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by Women's Health Updated 12/2021

While the holiday season can be stressful, it is also a wonderful and joyful season filled with fun social events. Your calendar may be full of holiday concerts, office parties, caroling, festivals, and cocktail parties. The drinks will flow and delicious treats abound, but the holidays don’t have to derail your diet.

As you’re making the rounds this season, a little planning goes a long way to ensure healthy holiday habits. Follow these simple guidelines to avoid the most common holiday pitfalls.

Have a plan. As the holidays approach, devise a plan for how you will cope with the wide array of enticing treats. Are you currently trying to lose weight? If so, will you continue to diet through the holiday season or will you shift your attention to maintaining your current weight? Will you allow yourself to eat all treats, some treats, or no treats? Think about what feels realistic and right for you. Write down your plan—the commitments we write down are the ones we are most likely to keep.

Maintain your routine. The holidays are usually a frenetic time, which is why it is so important to maintain a sense of normalcy. Stick to your normal meal plan as much as possible. Continue to shop for your typical grocery staples and prepare healthy meals for your family. If you eat well most of the time, a few splurges at holiday parties are not likely to have lasting effects.

Manage stress. Most of the time, overeating at holiday events is the result of stress. Under other less-stressful circumstances, we might find it easier to pass up the rich desserts; however, when we’re tired and overwhelmed, we’re more likely to reach for sugary, starchy treats. Managing your stress will help you to be proactive. Get plenty of sleep and plenty of exercise throughout the season. You’ll be less likely to indulge in treats and more likely to indulge in conversation.

Pre-eat. Don’t arrive hungry to a holiday party. Face it—you’re there to socialize, not to eat. So, make the party about the people, not the food. Arrive with a full belly and focus on the conversation and hilarity.

Stay hydrated. Often we mistake dehydration for hunger. Drink plenty of water this season and you’ll be less likely to reach for empty calories.

Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol is full of empty calories that are correlated with an increase in abdominal fat. Furthermore, alcohol reduces our inhibitions and often causes us to nibble when we aren’t really hungry. Limit your alcohol intake and you’re more likely to make healthy food choices.

Pause. Take a deep breath before you reach for a treat and ask yourself if you really want it. Will it really satisfy you? Are you hungry or do you just want a treat? If you’re hungry, is there another choice that will satisfy your hunger and provide some nutrients? Most hosts provide a veggie tray. Nibble on carrots before reaching for cookies.

Indulge. Face it—some holiday treats are irresistible and only appear once a year. It’s okay to indulge. Save your splurges for the treats you really love. If you don’t love it, why bother?

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The holidays are not a license to eat anything we want, but they don’t have to be about deprivation either. Find a balance and enjoy the season. Happy, healthy holidays!

Beyond Pumpkin Pie For The Holidays

Behold the bounty of fall—apples, pears, root vegetables, squash, and pumpkin. Yes, pumpkin. Pumpkins are emblematic of fall, yet they rarely make it to the table. But pumpkins are for more than carving and pies—they deserve to hold a larger role in the fall kitchen. If you haven’t experimented with this versatile vegetable, you’re missing out on one of the most delicious treats of autumn.

Pumpkin Facts

Pumpkins are considered the “king of squash” and they are loaded with nutrients. Their bright orange color should have been your first clue that they are an excellent source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. They’re also full of vitamins A, C, K, and E and several minerals, including magnesium, potassium, and iron. Pumpkin flesh is also a good source of fiber. This vegetable is a low-fat, low-calorie treat.

Pumpkin seeds hold their own place in the nutritional arena. They are loaded with zinc, protein, and minerals. Some research indicates that they may have anti-inflammatory effects and could protect against prostate cancer and osteoporosis.

Picking Pumpkins

The large pumpkins that occupy the bins outside your grocery store are intended for decorative use and carving. Instead, look for the smaller variety of pumpkin, sometimes referred to as “pie” pumpkins or “sugar” pumpkins. Choose a pumpkin that feels heavy for its size.

Preparing Pumpkins

Pumpkins can be intimidating because they seem labor intensive, but they are actually quite the opposite. Most pumpkin recipes will call for pumpkin puree, but some require pumpkin chunks.

Puree: Making pumpkin puree is easier than it looks. Don’t bother with peeling, chopping, or scooping seeds. Just stick the whole pumpkin in a baking dish and pop it into the oven at 350 degrees for about an hour. The pumpkin is done when you can easily insert a knife into it. Allow the pumpkin to cool and then scoop the seeds and stringy parts out with a spoon. (You’ll be surprised and delighted at how much easier this is to do when the pumpkin is cooked rather than raw.) Next, scrape the flesh from the skin and run it through a food processor or blender. Voila! You have pumpkin puree without all of the unnecessary and unhealthy additions found in canned pumpkin.

Chunks: If your recipe calls for pumpkin chunks, you will need to carefully cut into the raw pumpkin. (Sometimes this process can be made easier with a very short period of roasting to soften the squash.) Remove the seeds and stringy parts and then carefully slice the flesh away from the peel.

Seeds: If you want to roast the pumpkin seeds, first rinse them and allow them to dry on paper towels. Toss them with oil, salt, and any other spices that sound appealing and then roast them in a 250-degree oven for about 45-60 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when they start to smell delicious.

The Joy of Pumpkins

Pumpkins are delicious in everything from soups to soufflés. They can be used in any recipe that calls for squash, though they have a more distinctive flavor than most squashes. The Internet abounds with recipes for pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin pie, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin cheesecake, and more. You can even grill pumpkin, just as you would any other squash. Get creative and think beyond dessert. The king of squash deserves a place at the main table. It’s delicious and nutritious. Enjoy!