What to do with the Halloween candy scaries

If the thought of storing several jumbo bags of “fun-sized” candy in your house for the next couple weeks has your despairing, if you’re wondering how you’re going to resist eating your child’s candy loot, if you’re thinking of just skipping Halloween for the sake of your diet altogether, then read on. If not, power to you, but read on anyway in case you know someone this would be helpful to 🙂

Halloween is just the first of several upcoming holidays known to fill our homes with less-than-healthy temptations. From the giant bags of candy you buy to pass out to the trick-or-treaters to the orange bucket of candy your own child brings home, this can be a tough time for those of us looking to watch our waistlines, reduce our sugar intake, or just eat healthier in general. So here are my tips for having fun this spooky season without going off the rails completely.

1.Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Once you’ve bought your stock of candy to give out on Halloween night, don’t keep it out in the open or in an easily accessible location. Each of us probably knows all too well how easy it is to pop open one of those bags for “just a few” pieces of candy and have that turn into needing to go buy more candy. It’s not you and it’s not all just a lack of willpower. Our bodies are programmed to crave those caloric, sugary, fatty foods, especially this time of the year and junk food companies known exactly how to capitalize on that from the ingredients they use all the way down to the packaging.

Take those bags of candy and store them somewhere out of the way and out of your sight until Halloween night (make sure you remember where you put them, of course). It has been proven that when junk food is within our vision or easily accessible to us, we will choose that over healthy options most of the time (even if we don’t really want to). Putting those bags of candy away will help keep you on track and eliminate that extra temptation.

2. Participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project

If candy is your arch nemesis and you would prefer to just not have it in the house at all, then grab a teal pumpkin and hand out non-candy items (like glow sticks, bookmarks, funky erasers, etc.) on Halloween to help include children with food allergies in the spooky fun. This will keep your stress about overindulging at bay and will also benefit kids with food allergies who just want to trick or treat like their friends. Learn more about the Teal Pumpkin Project and register your address online here.  

3. Have some fun and then be done

Life is all about balance and you should absolutely get a chance to enjoy some sweets this Halloween season. The key is setting a stopping point and sticking to it. One of the best parts about Halloween as a kid was always bringing a piece or two of candy with you to school in your lunch box. So I suggest keeping the candy around for just one week after Halloween. Allow yourself and/or your kids, just one or two pieces a day (assuming they’re the “fun size”) and stick to that. Once that week is up, get rid of the candy. You can throw it out (I know, I know) or you can donate it, which is what I recommend because it’s also a great way to teach your kids about helping others and sharing. There are loads of veterans organizations that collect leftover candy to send to troops overseas in their care packages. A simple Google search should point you to one near you.

4. Hand out healthier snacks instead

I know that neighbor tends to get a bad rep, but you could hand out healthier options such as mini boxes of raisins, snack bags of pretzels, or clementines to toss out just a few ideas. Doing this will keep more sugar out of your house and you might actually be doing another parent or child a favor as well.

5. Don’t beat yourself up

Most importantly, if you do overindulge, don’t beat yourself up about it. Getting down on yourself is a recipe for a downward spiral and kicking your own butt at the gym isn’t going to undo it. The best thing you can do for yourself in situations like that is to own that you didn’t do what you had hoped you would and resolve to do better going forward. This is important not just for yourself but for your kids who, whether you know it or not, watch your every move and hear your every word. This is a chance to teach them how to love themselves and have a healthy relationship with food.

 

Bonus advice:

While we’re on the topic of setting an example for our kids, watching the language that you use around food is also really important. Dubbing some foods “bad” or saying they’ll make you fat can very adversely affect your child’s relationship with food going forward and can create feelings of shame around it. So when you’re talking to children about why you’re giving away the leftover candy or limiting how much you eat, I suggest using language along the lines of: this isn’t everyday food so we are only going to have a little and then share with some other people. Foods like fruits and vegetables help keep us from getting sick and help us do better in school, but candy doesn’t do any of those things for us so we don’t need to eat a lot of it. Instead we have a little and we focus on eating more of the foods that help us grow bigger and smarter.

