Eating healthy during the holidays: a gift to yourself

Jennifer Thompson | 12/21/2011, 5 p.m.

As you sit down with family and friends before a table laden with holiday meats and treats, it may be difficult to consider eating healthy. But it can--and should--be done. Packing on the pounds may be among the most unwise and hurtful things you can indulge in during this season, especially if you're already older or having challenges with weight, blood pressure or blood sugar.

However, there are tips that can be implemented to put at least some focus on nutrition throughout the holiday.

According to the National Institutes of Health, holiday eating, if uncontrolled, can result in extra pounds every year and, of course, can balloon to more pounds and more frustration over weight as the year progresses.

Yes, mac and cheese is delightful, dressing (or stuffing) is heavenly, fried chicken is dreamy, and red velvet cake is delectable, but just thinking about these dishes can cause lumps to appear in places where they aren't wanted. This year there should be an effort to apply a healthy focus to the holiday meal.

It really isn't that hard, some chefs contend.

Chef and nutritionist William Sharp of Los Angeles Trade Tech College, where he teaches a culinary arts course, has been in the food industry for more than 40 years. He has worked in fast food, military hospitals, on cruise ships, in restaurants, and been an executive chef for a hospital contract company.

"Dining should be an experience. Keep it traditional but with a healthy twist," says Sharp, who promotes the idea of consuming smaller portions as a helpful tip. During the holidays, people have a tendency to try and pile everything on a plate instead of taking little by little of each dish.

"Enjoy yourself, slow down and take your time to eat more frequently and fully enjoy it," says Sharp.

There are other ways to eat healthy throughout the season, but first you must understand why it is important to modify some eating habits. Once you have monitored your portions, the next step is to be selective about what you eat. Aim to have a balanced meal.

Chef Marilyn, owner and chef of Chef Marilyn's Soul Food Express, believes staying healthy is the way to a balanced lifestyle. "You can't eat yams, macaroni and cheese without eating vegetables," says Marilyn. "Staying healthy is eating balanced."

The more balanced the meals the better health will be, because we will have many of the nutrients, vitamins and proteins needed provided through the food we chose to eat.

Cooking healthy is the other component to eating healthy. For example, supplement olive oil for vegetable oil. And choose to bake, grill or broil rather than fry foods. Also, it is a good idea to use lemon to marinate your meats.

Practicing healthy cooking tips can help lower fat and calories, promote a healthy eating style, and add a healthy kick to your holiday cooking.

Chef Govind Armstrong of the new Baldwin Hills Crenshaw restaurant Post & Beam started cooking when he was about 10 years old.