Host a Healthy Holiday Open House

The holiday season has become so hectic and overscheduled that finding a night to throw a dinner party or cocktail soiree has become nearly impossible. One solution is hosting a laid-back holiday open house, which allows guests to come and go as they please after crossing some holiday shopping off their lists. These shindigs run for about four hours during a weekend afternoon, and the flexibility can help minimize holiday stress for the host and guests alike. Plus, typical open-house fare is cocktails and light bites, which means you won’t bust a pant button on your way out. Use these tips and recipes to help you host a tasty and healthy open house this holiday season. Cheers!

Keeping Things Light

Delicious and healthy can go hand in hand if you follow these tips.

Minimize fried goodies: There are many finger foods and apps to choose that don’t need to be fried.

Add color: Select recipes with seasonal fruits and veggies for gorgeous eye appeal. Fruits and veggies also tend to be light in calories.

Go for lean protein: Choose lean cuts of beef, pork, chicken, and turkey to help keep foods healthier, or opt for fish like salmon or tuna (to boost Omega-3s) and shellfish like shrimp and crab.

Offer small plates: Eating off smaller-sized plates means less food (or at least more trips to the buffet table to get the same amount of food). Instead of 9-inch dinner plates, offer smaller sized dishes.

Use a jigger: To keep calories from alcohol under control and prevent guests from getting overserved, use a jigger to measure alcohol instead of “eyeballing it” when making cocktails.

Offer low- and no-calorie beverages: Serve unsweetened iced tea, hot tea and coffee, and sparkling water with a twist of fruit as low-cal options.

 

Cocktails

Cucumber Cocktail

White Sangria

Cider Jack Cocktails

 

Virgin Bevvies

Cranberry Spritzer

Gina’s Raspberry Mint Tea

Mulled Cider

 

Bites

Homemade Hummus

Crisp Crab Cakes

Mini Spinach and Mushroom Quiche

Bruschetta with Tomato and Basil

Mini Meatballs

Baked Coconut Shrimp

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

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Tips for Exercising in Cold Weather

Just because the temperature dips doesn’t mean your exercise routine needs to take a dive. Keep these four rules in mind to exercise safely all winter long.

Rule #1: Warm Up

Pun intended! Get blood flowing to muscles, and increase your heart rate before heading out into the cold. The increased circulation will help prime muscles for activity and may help reduce the risk of injury.

Rule #2: Keep On Hydrating

This may be more obvious during warmer months, but you still need to drink plenty of fluids when exercising in the cold; you’re still sweating, and you need to replenish fluids lost. Both warm and cold fluids will help contribute to hydration, so reach for whichever you prefer. A little caffeine will help boost performance, but too much can have a negative effect on digestion, so keep your intake conservative.

Rule #3: Seek Shelter

Even die-hard outdoor enthusiasts need to know when to take the workout indoors. Bitter-cold and icy conditions can lead to treacherous surfaces, injuries and even frostbite. It’s also beneficial for everyone to cross-train, so hit up a yoga class or take a swim in the local indoor pool a couple of days a week when outdoor conditions become an issue. 

Rule #4: Bundle Up

Keep skin protected by reducing exposure to the elements. An insulated hat will retain body heat and help wick away sweat. It’s also important to keep fingers and toes toasty, as blood flow tends to dissipate in these areas when the air is chilly. And who wants to exercise with numb fingers and toes?

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

 

 

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Can’t Take More Steps Each Day? Then Take Faster Ones

An entire industry of fitness-tracking devices has sprung up to support the expert-recommended goal of taking 10,000 steps daily. And while that’s a great amount to shoot for, a new study has shown that if you can’t get in quite that many steps a day, there are other ways to reap the same health benefits. The study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, shows that if you (like the average American) can get in only 5,000 to 7,000 steps daily, the trick is to pick up the pace for about half of them.

Walking at a brisk pace (which the researchers defined as 100 or more steps per minute) should be your goal for at least 30 minutes a day, in order to reduce a variety of cardiometabolic risk factors. The other key finding was that no matter how many steps you get in daily, it pays to try to reduce the amount of time you spend not moving at all.

Need help achieving those goals? Here are some tips from Alissa Rumsey, a registered dietitian and certified strength and conditioning specialist, to get you moving.

How to limit sedentary time:

  • Invest in a standing desk (or one that lets you both sit and stand) so that you sit less at work.
  • Set a reminder on your phone to get up and move around at least once an hour.
  • Use the restroom on the floor above or below your office — and take the stairs there and back.
  • Take a conference call on your headset and walk around the office or a nearby park while you talk.
  • Keep your stationary bike or treadmill in front of the TV to sneak in some exercise instead of just lounging on the couch.