 

Quick and Simple Tomato Sauce

As I was just writing my review of Flatzza sprouted grain pizza crusts, it occurred to me that I should share my recipe for a quick and easy pizza sauce. I prefer to make my own sauce for pizza and pasta for a couple reasons: 1. it’s cheaper than buying store-bought sauce, 2. I can avoid that added sugar and sodium found in jarred sauces, and 3. I can make it taste however I want. I came up with this in a pinch one night and it’s been my go-to ever since: simple, quick, easy, yummy.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 tsbp tomato paste
  • 1 28-oz can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1-2 tsbp of fresh or dried oregano
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Process:

  1. In a large sauce pan, heat about 2 tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the tomato paste and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring and mashing it in the oil.
  2. Add the oregano and stir around, cooking for about a minute.
  3. Using your hands, squish and smoosh the tomatoes into the pan (be careful of splatter!) and pour in the liquid from the can.
  4. Further smoosh up the tomatoes with your spoon or spatula and bring to a low simmer. Add garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste. Allow sauce to cook for at least 5-10 minutes. The tomato paste will thicken it as it cooks and the flavors will further incorporate the longer it goes. You can add any additional seasonings you’d like!

Super easy, right?!

Load it up for a veggie-loaded pasta sauce

Have a hard time getting your kids to eat their vegetables? Working veggies into your pasta sauce is a great way to get them to. Simply take this pasta sauce and add the following veggies to it. If your kids are super picky and will balk at chunks in the sauce, simply dump it in the blender and puree it all together.

  • 1/2 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 bell pepper (any color but green), diced
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 cup broccoli, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrot, finely chopped

Simply sauté these veggies in the pan until they’re soft before adding the tomato paste in Step 1 above. You can add other vegetables to this as well, like finally chopped spinach or kale. Adding a chopped mushroom with a meaty texture, like oyster mushrooms, can give this sauce a bolognese feel.

How to Handle the Leftovers

Let’s be honest, our big holiday dinners aren’t a one-time event – we end up with refrigerators full of leftovers for days. Either way, despite your best efforts, during the holiday season you may very often find your home full of temptations and those can be the undoing of many health goals. For most of us, if it’s there, then we are going to eat it. So how should you handle having those leftovers, whether they’re appetizers, from the meal, or candy?

Food waste has long been an issue that bothers me to the core so, for a long time, I was the type of person who would keep it in the house and eat it, even if it wasn’t good for me. Then, at the beginning of my weight management journey, at a meeting of a weight loss program that I will not mention here, I was given one gift. In that meeting the group leader was talking about throwing away junk food and many of us were visibly not cool with that idea. Then she said something to the effect of the following: food contains nutrients that nourish, heal, and support your body and your health. Junk food does not contain anything that does any good for your body. Therefore, we need to stop thinking of junk food as food and get comfortable with putting it in the garbage.

Am I saying to throw all of your leftovers out? No. What it really comes down to is balance.

We, as human beings, eat for two reasons: 1. to survive, and 2. for enjoyment. If you’re not eating any foods you enjoy, if you’re not treating yourself, then you’re only getting half the experience and, on top of that, you’re going to feel deprived and unhappy….and maybe a little cranky.

So here is my advice for those leftovers after you have mindfully enjoyed your holiday dinner, party, etc.:

Set Deadlines

Just like you need to set boundaries with people who maybe aren’t so good for you to be around, you need to set boundaries with foods that aren’t so good for you, too. Having those unhealthy foods in your fridge or pantry for a week is too long – that could be 7 days straight of indulging and, the longer you’re off the bandwagon, the harder it is to jump back on.

