Prairie Fare: Enjoy holiday treats with moderation in mind

Julie Garden-Robinson
NDSU Extension
Julie Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

I had the opportunity to take part in a holiday tradition in another state. All the downtown stores with many locally made products stayed open late. They had special sales to launch the holiday season.

I was looking forward to the evening. The stores offered treats including cookies, candy, cocoa and apple cider.

As fate would have it, I twisted my ankle that afternoon. My ankle was swollen.

I limped into two stores and had two treats. Despite the temptations of shopping and food, I wanted to go back to our hotel to ice my throbbing ankle.

As I hobbled to our car, we came upon an opportunity for a ride in a wagon pulled by a tractor. I was able to see the lights, anyway. The ice worked a miracle on my ankle.

The holidays present a wide range of temptations. These tiny tastes can add up quickly. Unfortunately, just 100 extra calories a day can add up to a 10-pound weight gain in a year.

If we keep moderation and balance in mind, we can manage our weight through the temptations during the holidays. Try to get some exercise during the holiday season too.

If you plan to serve or indulge in special treats during the holiday season, which of these tips might work for you?

  • Use smaller serving spoons. Using smaller serving spoons can decrease the amount of food served by 14%, according to Cornell University researchers.
  • As you plan menus for the holidays, be sure to fit in all the food groups. Include fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy in your menus.
  • Bake more healthfully. When making your favorite muffins or fruit breads, try using some unsweetened applesauce in place of the fat. You’ll add fiber, and you won’t miss the fat and extra calories.
  • To decrease sugar, you can reduce sugar by one-quarter to one-third in baked goods and desserts. This works best with quick breads, cookies, pie fillings, custards, puddings and fruit crisps. Increase the amount of cinnamon or vanilla in a recipe to enhance the impression of sweetness. To see more suggestions, check out “Now You’re Cookin’: Recipe Makeovers” at
  • Cut the sweet goodies in smaller pieces or make the cookies small.
  • Make healthful options available. Have fresh fruit on hand. Try some fresh apple slices with a sprinkle of cinnamon. This spice enhances the natural sweetness of the fruit.
  • When choosing beverages for a holiday gathering, be sure to keep a pitcher of ice water as an option. Punches and drinks with alcohol add lots of calories to your menu. Add some zip to your water with a lemon or lime slice.
  • If you are a guest at the holiday party, stand away from the buffet table. Nibbling all evening can add up to consuming a lot of calories.
  • Spend more time visiting than eating and drinking at parties. Remember the rule: Don’t talk with your mouth full.
  • Use a napkin to gather your goodies. You are less likely to grab the higher-calorie sticky items on a napkin, unless you like to have a little tissue paper as a condiment.
  • Size up your servings with these visual cues showing common portion size recommendations compared to typical objects:
    • Beef, poultry or fish: 3 ounces (dollar bill, deck of cards)
    • Bread: 1 slice (index card)
    • Cornbread or roll: 1 slice or roll (bar of soap)
    • Peanut butter: 2 tablespoons (ping pong ball)
    • Olive oil: 1 teaspoon (standard postage stamp)
    • Butter/margarine: 1 teaspoon (1 dice)
    • Cheese: 2 ounces (3 to 4 dice)
    • Nuts: 1 ounce (golf ball or 1 small handful)
    • Chips or pretzels: 1 ounce (2 small handfuls)
    • Pie: 1 slice (1/8 of pie or light bulb)
    • Mashed potatoes or stuffing: 1/2 cup (half of a baseball)
    • Gravy: 1/4 cup (golf ball)
    • Whole grains: 1/2 cup (light bulb or 2 golf balls)
    • Vegetables or fresh fruit: 1 cup (baseball or fist)
Make smaller cookies or cut treats into small pieces to help manage portion sizes during the holidays.

How about serving a tasty treat that will put a smile on everyone’s face? Try this fun snack recipe with both red and green apples for a festive snack. See “Field to Fork: Apples!” ( to view a picture.

Apple Smiles

  • 1 tablespoon smooth peanut butter, SunButter or other nut butter
  • 1 red or green apple, cored and sliced into eighths
  • 1 lemon, squeezed (or bottled lemon juice)
  • 20 miniature marshmallows

Rinse apples and cut as directed. To prevent browning if you will not be serving the apples immediately, dip the apple slices in lemon juice. Spread peanut butter or nut butter on one side of each apple slice. Place four to eight miniature marshmallows on apple slice (for the “teeth”) then top with another apple slice, peanut butter side down. Secure with a toothpick.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 60 calories, 2 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, 11 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber and 20 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.