LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. – I felt anxious walking into the Health and Wellness Center, as I prepared to taste what I expected to be some rather unappetizing food. As a child, I always associated “healthy” with “bland” and “boring”. When I grew up, I refused to buy anything that said “low fat” or “fat-free” on the label.
Imagine my surprise as I walked into the Healthy Eating class attached to the kitchen and smelled the familiar tartness of cranberries. Tracy Conder, registered dietician and class instructor, welcomed me with a big smile. She had already started cooking and there were several people sitting, flipping through hand-outs filled with holiday recipes and tips.
“Americans gain on average between seven and ten pounds during the holiday season,” said Conder. “I want to provide some strategies to avoid that; things like recipe substitutions to cut fat and calories, and tips to survive when eating at relatives’ and friends’ homes.”
Conder began by making a cranberry-pear sauce. Instead of using the typical cranberry sauce that still bears the shape of the can it came from, Conder made the sauce from scratch. As she cut the pears and blended them with cherries and cranberries, she discussed a few healthy tips for visiting friends and family during the holidays.
• Be realistic. Don’t try to lose weight during the holidays. Instead, try to maintain a healthy weight.
• Plan time for exercise. People tend to travel more during the holidays, so there isn’t always time to keep a consistent work-out plan. Every little bit counts. Make a few extra trips around the grocery store when shopping for gifts and park a little further out in the parking lot.
• If you know a host is going to have a lot of high-fat foods, don’t skip a meal. Eat a healthy snack before arriving at their home. You will be less tempted to over-indulge.
• Bring your own healthy dish to a holiday gathering. It will allow you to eat healthier and encourage others to do the same.
When the colorful cranberry pear sauce aws finished, the smell filled the HAWC in no time. My stomach began to grumble. I’ve never been a fan of cherries or pears, but the smell was intoxicating and I couldn’t wait to try it.
As gingerbread cooled on the counter and macaroni and cheese baked in the oven, my mouth watered. Conder began making an edamame-avocado dip, and a pomegranate-citrus juice.
“If we put a little extra effort into our food choices, and change it up a little bit, we can survive the holidays.” said Conder. “We can put the focus back on friends, family and fellowship.”
Finally, the macaroni and cheese came out of the oven and the gingerbread had cooled. The macaroni and cheese looked like the typical family recipe - lots of macaroni, and lots of cheese. But Grandma’s mac and cheese couldn’t compare to this dish. It tasted so good that I struggled to find the healthy twist that made it different from the usual. There’s no difference in color, texture or smell from Grandma’s recipe. So what was it? Butternut squash.
“Butternut squash has just enough flavor to add to the macaroni and cheese, but not over power it,” said Conder. “It allows you to cut back on the amount of cheese in the dish, which cuts back on the calories and fat.”
Staff Sgt Waylon Hobbs, Headquarters Air Combat Command noncommissioned officer of resource management, couldn’t wait to go home and try some of the recipes.
“I have family members with health issues so I came looking for some healthy ways to prepare food while still keeping it flavorful,” said Hobbs. “I can’t wait to go home and start experimenting with some of these recipes for my family.”
I made sure to grab some macaroni and cheese and gingerbread to take home before I left. As I walked out, I continued to flip through my new list of healthy holiday recipes and substitutions, excited to try them this year.
As the girl who used to turn her nose up to healthy food, I am now looking forward to making homemade cranberry sauce filled with a variety of fruit, and macaroni and cheese with butternut squash.