I recommend setting a deadline of 3 days. After those 3 days are up, sort through what you have and part ways with those problems foods – like gravy, candied yams, green bean casserole, pies, white bread rolls, cranberry sauce (sorry – it’s basically just sugar), etc. Keep the good things – the veggies, the turkey (not the skin), whole grains, you get it.

Moderation and Mindfulness

Just because you have the foods from the big holiday meal, doesn’t mean you have to replicate that big holiday meal every time you have some leftovers. Before you toss those unhealthy options out, you should absolutely enjoy some – but do so with moderation and mindfulness. What does that mean?

Start with smaller portions. Using a smaller plate is helpful for this. I also recommend dishing out your small portion and then putting everything back in the fridge even before you warm up what’s on your plate – this will help curb that temptation to pile more on your plate or go back for seconds.

Finally, eat that delicious, indulgent food slowly, chew it completely, really enjoy it. Eating slowly and mindfully allows you to get more enjoyment out of your food and you will feel more satisfied by it. Don’t forget that digestion begins in your mouth with the process of chewing and salivation and your stomach doesn’t register the food you put in it right away – eating slowly will help you absorb more nutrients from your food and help prevent overeating.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

If you have some less perishable leftovers – maybe some candy that never got opened or alcohol that wasn’t drunk – and you want to use them at your next get together, remember the old refrain “out of sight, out of mind.”

It seems simple and almost silly, but it’s been proven that if you aren’t able to see those temptation foods, you will forget about them and they won’t tempt you. With this in mind, put those treats in the back of the cupboard with lots of healthful foods in front of them, or put them on a bottom shelf with healthful foods at eye level. You could also put them in an opaque container so you can’t see them. It’s been shown that having healthful foods fully visible and unhealthful foods not visible or out of reach prevents people from opting for the unhealthy foods and getting off track.

A quick note on food donation: I deliberately didn’t suggest donating leftovers in this post for several reasons. One is that many pantries and soup kitchens will not accept homemade or opened donations for sanitary reasons. Additionally, most leftovers are perishable which makes it difficult for pantries and kitchens to take them as they will spoil too quickly. That said, if you have unopened items, then by all means, donate away.

Following these three pieces of advice will help you enjoy the holiday fun without getting completely off track. Wishing you good health this holiday season!

Avocado Chocolate Mousse

One of the questions that I get a lot is what kinds of things can you substitute for dessert that still taste good and satisfy that sweet craving. Without fail, this recipe is my top suggestion. It combines the healthy fats of an avocado with the antioxidants of cocoa and it tastes just like a chocolate pudding cup without the added chemicals and preservatives and with less sugar. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Really? Avocado? That can’t be good. Just trust me on this one. You will be pleasantly surprised.

One thing to remember with this recipe is that, just like an avocado that is left cut for a while and starts to tastes weird, that will happen with this, too. The brown avocado flavor will start to come through if you allow this to sit for too long. Fortunately, this recipe is so quick and easy to make that it won’t be a problem to just whip it up whenever you’re ready. And you definitely won’t have any leftovers!

Ingredients:

  • 1 large, ripe avocado (not overripe)
  • 1/4 cup milk of choice
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar (optional, but recommended)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:

  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth and creamy.
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The final product looks just like regular chocolate pudding and it tastes like it, too!

I think this mousse tastes better cold, personally, so I suggest popping it in the fridge or the freezer for a little bit to chill it.

Try topping it with homemade whipped cream, chopped nuts, or shredded coconut before serving. This also makes a great lunchbox snack – just scoop some into a small tupperware and you have a DIY Jell-O pudding cup.

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Do’s and Don’ts for Cook Out Season

Summer is officially and finally here (if you live in New England, you know what I mean by “finally” this year) and so is cookout season. This can be a very difficult time for people who are trying to watch their weight or eat healthily because we are surrounded by temptation – from fatty grilled meats to mayonnaise-covered salads to stocked beer coolers – it’s everywhere. It can be really hard to say no to these delicious temptations and even harder to deal with the aftermath, whether it’s weight gain or self-loathing. So, with Independence Day coming up next week, I thought this would be a good time to share my tips on how to get through barbecue season relatively healthy.

