February brings some of the biggest weekends in sports and entertainment – inevitably posing some major challenges when it comes to making smart eating choices. But since most of us are only one month into our 2013 resolutions, and spring break season is only a few weeks away, now is not the time to be overdoing it on indulgent party foods. Here are some tips to help you survive the month.
Just because your calendar is filling up with social commitments this month doesn’t mean you have to ditch your 2013 resolutions, or forget that spring break season is just around the corner! People should know it’s still possible to enjoy party and comfort foods by making smart, yet simple, substitutions in your recipe ingredients. One of my favorite smart substitutions is swapping in alternative products for butter. You can use these spreads in all types of recipes from cupcakes for Valentine’s Day, to party dip for the big game! Not only do these spreads have that delicious buttery taste, but it’s an easy swap that lowers the fat and calories of my favorite dishes compared to those made with butter. Most of them are made with a delicious blend of oils and contain no partially hydrogenated oil and 0g trans fat per serving, so they’re a better-for-you choice than cooking and baking with butter. I recommend simple substitutions like this to all of my clients. Other great substitutions include using ground turkey or veggie crumbles instead of regular ground beef in dishes like chili, nachos or meatballs; using non-fat, plain yogurt instead of sour cream in any of your dips to lighten the calorie count while maintaining the same delicious taste and texture; or using evaporated skim milk instead of heavy cream in desserts and custards to remove the fat and calories while maintaining the consistency.
Beyond ingredient substitutions, there are some cooking techniques that can us help whip up a delicious dish with fewer calories. Broiling and grilling expose food to direct heat, allowing fat to drip away from the food. Serve up grilled chicken sandwiches on whole wheat buns or grilled beef and veggie shish kebabs for a great-tasting dish that will please guests, while not sabotaging their diets. And, protein helps keep you full so you aren’t reaching for another handful of snacks as quickly. Baking isn’t just for breads and desserts – baking seafood, poultry, meats, veggies and fruits allows you to create lower-calorie dishes, especially when you use a spread instead of butter. Instead of frying things like chicken wings, potato skins or tortilla chips, bake them for a smarter take on classic party foods that will still ‘wow’ your guests!
If you’re the one attending a get-together, being a guest can pose a bigger challenge to making smart eating choices than when you’re the one hosting and selecting the menu. But your hands aren’t totally tied! Offer to bring a dish or two to the party. Not only will you ensure that there’s a better-for-you option on-hand, the hostess will surely appreciate the kind gesture! Some of my favorites include flavorful Chili Pepper Baked Tortilla Chips along with veggies and hummus; or, I like to make a dessert like Delicious One Bowl Chocolate Chip Cookies . You wouldn’t even know by the rich and delicious taste that they were made with a soft spread instead of butter.
Another favorite tip of mind is to avoid eating in front of the TV! If you’re attending a social gathering around an event on TV – like a football game or awards show – keep this in mind: research confirms that people who eat in front of the tube consume more calories than those who don’t! Instead of loading up your plate during commercials and snacking while you watch – visit the buffet table briefly and return to your spot on the couch empty-handed.
I also tell my clients to never show up to a party famished! To avoid overdoing it the moment you arrive, eat something filling yet low in calories beforehand – like a handful of nuts, an apple with peanut butter, or some Greek yogurt with berries. By not depriving yourself beforehand you’ll be more in control. Stick to the smaller dishes. The bigger the plate or bowl, the more people tend to eat. If you find yourself at a buffet-style party stick with the appetizer plate instead of the dinner plates.
Finally, beware of alcohol. Besides the empty calories, alcohol undermines your willpower when it comes to making smart choices at the buffet table. Use your cocktail napkin to keep tabs of how many drinks you’re really consuming; instead of having a second of your friend’s signature, awards show-themed cocktail – opt for a mixed drink made with a diet mixer, or a light beer or wine.
I always say that everything can be enjoyed in moderation. So make a list of simple steps ahead of time to counteract those extra calories at your next get-together. Find a new class at the gym to get you excited to work out on the weekend or take a yoga class before the party begins; and, you can always take a walk during halftime to stretch your legs and burn off some of the party-snack calories. And, simple adjustments to your eating habits in the days following your event – like we talked about today – can help get you back on track.
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About the Author
Tara Gidus, MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N, is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition, fitness, and health promotion. Tara is quoted in a variety of media including television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and websites and is a past National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She appears regularly as the “Diet Diva” on the national morning television show, The Daily Buzz. Tara is currently the Team Dietitian for the Orlando Magic NBA team and Nutrition Consultant for the University of Central Florida (UCF) Athletics as well as the “official nutritionist” for run Disney endurance events. She is the nutrition advisor for American Baby magazine and the Healthy Eating Expert and blogger on www.healthline.com.Tara is the author of Pregnancy Cooking and Nutrition for Dummies (2012).