5 Tips for Feasting Without the Guilt
The arrival of the holiday season can stimulate a vast array of emotions and some stress for us all. As Thanksgiving approaches, I like to reflect on what this special occasion and the ones that follow truly mean to me.
The focus is on celebrating and giving thanks, gathering with family and friends to exchange stories, sharing memories and enjoying homemade food. By remembering to take time and reflect periodically, I’ve found I can avoid exaggerating with calories and sugar, despite the over-abundance of goodies around me.
Here are five tips that help me get prepared beforehand so I can feel guilt-free after feasting:
- BUY LOCAL & ORGANIC INGREDIENTS
There are many ways to cut down on the carbon footprint of the festive food on our plates. Sourcing organic foods from small-scale, local producers and businesses is a great start to feeling good throughout the holidays. From pasture-raised heritage turkeys to farmers markets offering pesticide-free produce, inspiration for menu planning abounds. It’s becoming easier to find ingredients grown with the same approach to traditional, wholesome and sustainable farming practices that we celebrate with our feasting.
- EAT FRESH, SEASONAL FOODS
Family recipes provide the seasonal flair we’ve come to expect year after year. However, you can convert a dish that calls for boxed or canned ingredients into one that highlights the true bounty of this season. For example, opt for fresh sweet potatoes — slice into wedges and roast skin-on, rubbed with olive oil, coriander and cumin, or your favorite spices.
If marshmallows will be missed, get a little extra sweetness from a drizzle of organic maple syrup. Raw cranberries allow you to simmer your signature into the sauce — cook in water with fresh ginger, local apple cider and honey, then strain and reduce. The extra time it may take to prepare your favorite dishes will be worth the greater nutritional value and authenticity of flavor.
- MAKE CONSCIOUS CHOICES
Left-overs are an expected part of holiday meals, but I try to limit potential waste by making realistic plans for their post-feast use: buying re-usable containers so guests can take food home; creating a “panino d’autore” or artisan sandwich that incorporates four or more ingredients with flair; taking care packages to friends and neighbors; making stock and soup from the turkey bones.
- SNACK WISELY
It’s easy to forget to eat something healthy during the preparations before guests arrive. This building hunger will diminish your focus and leave you likely to succumb to junk food or unhealthy snacks to fill the void. I’ve learned that if I eat a hard-boiled egg and snack on fruit and veggies while I cook, I arrive at the big meal with a reasonable appetite and no need to overload my plate or descend upon the buffet like a hungry wolf.
- ROOM FOR DESSERT?
After years of feeling overfull and guilty if I didn’t try everyone’s contribution to dinner, I decided to change my approach. I now stagger my sampling of our family’s tradition of rich desserts, especially if I know that I am already full after the savory components. While my mom’s pumpkin and pecan pies are some of my personal favorites, I always want a slice of the lemon meringue pie my dad bakes.
So, I’ve worked out a compromise — I end the meal with zesty lemon curd and tall peaks of meringue and as pumpkin pie tastes even better to me the next day, I have a slice of it for breakfast. Pecan pie wraps up my day-after left-overs lunch and I’ve effectively extended the pleasures of the palate.
Whether you are a guest at someone’s house or are the host of a small gathering or large group, use these tips to have a happy and healthy holiday season while enjoying good food with your friends and family! And remember, your good habits and intentions won’t be ruined by indulging a bit in a rich meal or two. Just make sure you take the time to consider your options beforehand and don’t give in to stress or postpone making good choices.
Ashlee Refern is the owner of Italian Inspirations. After graduating from the Seattle Culinary Academy, Ashlee Redfern moved to Italy for 8 years. After earning a degree in Intercultural & Interlinguistic Studies from the University of Florence, Italy, working in the food, wine and fashion industries and teaching English, she now lives on Bainbridge Island and shares her passion for delicious food and cultural exchange through her business, Italian Inspirations. She is a personal chef, offers Italian language classes and cultural & travel consulting services in the greater Seattle area. She also organizes and guides personalized, small-group culinary tours of Tuscany for adventurous foodie travelers.