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Holiday Eating…low-calorie appetizers

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, literally. Every year it comes around the same time…yet we seem to be surprised and unprepared. The plan was to get into better shape and lose a few pounds before the holiday season…right? It’s not just about one particular day or meal… it’s the whole season, which is full of goodies and leftovers. Combine that with less than optimal weather for a majority of the U.S. (discouraging outdoor exercise) and the result is weight gain. Average holiday weight gain is 5 to 10 lbs. It’s no myth! It takes 3,500 calories beyond what your body requires for weight maintenance to gain 1 lb. That might sound like a lot but it’s not…Did you know that a full holiday meal, with appetizers, cocktails, a loaded main plate and dessert can weigh in at over 3,500 calories? Grab a couple of ounces of cheese and a handful of butter crackers and you’re taking in roughly 300 calories. Add two heavy-handed Scotch cocktails and 1/2 cup mixed nuts and you’re looking at up to 800 calories … and you haven’t sat down for that big meal yet. It might be a little late to change the whole meal or put in a special request with your favorite aunt … but you can be proactive. Bring or make low-calorie appetizers and swap out a cocktail for sparkling water with a fruit wedge. You’ll end up taking in fewer calories overall.

Appetizers – Low-calorie suggestions

Remember, appetizers are small ‘bites’ of food that are meant to tide you over until your meal. Of course, you can skip them altogether but you don’t have to do so. Weight-friendly options include, of course, raw veggies/fruits with light dip but will that entice a crowd? Keep in mind that the key to calorie control is portion control. If the flavors are bold and satisfying, you’ll be happy with less. How about grilled shrimp or scallop and cherry tomato skewers or grilled or roasted shiitake mushrooms with a soy dipping sauce? Buy a ready-made soy dipping sauce or create your own with a base of 2 parts (1/2 cup) low-sodium soy sauce to one part (1/4 cup) rice wine vinegar, minced garlic cloves and diced scallions (to your taste), a couple teaspoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. This easy option offers tons of flavor but fewer than 100 calories per serving. Staying with the seafood theme…thin slices of smoked salmon on a platter topped with diced onion and capers…paired with wheat or rye crackers is healthy and low in calories.

A great crunch alternative to puff pastry is using layers of phyllo dough. It’s easier to work with than you think. You can set the sheets into mini muffin cups and fill them with everything from fruit compote to soft cheeses. Another idea is to whip up a light tasty filling for hollowed out sweet bell peppers made from light cream cheese, onion and chives. If you buy it ‘commercially prepared,’ this type of spread offers about 40 calories per tbsp. but you’ll get a huge burst of color and flavor in one little serving. Remember, they are appetizers…keep the calories ‘mini-sized.’

Coping with post-Halloween candy madness

Halloween is only one day out of 365…so what’s wrong with a few pieces of candy? Absolutely nothing…and this is coming from an unofficial ‘food cop.’ Halloween is fun – for children and adults. A few sweet treats won’t do much harm. The problem isn’t just about ‘one day.’ It’s about the days after….when all of the leftover candy you have in your home is staring you in the face – from the stash you doled out to neighbors to the bucketful your little ghost brought home. If you are like most American adults, you buy what you love…just in case there are a few pieces of candy leftover. I mean, you wouldn’t want to be stuck with candy you don’t like! These strategies work great for kids but also can be modified for ‘adult children…’

The best strategy when it comes to dealing with your child’s Halloween ‘earnings’ is to have him/her pick out their absolute favorites. Of course, you should have a (limited) quantity in mind ahead of time. These treats can be doled out carefully, prudently and sparingly after meals over the next few weeks. Just limit the quantity. If you have generous neighbors that gave out large candy bars, unwrap them, cut them into small pieces and freeze them. They’ll last and defrost in a lunchbox. In general try to avoid hard nougat, toffee and taffy candies that grind into teeth and are ‘sticky’ as they are prime cavity-causers. Best bet: dark chocolate pieces which offer some antioxidant benefits and less butter-fat than milk chocolate.

Just because your child doesn’t like all of the candy he/she was given doesn’t mean they’ll part with it easily! Offer something better. This might even work with the beloved candies. Use pieces as ‘currency.’ Set a price (pieces of candy) to purchase or trade in for a new game, toy or even an outing (such as a bowling party with friends). If your child wants a treat for a treat…have him trade in a few pieces for a better choice that you buy, such as a Nabisco 100-calorie packs® (portion-controlled). Oreo Thin Wafer Crisps™, Honey Maid Cinnamon Thin Crisps™ and Chips Ahoy! Thin Crisps™ are reasonable options. Make sure to serve a snack pack with something healthy, like a glass of milk or a piece of string cheese.

To keep things in perspective, all of these treats (in quantity listed) provide approximately 100 calories:

  • 15 jelly beans/22 jelly bellies®
  • 1-oz licorice
  • 25 plain M&Ms®
  • 1 Kudos® 100-calorie bar
  • 2 Tootsie pops®
  • 5 Werther’s Original® candies
  • 13 gummy bears®
  • 10 York Peppermint Patty® bites
  • 16 pieces of candy corn
  • 4 bite-sized 3-Muskateer® candies

When planning your ‘treat’ (or your child’s treat) keep calories in mind, and in control.

Childhood Obesity Prevention: Healthier School Lunches...

Childhood Obesity: Significance

There are several national health observances for the month of September. Of these, childhood obesity awareness may be among the most significant and timely in our society today. In terms of numbers, or prevalence of childhood obesity, one in three, or approximately 1/3 of American children fall into an overweight or obese (weight) category.

Unfortunately, malnutrition is common in the U.S., includes both over- and under-nourishment. The most common form of malnutrition (‘mal’ means ‘bad,’ ‘wrongful’ or ‘ill’) is obesity. Malnourished children are not necessarily ‘thin.’ In a world full of extremes, there are many children, of all shapes and sizes, not eating well enough for optimal growth, development and disease prevention.

Childhood Obesity: Awareness and Education

A First Lady must have her cause … for Michelle Obama it’s childhood obesity prevention. By drawing attention to the topic and being a self-nominated spokesperson, she can use her influence to encourage funding/program development. Her claims to fame include the “Let’s Move” and “We Can!” campaigns.

Childhood Obesity Prevention: Healthier School Lunches

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is making some strides. Schools across the country are incorporating vegetarian meals (more veggies in general) into their lunch menus. The San Diego Unified district started a ‘meatless Mondays’ program. They offer garden veggie burgers, sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwiches and fresh salads.

In 2012, the USDA introduced new standards for American school lunch offerings to combat malnutrition and childhood obesity. School lunches should now feature whole grains, low-fat milk, more fruit and a healthier mix/selection of vegetables.

Based on results of a survey from 2005, serving more fruits and a healthier vegetable mix did slightly increase students’ vegetable consumption, although total consumption was still too low.  Availability of alternatives (choices) mattered in this survey – students at schools without à la carte options and those with only healthy à la carte options, had higher intakes of dark green vegetables.

Other good news: the percentage of school districts that allowed soda/soft drink advertising dropped significantly, 13%, from 2006 to 20012. In addition, the percentage of districts that prohibited junk food in vending machines (over the same time period) increased by about 14%. Soft drinks and junk foods in schools are less prevalent nationwide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the amount of nutrition-related information sent home to parents (on caloric content of foods available to students, etc.) is up as well as the overall nutritional standards in schools. Perhaps not ‘groundbreaking’ but certainly good news in the fight against childhood obesity.