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Healthy Holiday Eating

The holiday season is full of family, friends, and food. But no one likes the extra calories and added pounds that can come with the holiday.

Adding some healthy choices to every meal or buffet table can help when you have the urge to have an unhealthy treat.

Listen in as Autumn Kumlien, RD gives smart tips on substitutions and choices as you enjoy your favorite time of the year.
Healthy Holiday Eating
Featured Speaker:
Autumn Kumlien, RD
Autumn Kumlien, BS RDN CD, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with Stoughton Hospital, with over 12 years of experience as a clinical dietitian, consultant dietitian, and instructor of nutrition at the college level. Autumn received a BS degree in Dietetics and a BS degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2002. She completed a Didactic Internship at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in May of 2003. A mother of a 7 year old daughter and 2 year old son, she finds many opportunities to get her children to eat more fruits and vegetables!

Melanie Cole (Host): The holiday season is full of family and friends and food, but nobody likes the extra calories and added pounds that come with all that holiday food. My guest today is Autumn Kumlien. She’s a registered dietitian nutritionist at Stoughton Hospital. Welcome to the show, Autumn. Starting with Halloween and right through to January, it takes a lot of willpower not to just go crazy from the candy onward. So, what do you tell people every day about these upcoming months and what we can do to make it not so damaging?

Autumn Kumlien (Guest): That’s right. Starting with Halloween, one thing you can do is that if candy is a really big downfall for you is to buy candy you don’t like. So, if you really like chocolate, buy all those are Sweet Tarts and things like that if you’re going to be handing it out for the holiday. Or, even buying non-food items, like Play-Doh, or coloring books, or crayons, or different things like that to hand out so that it’s not impacting your calorie intake while feeling pretty good about what you’re giving out to children, and also helpful for children that have food allergies. So, having those other options available. But then, we move into more of the Thanksgiving, the holiday Christmas type of events, and so with those-- difficult time for many, putting on those extra pounds. The key here will be to maintain your current weight instead of trying to lose weight during the holidays, and that can be kind of a self-defeating goal during this time period. On average, Americans gain about one to two pounds during the holiday season. It doesn’t sound very dramatic but research shows that that tends to stay on and accumulate over the years. So, every year you’re putting on that extra one to two pounds and so after ten years you’ve added up quite a bit of weight. Luckily, you can avoid those extra pounds by mindful eating and eating in moderation and following a few simple strategies. I’ll include some from your cooking or things that you can bring to holiday parties, as well as when you’re at the holiday parties or events. If you’re hosting a gathering this holiday season, you can reduce the fat and calories without sacrificing a lot of the taste by just swapping out a few ingredients in your favorite recipes. An example would be using two egg whites in place of one egg. So, cutting down on the cholesterol and producing the same tasty result. Also, you can use low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth in your mashed potatoes or in your stuffing mixes or creating your own stuffing. Adding flavor and also cutting back on added butter or margarine. Baking: substitute applesauce for oil in your muffins or quick bread, banana bread for example. Play around with it. Start with a small amount at first and then add a little bit more, but as you substitute, the texture of the finished product does change but most always could change for the better. For dips, sauces or pie toppings you can use fat for yogurt, sour cream, whipped topping, those type of things. Sliced almonds also can be a really good and delicious, and crunchy topping instead of those fried onion rings that are going on many dishes like your casseroles.

Melanie: Those are so high in calories, people don’t even realize and they sprinkle those things on. And they taste really good even right out of the can, but they are just absolutely junk food.

Autumn: Absolutely. Deep fried and, yes, definitely. So, something you really have to be careful for. Also, like choosing reduced fat or low fat cheeses for any of your salads or casseroles that you make can really help cut back on those extra calories.

Melanie: And nobody ever even knows the difference about those.

Autumn: No.

Melanie: You can put low-fat cheese on those kinds of things, like if you’re making taco layer dip or if you’re making, as you say, salads. People don’t know if you put low-fat mozzarella cubes in there versus full fat. They don’t know the difference.

Autumn: Absolutely. The whole flavor of the dish comes out instead of that one ingredient. So, yes, and including lots of fresh vegetables, like sweet potatoes in your holiday meals: winter squash, broccoli, carrots, obviously; the green beans. You can use apples and cranberries or pears in making food salads or fruit crisps or toppings for turkey. So, lots of different options there. When it comes to meals, they tend to be large, buffet-style, and that’s where people usually go wrong. They have to go back for that second or that third helping. So, one thing also the kind of mistake people make is thinking or perceiving a food as being healthy and eating too much of it. An example would be like a carrot cake. You’re having too big of a slice or something like that. So, cutting back on that and using that in moderation so you don’t overdo it at that one meal.

Melanie: That’s a great point. People do think there are some things like spinach dip and such. They say, “Well, that’s got spinach in it so it’s much healthier,” but then when we look at things like hummus and ones that are certainly better for us or healthier, sometimes people don’t know which ones to choose.