How to get in more brisk walking:

  • When you’re walking, focus on taking quicker steps, not longer strides.
  • Keep a pair of sneakers in the car or in your office so you can slip them on and take advantage of any opportunity to get in some faster-paced walking.
  • Speed walk through your errands. Get your heart rate up as you walk between stores. Going to only one store? Park in the farthest corner of the parking lot and speed walk to the store.
  • You’ll know you’re walking at the right pace if you can carry on a conversation but would be out of breath if you moved any faster.

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.

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Kitchen Trend: Instant Pot

Your grandma’s pressure cooker is getting a reboot. The Instant Pot has helped make the electric pressure cooker trendy, but in a safer and more user-friendly way. Find out all there is to know about this old-school cooking tool.

Pressure Cooking 101

A pressure cooker is essentially a chamber of steam that quickly heats to a high temperature, rapidly cooking food within a moist environment. While there is a bit of a learning curve when using a pressure cooker, it is fairly simple to operate. Newer models have sophisticated dials and built-in safety mechanisms to help avoid the feared explosion of piping-hot food all over the kitchen.

Cooking via this speedy method offers not only culinary convenience but also better nutrition, because the high heat and fast cooking allow food to retain nutrients. Pressure cookers also do their part for the environment, offering up to a 70 percent energy saving compared with slower cooking techniques.

 The Instant Pot

At the forefront of the pressure cooker revolution is the Instant Pot. Created by a Canadian company, this updated version of the classic machine offers an all-in-one system that allows for pressure cooking, as well as slow cooking, rice cooking, sauteing, steaming and yogurt making. 

The Instant Pot is available from various stores and online merchants. It is available in a couple of sizes and models that vary by a few bells and whistles (such as an option with Bluetooth capabilities). Retail prices range from $160 to $230.

In the Kitchen

Put your Instant Pot to good use to save time and boost nutrition. Whip up batches of steel-cut oats and quinoa in a fraction of the time they would take to cook on the stove (like less than 10 minutes). Large and tough cuts of meat, like chuck roasts and pork shoulder, that usually take hours to tenderize can be headed to the table in less than an hour. You can cook dried beans with or without presoaking in about 20 minutes and create chicken broth in an hour or less. If you can make room for another gadget in your kitchen arsenal, an electric pressure cooker offers some appealing recipe options.

Recipes to Try

Pot Roast Stew

Pressure-Cooker Chicken Broth

Pressure-Cooker Chickpeas

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

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Are You Eating the Right Omegas? Most Americans Aren’t 

We hear a lot about the importance of getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids in our diets — and with good reason. They’re heart-healthy fats that help decrease inflammation, plus they’re important for brain development and function. The other Omega fatty acids — the Omega-6 oils — are also considered “essential fatty acids” that are needed for several body processes. But some of them can also cause inflammation when eaten in excess. So while we do need adequate amounts of both in our diets, most of us are getting way too much Omega-6 and way too little Omega-3.

“In the standard American diet, people are getting about a 20-to-one ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3,” says Chris D’Adamo, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology and public health, University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Ideally, that ratio should be more like three-to-one.” The trouble is that Omega-6 fatty acids have become ubiquitous in our food supply in a way that they were not several decades ago. They are found in vegetable oils — like corn, sunflower, safflower and soybean — that are a staple ingredient in so many refined, processed and packaged foods. And when modern agricultural methods meant a shift from livestock that grazed on Omega-3-rich grasses to livestock that was fed Omega-6-packed grains, the balance in our diets shifted even more.

A recent editorial in Open Heart, the journal of the British Cardiovascular Society, discussed the importance of a balanced ratio of Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids when it comes to prevention and management of obesity. The authors write: “High dietary intake of omega 6 fatty acids as occurs today leads to increases in white adipose tissue and chronic inflammation, which are the ‘hallmarks of obesity.’”

To improve the ratio of Omega-6s to Omega-3s in your diet, focus on:

  • Increasing consumption of Omega-3-rich foods — such as salmon, sardines, flax seeds and walnuts.
  • Opt for beef and dairy from grass-fed livestock whenever possible.
  • Limit your intake of processed foods in order to reduce the amount of vegetable oils in your diet.

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.

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Scalloped Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Mushrooms

Layer after layer of warm cheesy potatoes — it’s pretty much a classic definition for comfort food. Here, buttery yellow-skinned potatoes and thickly sliced mushrooms are drenched in a 10-minute cream sauce and sprinkled with rich blue cheese.

In past decades, scalloped potatoes were on the dinner rotation with other casseroles. But these Scalloped Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Mushrooms have been updated for modern tastes, and they feature a few tricks that make them lighter than the cream-drenched “covered dishes” of the past. Here’s what I stirred up:

Yukon Gold Potatoes
These thin-skinned potatoes taste buttery even without the addition of any dairy. Leaving the skins on ups the flavor and nutrition.

