Hey there, I’ve missed you! From wrapping up papers and finals for my registered dietitian coursework to scrambling to pull Christmas together, I haven’t had the chance to post on Veggie Quest in far too long. Which makes me blue, because Veggie Quest is a little spot of sunshine for me. (And I hope for you too!)
My lack of posting is also indicative of one of my greatest weaknesses: When stress hits, self-care is the first thing to go. For example, when time gets tight, I throw sleep right under the bus, which leaves me vulnerable to cravings for quick energy fixes, from coffee to cookies (which I normally try very hard to stay away from). Then I stop cooking at home and start ordering in, which—even if I’m careful when I order—leaves me eating salty, oily, unsatisfying food all too often. And, of course, I don’t get anywhere close to my two pounds of veggies a day!
So instead of another healthy holiday cookie recipe (you can find tasty nutritarian chocolate-zucchini truffles here or sweet potato peanut cookies here), I decided to post about something that most of us aren’t focusing on during the holidays, but definitely should be: taking the time to take care of ourselves.
In that vein, I’m going to cut straight to the chase and offer you four simple tips that are helping me stay sane and healthy this holiday season, plus a “recipe” for Salvation Salad, the quick-and-easy salad that helped me stay (mostly) on the straight and narrow over Thanksgiving. (It’ll be finding its way onto my family’s Christmas buffet as well.)
4 Holiday Health Boosters
1. Eat your vegetables (any which way!)
With vegetables anchoring your meal, there are only so many calories you can eat, and your body will thank you for the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber. So start every meal with a simple salad; right now, I’m loving spring mix with navel oranges and raspberry vinaigrette (even for breakfast)! Swiss chard with golden raisins or savory creamed spinach are always fast and delicious, or you can roast pretty much any vegetables you can think of by hitting them with a quick spray of olive oil, sprinkling with spices or drizzling with balsamic vinegar, and roasting at 400F until tender.
2. Shoot for a three-quarters party plate
From the days leading up to Christmas to brunch on New Year’s day, parties are part and parcel of the holiday season. And unless all of your friends are into unprocessed, plant-based food (lucky you!), eating at gatherings can be a land mine. So I’ve made an informal deal with myself to fill my plate ¾ full of nutritious food (salad, crisp cut veggies, fresh fruit), and leave ¼ for less healthy stuff that still mostly fits within my plant-powered diet.
3. Sleep when you’re tired
Caffeine ≠ sleep! This is unbelievably hard for me, because I hate feeling like I’m missing out on anything, even if it means going without adequate rest. On top of that, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, especially when it comes to work and school, and striving to meet my own unreasonable standards can edge out sleep time. So with the holidays in full swing, I’m constantly reminding myself that not everything has to be perfect and that sleep is a priority. Because if I’m sick and exhausted, I can’t really be present for the amazing moments I don’t want to miss, and I won’t be bringing my best self to my activities, either.
4. Take one thing off your list every day
This ties in with number three—trying to be everywhere, do everything (perfectly!) and be all things to all people just doesn’t work, and leaves you feeling frustrated or—worse—resentful. So look over that to-do list, pick one item you can do without, and simply eliminate it from your list, undone. (I know—scary!) However, odds are that the world will still keep turning if you don’t do that one chore, and you’ll have a little more time to be good to yourself.
For instance, this Christmas, I took [healthy] holiday baking off my list, and bought some beautiful fresh fruit for people instead. Then I took that time from 10pm-1am when I would have been frantically baking and—brace yourself—went to bed. Nobody was upset about it, and I came into the holiday season much more rested and centered. Win!
And speaking of taking items off the to-do list, here’s the fastest, easiest little potluck salad you’ll ever meet; way easier than baking a casserole! Best wishes to you and yours for a happy and blessed holiday season!
Salvation Salad (aka Cranberry Pecan Spinach Salad)
Prep time: 5 min Serves: 8
1 large container (11 oz) prewashed baby spinach
4 apples, sliced and dipped in pineapple juice to prevent browning (or buy pre-sliced apples from the market)
1 c dried, sweetened cranberries
1 c toasted pecan halves (candied if you want to be extra decadent)
1 c store-bought, low-fat balsamic vinaigrette
OR ½ c vincotto fig vinegar
OR ⅔ c balsamic vinegar + ⅓ c maple syrup
Layer spinach, apples, cranberries, and pecans, lasagna-style, in a deep salad bowl, then repeat. (That way those who serve themselves later will still get plenty of goodies.)
Serve with vinaigrette, fig vincotto vinegar, or balsamic vinegar and maple syrup whisked together. (Do not dress in advance, or the salad will wilt.)
What’s fig vincotto vinegar, you ask? Why, only the greatest thing since sliced bread: a fig-infused combination of vinegar and cooked grape must (grape juice made not only from the pulp, but also the skins, seeds, and stems). Sweet and rich, a drizzle tastes phenomenal on almost any salad, and is frequently the only dressing I use. Here’s my favorite brand:
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