Autumn: Right. In that case, if it’s usually got a cream base to it, you can usually guarantee that it’s usually going to be high in calories, especially if you’re purchasing it and it’s a store-bought one or bought from the deli, that type of thing. But, definitely hummus would be a better choice for you, raw veggies, or your pita chips or things like that to have available than more of those cream-based dips. But, there are ways of making your own that are low fat.

Melanie: There are. So, if you do make your own and you look up recipes with the cans of chickpeas or garbanzo beans and that sort of thing, you’re using your own good olive oil, yes, sure. These things are all going to be less calories. But, now let’s hit the big one, Autumn, because we can eat all these different foods and we can try and do some of these really great tips, by the way, that you’ve been giving here today, and then there’s our little friend alcohol which kind of takes our inhibitions and throws them out the window.

Autumn: Right.

Melanie: Plus, the calories that alcohol adds to these parties and makes it all festive and fun, but really can add up.

Autumn: Definitely can. When it comes to drinking alcohol during an event, start with a calorie-free or non-alcoholic beverage, like a sparkling water with lime or with lemon, or that type of an option, satisfying your thirst even before having an alcoholic beverage can be key. We know moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to one drink per day for women, that would be like five ounces. And, for males it would be up to two, so ten ounces. If you’re choosing to drink, plan to drink, obviously, keep the holidays merry for everyone, obviously, designate a driver who won’t be drinking, and then be mindful of how many you’ve had and being careful that. And, remember they do have calories and your body does metabolize alcohol kind of like a fat. So, you’ve heard of the beer belly. So, you want to make sure that you’re taking an appropriate amount or limiting that if need be. But then, also balancing those party calories with more physical activity. It can be cold outside but taking an extra 10 minutes at a time, get moving, play actively your kids, your grandkids, your pets. Go for a walk with your family even if it’s just around the block. Touch upon some housework, you could vacuum, sweep, wash windows--those types of ideas.

Melanie: Those are great ideas. To get a little bit of exercise and work off some of this food that you’re eating is really such an important part of adding to it. Now, are you a dietitian who recommends that people eat a little something before they go to these parties, like a salad or a yogurt or a banana? Something to fill up, because some theories say that if you eat before you go then you’re just eating twice as much.

Autumn: Actually, no. That was a really good point. If you plan on treating yourself later, you really should start your day with a smaller meal which includes whole grains, fruit, fat-free dairy, low-fat dairy, or protein, eggs, peanut butter, that type of thing. So, not to starve yourself beforehand, because if you do you will tend to overeat at the event because you are so hungry. So, eating that smaller, lower calorie meal or snack, including that fruit or whole grains will help keep you from overdoing it throughout the end of the day because when we skip breakfast or skip meals, unconsciously we’re always trying to make up for it. So, we will tend to overeat. So, really planning ahead for that and having a health-conscious, healthy meal before you’re going or snack can help to curb that from overeating.

Melanie: It’s such great advice, Autumn, and you’re so good at giving this advice, really. So, wrap it up for us. The holiday season, I loved your advice about not buying candy that you like, or giving pencils or crayons, because kids like little fun pencils and cool erasers and there’s a lot of things parents can give that are not candy, that we won’t go near. But, wrap it up for us, give us your best advice for these upcoming holiday months and what you tell people every single day about planning for it in advance, because I think that’s key when you said that.

Autumn: Absolutely. You do need to plan for these events that are coming up so you’re not caught off guard and just stuck with buying whatever is out there. But then, it tends to be the Halloween is a little hard if you buy it ahead of time, buy it that night if you’re going to give out candy and if it gets to be the last 20 minutes or so, give it all out, just get rid of it. Get it out of the house. When it comes to the events where you’re eating with family and a lot of meals—holidays are socialized a lot of times around food—using smaller plates so you can allow less food on your plate, encouraging more portion sizes and portion control, and filling your plate with lots of vegetables or salad before going to the entrees and the desserts. Again, eating a salad or broccoli soup before you start your meal can help you to overall take in less calories. Choose carefully between foods that you know, “I’m definitely going to eat these”, or “I’ve sort of tasted this and so you’re like, “Oh, I can live without them. I can pass over them.” And then, don’t rush to eat, conversation is calorie-free. So, socialize, settle into the festivities before you eat. And then eat slowly and savor every bite before you go back for the seconds. Wait 10 minutes and then see if you truly are really hungry or have a glass of water. And, again, moving yourself away from that buffet or appetizer trays to minimize that unconscious nibbling that can get us all into trouble.

Melanie: Wow. Such great advice and so well put, Autumn. Thank you so much for being with us today. We will have you on again closer to the holidays to help us keep that good motivation going. Thanks for being with us. You’re listening to Stoughton Hospital Health Talk. For more information, you can go to This is Melanie Cole.