Join the healthy holiday challenge


It’s the most wonderful time of the year — for overindulging in festive holiday meals and treats.

Making our way through a health pandemic, however, it’s especially important to take good care of ourselves now and through the holiday season.

The good news is there is a happy middle ground, said Molly Marshall, health and human sciences educator for Purdue Extension Jackson County.

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“If we choose wisely over the holidays, we can still enjoy the foods that mean the most to us,” she said. “We just need to be mindful and pay attention to what we’re putting into our bodies and how we want to spend our calories.”

Marshall said nutrition is similar to a financial budget. There’s a certain amount of money in your account that can be spent. It’s the same with calories, as there is a certain amount of calories a person can spend.

“The thing about the holidays, you want to have the foods that really mark the holiday season for you and that you enjoy. You just have to think about your portions,” Marshall said.

So what do you do if you know you’re going to have the choice of grandma’s pumpkin pie or grandma’s pecan pie?

“If you just can’t decide what you want more because you only get it once a year, just have a couple bites or a sliver of each,” Marshall said. “That way, you don’t deprive yourself and you get to enjoy it, just in smaller portions.”

Portion control is key not only for the holidays but any time of year.

Marshall said people need to think about the size of their plate because it’s an easy way to trick our mind.

“When you use a really big plate, it takes a lot of food to make it look full, and when you’re putting food on your plate, you want to fill it up. That’s just human nature,” she said.

Marshall suggests using a smaller plate. For instance, if an appetizer-size plate or salad plate are used for a meal, then fewer calories will be consumed because it doesn’t take as much food to fill those plates.

When eating at a restaurant, the serving size can be very large, so divide the portion in half right away to take home for lunch the next day or split it with someone.

Cooking methods can add calories, too, so try baking instead of frying since more oil means extra calories, Marshall said.

Also, think about ways to tweak a recipe to make it a little healthier.

“When it comes to holiday beverages, people like to treat themselves with eggnog, which is pretty high in calories,” Marshall said. “Choosing a lower-fat version can give you less calories, and the same with hot chocolate, just choose skim or low-fat milk instead of the 2% or whole milk.”

Another tip is to use substitutions when baking, such as unsweetened applesauce in place of oil or butter would be a healthier option and works well when making breads.

“Having fresh fruits and vegetables already cut up and in the refrigerator makes for an easy-to-grab snack that’s already prepared,” Marshall said. “You can have a whole head of cauliflower, but if you don’t cut it up, you’re never going to eat it.”

Another option that most grocery stores offer is to purchase produce that is precut if you’re really short on time.

Nuts are a good heart-healthy snack to have on hand, too, for when a person is looking for something salty or crunchy to snack on.

Eating and exercising go hand in hand, and even though the temperature outside is dropping, Marshall is a fan of bundling up and going outside.

“The days are getting shorter, so it’s more of a challenge to get outdoors during the daylight hours,” she said. “But going out for fresh air is always beneficial, even when it’s cold out.”

With the proper jacket, hat and gloves, you can go outside and take a 10- to 20-minute walk. Afterwards, you’ll be surprised how good you feel, Marshall said.

There are other things you can do when you’re inside, such as just getting up and moving around for a good 5 to 10 minutes if you’re able.

“Try to do this every hour, especially if you’re sitting at a desk all day,” Marshall said. “That 5- to 10-minute break can be very important to get your blood flow going, and it’s also good to have a break from our screen time.”

Marshall said she knows a lot of people who live in the country who walk up and down their driveway to get some exercise.

“Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is an excellent way to burn calories, too,” she said. “If you work in a multiple-floor building, maybe walk to another floor to use the restroom.”

She said winter is a great time to concentrate on strength training a couple times a week to help build muscle.

“Things like pushups, which don’t require any exercise equipment, are good,” Marshall said. “Also, flexibility exercises, like stretching, is another thing we can focus on during the wintertime.”

When it’s cold and dark out, it’s a little more tempting to sit around in the house, but around this time of year, a fun activity would be to park your car, walk around neighborhoods and look at Christmas lights.

Families could have dance parties, put on talent shows or play charades just to get moving and have fun, Marshall said.

“Yoga is always nice, especially now, to reduce stress and get in some good breathing,” she said. “We all need to grow a little more mindful of our situations as related to our physical and mental health.”

For those seeking a way to stay accountable this holiday season, check out the free “Eat Smart, Move More … Maintain, Don’t Gain! Holiday Challenge” mentioned on the Healthy Jackson County Facebook page.

You will receive tips via daily emails and weekly newsletters on ways to manage holiday stress, stay physically active in the winter and healthy holiday recipes.

The program runs through the end of this month, and it’s not too late to sign up. Register online at

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Green Beans with Toasted Garlic and Almonds” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]


Kosher salt


2 lb. green beans

3 Tbsp. olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 cup sliced almonds


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 Tbsp. salt, then the green beans and cook until just tender 3 to 4 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the almonds and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the green beans to the skillet, season with ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper and toss to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Submitted by Molly Marshall

[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Cranberry Cherry Relish” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]


1 package (12 oz.) fresh cranberries

2 firm pears, peeled and cubed

1-2 apples, peeled and chopped

1 bag (10-15 ounces) of frozen sweet cherries

¾ cup brown sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon


Combine all ingredients in a large heavy saucepan and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring often to prevent sticking.

Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally until the fruit is tender and the relish has thickened, 40-50 minutes.

Let cool. Keep in refrigerator.

Submitted by Molly Marshall


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