Blue Cheese
Your grandma probably didn’t add blue cheese to her hot dish; using this umami-rich cheese packs intense flavor throughout the recipe, with the use of only a half-cup of cheese.

Baby Bella Mushrooms
Also known as “cremini,” these meaty mushrooms are sliced thick to give them solid structure, making the scalloped potatoes hearty enough to serve as a meatless meal. Also, mushrooms contain vitamin D, which may help improve your mood as daytime sunshine becomes sparse.

Lastly, this updated casserole is served in a cast-iron skillet — a nod to “what’s old is new again.” You could also use a large oven-safe saute pan. Using a large skillet makes this a convenient one-pot meal.

Grab some friends — or blue-cheese-loving family members — and serve this cozy dish alongside a contrasting crisp, green salad dressed with tart, citrus dressing. Add dessert and you’ve got a fine meal. If you choose to add lean meat, beef would be a tasty complement.

After some of this warm comfort food, you may even be able to shed a few layers of those scarves and sweaters you’ve been snuggling up in to try to stay warm.

Scalloped Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Mushrooms
Makes 6 servings 

2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 small)
One 8-ounce package baby bella mushrooms, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups reduced-fat (2 percent) milk
2 ounces (1/2 cup) crumbled blue cheese, divided
4 medium (1 1/2 pounds) Yukon Gold potatoes

In a large cast-iron skillet or saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook and stir 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic; cook and stir 4 minutes. Sprinkle in flour, pepper and salt; cook and stir 1 minute.

Pour in milk all at once; cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly, about 3 minutes. Spoon most of the mushroom sauce into a heatproof bowl. (Do not clean skillet.) Reserve 1 tablespoon of cheese; stir remaining cheese into warm sauce.

Slice potatoes into 1/4-inch thick slices; layer half the potatoes into the bottom of the skillet. Cover with half the sauce. Repeat potato and sauce layers.

Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven; uncover and sprinkle with reserved blue cheese. Bake about 20-30 minutes more, or until potatoes are tender.

Note: Slice potatoes right before using to prevent them from turning brown.

Per serving: Calories 200; Fat 9 g (Saturated 3 g); Sodium 271 mg; Carbohydrate 24 g; Fiber 3 g; Sugars 5 g; Protein 7 g

Serena Ball, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian nutritionist. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com sharing tips and tricks to help readers find cooking shortcuts for making healthy, homemade meals. Her recipes are created with families in mind.

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Will Soda in Your City Soon Cost More?

Is it time for budget- and health-minded beverage buyers to switch to seltzer or stick to water? If you live in a growing number of U.S. cities, sucking down sodas and other sugary beverages will now cost you more, thanks to new taxes.

Here’s a rundown of cities and counties that have enacted soda taxes, starting with five that did so just this month:

Cook County, Ill.: The populous Illinois county that is home to Chicago will see a penny-per-ounce beverage tax — over and above the usual sales tax — added to the purchase of sweetened drinks such as soda, iced tea, lemonade and sports drinks, whether bottled, canned or from a fountain. The tax, which goes into effect July 1, was approved by the Cook County Board on Thursday, November 10, and is expected to raise $224 million in revenue per year.

San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, Calif.: Voters in these Bay Area municipalities overwhelmingly passed soda taxes on Tuesday, November 8, in an effort to lower rates of diabetes and obesity — and raise revenues.

Boulder: Residents of this Colorado city voted to pass a two-cent-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary beverages on Election Day this year; the tax will be levied on beverage distributors, not at stores.

Philadelphia: In June 2016, the city council approved a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on both sugary and artificially sweetened beverages. It will go into effect on January 1, 2017.

Berkeley, Calif.: Proceeds from Berkeley’s 2014 soda tax have thus far totaled $2 million, which has been used to support cooking, gardening and nutrition programming at public schools and community organizations working to address health issues, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Meanwhile, one study found soda consumption there had dropped by 21 percent.

Public health advocates have cheered the initiatives, which have received backing from former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. And nutritionists like Amy Gorin, M.S., RDN, and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, predict it could be part of a growing movement that has long-term positive effects, including lowering BMIs for both children and adults.

While drinking an occasional soda doesn’t pose a major threat to your health, Gorin notes, regular consumption of sugary beverages may, increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. She cites research indicating that consuming even one extra 12-ounce sugary drink every day can lead to weight gain of one extra pound every four years.

Soda taxes “could certainly help lower soda consumption,” Gorin says, noting that not only has sugary beverage consumption gone down sharply in Berkeley, but people there are drinking more water as well.

Gorin says she’d like to see more being done to educate consumers about making healthy, nutritious food choices, too. “Soda isn’t the only culprit,” when it comes to empty calories and chronic diseases, she says, “but addressing intake of it is a good start.”

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. A regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, she has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Daily Beast and Wine Spectator, among others, as well as for Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.

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