Nutrition specialists offer tips to eat healthy and stay fit over food-filled breaks

Pamela Crimbchin


College students may love Thanksgiving and Christmas for two reasons: no school and real food. But those two reasons combined can be detrimental to a student’s health if he or she eats too much food and spends too much time doing nothing.

Eating Healthy

Thanksgiving dinner is full of hearty foods like mashed potatoes and casseroles.

“I like to call it butter day,” said Jodie Luidhardt, coordinator for the Nutrition Outreach Program. “‘Cause everything uses a stick of butter.”

Many people believe their sleepy demeanor after Thanksgiving dinner is caused by the amino acid tryptophan, but Luidhardt believes it’s because of overeating.

“You put all that food in your body, and it takes your body work to digest it,” Luidhardt said. “Your body doesn’t want 3,000-calorie meals at one time.”

If you’re helping to prepare a holiday dinner, there are many ways to make the dinner healthier.

Sarah Hoover is a junior psychology major who recently switched her major from dietetics and nutrition.

“Go for actual cranberry sauce with real cranberries in them, rather than the canned jelly stuff,” Hoover said.

She also recommends eating mashed potatoes and gravy rather than the sweet potatoes with marshmallows, even though sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin A.

Luidhardt recommends cutting back on butter and making whole wheat or whole grain rolls instead of the traditional white dinner rolls. She also recommends using whole wheat bread in stuffing.

“With the mashed potatoes, (leave) the skin on and maybe even throwing in some root vegetables like turnips or parsnips,” Luidardt said. “. Leaving the skin on and including those other vegetables will just increase the fiber content in the mashed potatoes.”

While casseroles are a tradition in many families, try to have fresh vegetables without the milk and cheese.

“Why does everything have to be in a casserole?” Luidhardt said. “Why can’t we just have green beans or corn or roasted vegetables or steamed vegetables?”

To try to reduce food intake at Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners, she recommended filling the plate once and taking time to enjoy the food, rather than eating it quickly and filling the plate up multiple times.

“I would say probably portions sizes is the biggest thing,” said Ben Cope, fitness and wellness coordinator for the Student Recreation and Wellness Center. “Like, not to go crazy with the portions and eat until you’re extremely full, but until you’re satisfied.”

Cope, Luidhardt and Hoover all agreed to try to fill up on fruits and vegetables before heading over to the dessert table. It’s OK to eat desserts during the holidays, but make sure not to eat too much dessert and remember to exercise.

Staying Active

It’s important to stay active during the holiday breaks. Not only will you stay in shape, but you will also be able to enjoy some of the foods you should probably avoid if not working out.

“The main thing during the break is to try not to stay absolutely stagnate,” Cope said.

Even though Thanksgiving and Christmas may not seem like long breaks, it’s important to remain consistent with the amount of physical activity and nutrition that a student does during the school semester.

“If you take 30 days off or a month off or however long kids are home, that kind of breaks that cycle,” Cope said.

Cope says most local gyms will offer students memberships at a discounted rate for the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

“That’s huge over Christmas break,” Cope said. “Just about every gym I know does that.”

Students can also do in-home training that does not require equipment, such as sit-ups or push-ups, to remain active.

On Thanksgiving Day, many cities and towns have Turkey Trots that are usually a 5K race in the morning.

“You can get up and get some exercise in before you eat, and then you might feel a little better about over-indulging,” Luidhardt said.

Turn being active into a family affair by suggesting a fall walk after dinner or playing football, instead of watching it.

“Since it’s such a family-oriented season, try to organize activities with your family,” Hoover said. “It gets everybody motivated and involved, and it’s a way to spend time with your family as well.”

Cope said it’s important to have physical goals during the holiday breaks as long as they are achievable.

“I tell people to be realistic and to have a goal of not to gain weight during the holidays and not to maybe have the expectations that, ‘I’m going to lose 10 pounds,'” he said.

While it’s good to remain active and healthy during the holiday breaks, make sure not to avoid all holiday traditions.

“Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy yourself and not strictly diet,” Hoover said. “Just try and be cautious of what you’re eating.”

Healthy Substitutes

Try these easy healthy substitutes from the Nutrition Outreach Program in your holiday cooking.

&bull Replace butter with soft, non-hydrogenated spread or 1 cup of apple, apricot or berry sauce.

&bull Replace whole milk with skim or 1 percent milk.

&bull Replace cream with 2 percent or evaporated milk.

&bull Replace eggs with egg substitute or two egg whites for every whole egg.

n Replace sour cream with 1 percent or fat free sour cream or plain low fat or fat free yogurt.

&bull Replace 1 cup of oil for baking with 1 cup of pureed apple, apricot or berry sauce.

&bull Replace oils for sautéing with water, broth, tomato juice or citrus.

&bull Replace salad dressings and marinade by substituting 1/3 of the oil called for with an equal amount of broth, frozen fruit juice concentrate, strong tea, vegetable purees, citrus and fresh herbs.

Contact features reporter Pamela Crimbchin at [email protected]