoid this, start by putting your snacks into a smaller bowl instead of a large one. Once it’s gone, it’s easier to tell yourself, ‘I’m full for now.’ Also, try to stay away from the buffet table when chatting with friends and family. Instead, grab that small plate, find a comfortable space and enjoy your time without using eating as a habit.”

“Make sure to slow down when you’re eating – take time to enjoy the portion you have on your plate,” Sink added. “A lot of times, we tend to eat quickly and go for seconds. But think to yourself, ‘Am I still really hungry?’”

Substitute healthier foods

This time of year comes with a variety of seasonal favorites that are affordable and easy to find in local supermarkets.

Experts urge you to consider these foods when coming up with dishes to bring to the gathering.

“If it’s more of a potluck setting, always consider bringing a fruit or veggie dish – think about fresh, seasonal produce like apples, pears, pumpkins, cranberries and squashes,” Sink said. “There are some really tasty and interesting ways to include those.”

Sink adds some of these foods can act as alternatives for baking ingredients.

“In baking something sweet, apple sauce or banana can be a good substitute for oil,” Sink said. “If you’re making muffins or breakfast breads, you can cut out the oil and those extra calories. Even pumpkin or sweet potato can be a good option to add.”

Everything in moderation

Many look forward to the holidays all year, and the same goes for those special holiday dishes.

Rich and Sink said there is no reason to think one can’t enjoy their favorite foods – it is just important to remember when you’ve had enough.

“Fill your plate with the things you enjoy – we only get them once a year,” Sink said. “Get yourself a portion, but be mindful. Enjoy your plate and think before you go back for another helping.”

“This is the time of year where eating is part of the experience – we connect over food,” Rich added. “I have certain dishes I look forward to, and always advise to never say never. Allow yourself to enjoy food and its comforting qualities. It’s all about balance and recognizing when you’re actually full compared to when you’re just experiencing mindless hunger.”

Bonus tip: keep it moving

Sink said it is always a good idea to incorporate some movement into one’s day whenever possible, especially as it starts to get colder and tougher to go outside.

“When you’re holiday shopping, park in the back of the lot so you have to walk a bit further. Take the stairs instead of the elevator if you’re able. Make it a family affair – we've been blessed with nice fall weather, so after dinner, go outside for a walk or play a family game. It’s a good way to burn off some energy and the holiday sugar rush. Not to mention, it can also reduce the holiday stress,” Sink said.


Start your holiday healthy eating right here – Rich and Sink provided some delicious recipes you can make and share with the whole family:

Pumpkin yogurt dip

Pumpkin contains antioxidants such as alpha & beta-carotene, which are linked to a lower risk of stomach, throat, pancreas and breast cancers.

2 Cups nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt
½ Cup 100% pumpkin puree
1 Teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Simply mix all the ingredients and enjoy with your favorite fruit, pretzels or graham crackers. Store in an airtight container for up to five days.
For a dairy-free dip, substitute Greek yogurt for a dairy-free yogurt, such as coconut milk or oat yogurt. For added protein, include 2 tablespoons of nut butter before mixing.

Serving size: 1/2 cup
Recipe adapted from Fit Foodie Finds.

Baked apples with cinnamon oat topping

This warm dish is the perfect dessert for a chilly fall night. Fall is usually the start of the sick season, and apples are a great source of vitamin C, which is important for the immune system. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, a nutrient that protects the body from diseases. The apples, oats and nuts in this recipe provide fiber, which is important for a healthy digestive system, and walnuts are also a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Add a dollop of sugar-free whipped cream to top off this cozy treat!

2 medium sweet red apples of similar size (such as Gala or Braeburn)
3 Tablespoons finely chopped pecans or walnuts
2 Tablespoons uncooked quick or rolled oats
1 ½ Tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon dried cranberries, chopped
1 Tablespoon cold butter, finely chopped
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch of nutmeg
½ cup 100% apple juice (no sugar added)

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. In a medium bowl, combine nuts, oats, brown sugar, cranberries, butter, vanilla extract, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Use a fork to mix until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
3. Cut each apple in half. Use a melon baller or spoon to remove the core from each half, creating a rounded hole.
4. Fill each apple half with about 2 Tablespoons of oat mixture.
5. Place the apples in an 8-inch baking dish. Pour apple juice around the apples in the dish. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.
6. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until the apples are tender and the topping is golden brown.

Note: Baking time will vary depending on the variety, size and ripeness of the apples. Apples are done when easily pierced with a toothpick.

Serving Size: 1 stuffed apple half
Recipe adapted from

Categories: Staying Healthy, Community

Tags: diet, healthy, healthy habits, nutrition, oncology, Peoria