Do – Eat before you go

Having a healthful meal or snack before you head off to that cookout will help keep you from overeating once you get there whereas if you arrive hungry or starving you are far more likely to overeat on junk. A combination of lean protein and fiber will leave you feeling full longer, so try having some low-fat cottage cheese on whole grain toast or some grilled chicken and salad or some peanut butter and celery beforehand.

Do – Bring a healthy dish

Instead of making your famous macaroni salad that even you can’t resist, bring some cut veggies and dip or a shrimp and avocado salad with serrano honey vinegar. This will ensure that there is a healthy option for you to eat there. And your friends may appreciate it, too! You could also bring you own options to grill and ask the host to throw them on for you – like boneless, skinless chicken breast or vegetable kebabs.

Don’t – Hang around the snack table

There seems to be some unnamed law of physics that human beings are magnetically drawn to socialize at the snack table, but this pretty much guarantees mindless snacking – every healthy diet’s worst enemy. This doesn’t mean you have to be antisocial. I suggest finding a group away from the snack table to talk to or, if you start talking with someone at the snack table, suggest you move elsewhere by saying “wow, it’s kind of crowded over here, want to move that way so people can get in here?” Or even just be honest and say “if we keep standing here, I’m going to keep eating. Can we move away?” I can almost guarantee your conversation partner was thinking the same thing.

Do – Stay hydrated

When you are walking around talking to people on a hot day and eating salty food like chips and grilled meat, it is very easy to keep drinking alcohol. The problem with that is the more alcohol you drink the more you will crave that salty junk food and overeat. Be mindful of your drinking habits and alternate between your alcoholic drinks and water. This will slow down your alcohol consumption, make you feel fuller, and leave you feeling better the next day. Not to mention it’ll keep you safer.

Do – Get your exercise in

If you don’t have to be at a cookout until the afternoon, there is no reason you can’t get your workout in that morning! This will help you get energized and fire up your metabolism for the rest of the day. It will also leave you feeling more confident and better in your own skin – especially at those pool parties.

Do – Practice portion control

Balance. Balance. Balance. Balance. Did you get that? Balance. As a health coach, I can’t emphasize enough that the key to healthy living is balance. You should be eating healthy most of the time, but, when you want to indulge, you should – just make sure you’re eating reasonable portions and enjoying them mindfully so you feel satisfied with them.

Ideally, you want your plate to be 1/4 lean protein, 1/2 veggies, and 1/4 starchy veggies or whole grain. That is obviously not always possible when eating outside your home, but it’s important to try to get as close to that as you can.

When faced with a smorgasbord of summer foods, it can be easy to load up that plate and then go back for seconds. Instead, pick one or two indulgences you really want and place a small portion of them on your plate and fill the rest with healthy options. And don’t go back for seconds on those “cheat” foods.

Don’t – Beat yourself up

So you didn’t have the self-control you were planning to have and you ate and drank way too much. Guess what? You’re human. It happens to everyone – even health coaches and nutritionists. The worst thing that you can do in this situation is put yourself down for it. You are allowed to indulge occasionally and sometimes it’ll be too much. You need to let yourself have that and then just get back on track. It is so easy to beat yourself up for overindulging and that makes it easier to say “the hell with it – I already messed it all up, so I might as well just keep going because clearly I can’t do this anyway.” Then that thought process becomes your excuse and you end up feeling even more terrible. This is how setbacks become obstacles. The best thing that you can do for your health in this situation both physically and emotionally is be gentle with yourself – say to yourself “well, that wasn’t my best effort, but I’m not giving up on myself” and get right back at it. I’ve seen too many people defeat themselves by allowing one bad day to become a spiral and it’s not fair to yourself.