Surviving December meal madness

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or so the song goes. While this season elicits warm memories, it can be incredibly stressful, especially for moms, the holiday magicians.

We squeeze in time to deck the halls; shop for, wrap and ship gifts; write cards and letters; bake and exchange cookies; take trips to see Santa; attend festive gatherings and open houses; and travel out-of-town—in addition to our normal, hectic schedules. No wonder we’re relieved when the big day finally arrives!

One west suburban mother finds challenges at every turn."Holiday weekends are the hardest” for her children to eat well."I might have to prepare a pan of lasagna to bring to a family get-together. Then I’m out of time to make a healthy meal and I resort to chicken nuggets,” says Julie Cerone, mother of three elementary school-aged children.

Feeling overwhelmed is common, and we often make mistakes that impact nutrient intake. We may opt for quick and easy, but quick and easy can be higher in fat and calories. Kerry Regnier, MPH, RD, a Batavia-based nutrition consultant and mother of two young children, says one of the biggest mistakes is feeling it’s inevitable families can’t eat well with such busy schedules.

Regnier offers these stress-busting, healthy meal tips:

n Plan ahead and simplify. Take a look at the week’s schedule at some point (likely the weekend) and plan for some simple meals. Dinners and snacks don’t have to be fancy to be nutritious and complete.

n Make sure you have what you need on hand for some impromptu meals for nights you may have forgotten.

n Dust off your crock pot for those long days when you know you’re in a time crunch.

n When you are preparing meals, think of ways to stretch the main entree item by doubling it and freezing the second portion. If you’re making chicken breasts, cook twice as much and throw it into a salad the next day, or over rice with some vegetables and a sauce of your choice. Ask a neighbor to do the same (make twice as much) and swap meals.

n Stock the house with healthy quick items: fruits, vegetables and dip, dried fruits and yogurt for the times when you need something in a hurry.

n If you need to grab something from a quick service restaurant, take it home and add a fruit and a vegetable to help round out the meal. Offer milk or water and the meal can still be a sensible option for an evening that hasn’t gone as planned or has simply gotten away.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanza, plan ahead so you and your children don’t feel deprived. If you’re going to a party, keep the rest of the day’s food selections healthier. You might allow your child one or two small desserts per event (discuss this with them in advance). Stay the course regarding physical activity. Children should get fresh air every day, so send them outside to play. They’ll burn off energy—and may have a better appetite for nutritious foods.

Dear Good Sense Eating:

I often have to take my kids with me to the mall to shop. They make a beeline right toward the McDonald’s or ice cream place. While shopping with three kids, how can an exhausted mom win the dreaded food court battle?

Julie Cerone

Try feeding your children a nourishing meal right beforehand. Keep them cool and hydrated by leaving their jackets in the car and carrying a water bottle. Pack appealing snacks. If that fails, using a trip to the food court as an incentive to"be good” and helping them select a better choice there isn’t the end of the world.

Creamy Chestnut SoupServes 4/ serving size: 1 cup


• 2 (7.4-oz) jars chestnuts• 3 1/2 cups natural fat-free chicken or vegetable broth• 1 rounded cup chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion• Pinch allspice• 2 bay leaves• 1/2 cup plain soy milk• 1 tsp. turbinado sugar (one brand is Sugar in the Raw)• 1/8 tsp. sea salt, or to taste• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper• 2 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

1. Bring chestnuts, broth, onion, allspice and bay leaves to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.

2. Use a hand blender to puree the soup in the pot. Or puree the soup in batches in a blender, reheating in a clean pot over medium heat. (See the"hot fill” line on your blender container for guidance, if available.)

3. Stir in the soy milk, sugar, salt and pepper and gently heat through. Top with parsley to serve (if using). Serves 4.

Note: Instead of making a soup and gravy, just make this recipe. It doubles as gravy for turkey or mashed potatoes. It’s a delightfully surprising addition to a holiday meal—or an any day meal.

© 2007 American Diabetes Association. From The All Natural Diabetes Cookbook. Reprinted with permission from The American Diabetes Association. To order this book, call (800) 232-6733 or order online at

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