Chanukah, the holiday meant to celebrate the miracle of oil, has somehow found its way into the deep fryer. Whether it’s the maze of jelly donuts or the piles of golden potato latkes, the trans-fats of this beautiful Yom Tov follow us from party to party. Trans-fats are one of the worst kinds of fats you can consume. They are made by partially hydrogenating oil, a term you may have heard before. This process allows the oil to have a longer shelf life making them a perfect candidate for baked goods and store bought snacks. Trans-fats are also found in many fried foods, especially those that have been deep fried. Aside from all the bad fats consumed, Chanukah parties can be detrimental to a good diet and can throw off weeks of progress. There’s nothing worse than coming off of a holiday high only to find you’ve gained a good five pounds or even ten in some cases. Although the task may seem daunting, here are a couple of tips and yummy (and healthy, but we won’t tell your guests) Chanukah recipes so you can enjoy this wonderful time and still stay on top of your game. Here’s the plan broken down into simple elements:
- Have a partner and be in it together: Knowing someone else is going through the struggle of avoiding the hors d'oeuvre makes it easier. Find a close friend or a family member and decide together to stick with the healthy diets you’ve been maintaining thus far.
- Try gathering some healthy adaptions of Chanukah recipes: Have them ready at hand when the cravings strike. Below, you’ll find some of my favorites.
- Keep a food journal: Even if it’s rough, noting your intake will help you keep track of how much you’re eating throughout the week. You will think twice before you put something into your mouth when you know you have to write it down.
Before the Parties:
- Eat throughout the day: Many people who know they’re having a big dinner or event at night will try to eat a little less throughout the day to ‘save room’ or ‘save calories’ for later, so to speak. That is actually one of the worst game plans. When you eat very little throughout the day, you slow down your metabolism and end up arriving much hungrier to the party, event, or dinner. So, you are essentially giving a slow metabolism a big meal, and your body does not need so many calories in one sitting. It will use whatever it needs for the moment and the rest of it will be stored as fat. For Chanukah parties, do the opposite. Don’t skip meals; eat breakfast, lunch, a couple of healthy snacks like fruit, and stay hydrated. Keeping full will curb binging and maintain blood sugar levels. Going to a party on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster.
- Offer to bring a dish: Make something healthy. Therefore, if there are no healthy options, at least you’ve got your Baked Zucchini Latkes (recipe below) as a backup. Offer to make a vegetable crudité or salad. Plus, other guests will probably be grateful for your healthy addition amidst the greasy array.
During the Party:
- Choose Wisely: Not all salads are created equal and one drenched in fattening dressing may not be the best option. Try looking for a veggie platter so you can moderate the amount of dip/dressing or choose the salad option that looks the healthiest. Salads without croutons or heavy mayo dressings are a good place to start. However, you are always better off with a salad, even a heavily dressed one, then any starchy/oily kugels like potato, or noodle and cheese. So if the fattening salad is your best option as a side dish, go for it, but don’t pile it on your plate the way you would normally eat a salad. The same goes for the protein. Look for an option that’s not breaded or fried, such as choosing grilled chicken over schnitzel, or baked salmon over lasagna. If there are no healthy options, take small portions of the unhealthy ones. - Drink water: Avoid soda and other sugary beverages. They’ll just pack on extra calories. Water will keep you hydrated and also help curb your appetite. If water sounds boring, seltzer with or without natural fruit flavors works too.
- Socialize instead of eating: You may feel the need to constantly have a plate in your hand. However, Chanukah parties are a time for family and friends to get together and celebrate the miracles. If you’re hosting, instead of focusing the party on the food, plan a game or activity. Set up some seating away from the food tables so that guests can socialize without have the chocolate chip cookies constantly calling them. If you are a guest, then nurse a cup of water, tea, or coffee in your hand, and use this time to catch up with your friends/family.
- Sample, don’t splurge: A sample of an indulgent food is not the same as binging on a plateful. Careful to only enjoy a taste- 3 bites should do the trick. One knows exactly what something tastes like after eating 3 bites of it. Also, allowing yourself a little bit of the dessert or donut will prevent you from feeling deprived or sorry for yourself. You will feel good that you enjoyed that treat and are still very much in control. Make sure not to fill up a plate of samples and just choose one or two dishes that particularly stand out.
- Enjoy fruit over dessert: Fruit is a great alternative to dessert. Most parties will have a fruit platter set out. When everyone’s plates are piled high with powdery donuts, enjoy fresh grapes, strawberries, and watermelon, instead. If you are the hostess, then offer your guests a diet ice cream, like Halo Top, as a dessert option too.
Throughout the week:
- Don’t forget about Exercise: When life gets busy, our exercise regimens are usually the first to be cut out of the schedule. The week of Chanukah is perhaps one of the busiest of the year. Be mindful of exercising. Keeping up with it regularly will help keep your head in a healthy place. Exercise will make you more aware of your eating habits as well as burning off those extra calories. - Celebrate Oil – without food: Here’s where things get creative. Olive oil is one of the most nourishing oils. Try a DIY spa treatment using the star of this Yom Tov. To combat dry, Winter skin, add a few drops of olive oil to a relaxing, warm bath or mix the oil with brown sugar to create an invigorating body scrub.
- Don’t turn a cheat donut into a cheat day: One splurge shouldn’t set off your whole day! It’s common for people to wreck their diets after eating one sugary food because the day is 'already messed up’. Instead, get yourself back on track, don’t beat yourself up about what you ate, just look forward, and continue making good choices from there on. The rest of the day’s healthy eating will balance it out.
Chanukah Recipes – Healthy Alternatives:
Makes 12 and each donut is about 60 calories!
1 cup unbleached whole wheat flour sifted
1/4 cup Truvia Baking Blend Natural Sweetener or any other sweetener
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon butter melted
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons skim, soy, or almond milk
Your favorite toppings like vanilla glaze (below) cinnamon, melted dark chocolate, or strawberries
Instructions: Set oven to 350° F. Grease donut pan with baking spray. Mix flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk egg whites, melted butter, milk, and vanilla. Stir wet and dry ingredients together. Fill donut pan until each is 3 quarters full. Bake for 14-17 minutes. Donuts should be golden brown. An inserted toothpick should come out clean. Cool for 5-10 min. Tip donuts out onto a wire rack. Tap on back of pan if you have sticky ones. For vanilla glaze, mix 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon milk and a splash of vanilla extract. Wet your fingers with a water and run it through the tops of the donut, then dip it in your choice topping.
Makes 12 and each latke is about 40 calories!
3 medium zucchini, shredded
1 small onion, grated
2 small garlic cloves, grated
1 large egg, whisked
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup dill, finely chopped (optional)
1 tsp salt, divided
Ground black pepper, to taste
Greek yogurt, for topping
Instructions: Shred zucchini using a food processor/grater. Place shredded zucchini mixed with 1 tsp of salt in a colander over the sink and let sit for 10 minutes. Grate onion and garlic, and place in a medium bowl. Whisk in egg. Squeeze the liquid out of zucchini until it’s mostly dry. Add to the same bowl along with flour, optional dill, remaining salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Set oven to 400° F, line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper sprayed with cooking spray. Fill large ice cream scoop with batter, place baking sheet and flatten with the back of the scoop. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, flip and bake for another 10 – 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve hot or cold topped with Greek yogurt.
Wishing all of my clients and readers a Freillichin Chanukah!