Food and Health Healthy Options Holidays Meals

6 Mental Tricks to Avoid Gaining Weight this Holiday Season

holiday-diet-tipsBoston, MA (November 2013)- The holiday season is upon us, which usually means that an extra 5-7 pounds are upon us as well. Delicious food, cold weather, less sunlight, and plenty of parties make it hard to say no to seconds during the holidays.  If there is food nearby, most of us can make an excuse as to why we should eat it.

Gary Marino, who produced and starred in the film Million Calorie March: The Movie, which chronicles his walk from Florida to Boston raise awareness about obesity says, “I used to be the master of holiday buffet excuses.” At his heaviest, he topped the scales at almost 400 pounds. “For me, the holidays provided a perfect excuse to wave the white flag and roll the dice on a successful New Year’s resolution—and that’s still the case for a lot of people.”

Although the New Year serves as a new start for many, Marino says, “we have a 95 percent failure rate on long-term weight loss in this country. The truth is, most of our resolutions will have shaved their heads and checked into rehab Britney Spears-style by the end of February.”

Why is it so hard to avoid falling into this holiday eating/gaining/New Year resoluting trap? Retired psychologist Dr. Howard Rankin says, “we can always find a reason for procrastinating and avoiding doing what we consider difficult or unpleasant.” For him, it boils down to a matter of basic human psychology. “Humans aren’t logical. Instead, we’re emotional, psychological beings…with an emphasis on the ‘psycho.’ Fortunately, when you know beforehand the pitfalls into which your pleasure-driven brain might cause you to fall, your odds of avoiding them improve.”

Dr. Rankin’s five-stage motivation model might further explain this behavior.

  1. 1.    Pre-Contemplation. The person does not acknowledge the need for change. This can also be called denial.
  2. 2.    Contemplation. The person recognizes the need to change, but makes no commitment to make it happen.
  3. 3.    Preparation. The person gets ready for change.
  4. 4.    Action. The person finally takes steps toward changing.
  5. 5.    Maintenance. The person continues the action steps to develop and preserve the changes.

Many people make it to stage 5 during the holidays, but if they start to allow excuses and rationalizations for unhealthy holiday behavior in, they are in danger of never succeeding with their resolutions.

Watch out for the following rationalizations to keep yourself and your resolutions on track this year:

  1. 1.    “I Can’t Be Rude or Unsociable.” Yes it is true that some people place high value on the food they make for the holidays. If you are going to hurt someone’s feelings by not sampling their cake, then you can make the decision to try it. Just be more cautious about eating other food. You can still be sociable even if you are not piling your plate with unhealthy food.
  2. 2.    “I Can Hide It.” Winter clothes are baggier than styles from other seasons. Just because you have more room inside your sweater, however, does not mean that you should use it with those extra pounds.
  3. 3.    “Winter is Coming.” A lot of people shy away from exercising during the winter because of the cold and dark days. Instead of talking yourself out of exercise, though, you should make an effort to find an alternative method to stay active. Maybe you can’t swim laps outside (unless the pool is heated), but you can pop in a fitness DVD and work out in your living room.
  4. 4.    I’ll Wait ‘til the New Year.” The year is almost over, right? Why not wait until 2013 changes to 2014 to start a new healthy eating regiment? As Marino explains, “food addiction doesn’t have a calendar. And the problem with a diet that starts on January 1st is January 2nd. Grab inspiration any time you can get it.” Instead of setting yourself up for failure, start incorporating healthy habits into your life now.
  5. 5.    “I’m Too Busy Right Now.” If you let it, it is easy to get overtaken by your holiday to-do list and make excuses for those things that you do not really want to do. If you make health a priority, however, you will always find time for it.
  6. 6.    “I’ll Be Cooking.” Being surrounding by unhealthy holiday food is not the best way to start eating better, but there are ways that you can still make smart food choices even as you bake sugar cookies for the kids. Only buy enough food for your needs and donate the rest. Marino says, “you have to stay aware and stay in the fight. You know what giving up is like. Many of us have lived it, and it’s no fun there. Fortunately, with mindfulness and motivation, you don’t ever have to go back.”
Appetizers Boston Restaurants Healthy Options Italian Origins Recipe Sources

Cannellini al Fiasco

Cannellini al Fiasco literally translates from Italian to English as “cannellini in a flask.” This is a traditional, Tuscan form of cooking that mirrors the texture and flavors that a modern pressure cooker would. Originally a glass bottle would be filled with the ingredients, sealed with a cork stopper, and left to cook overnight on the embers of a dying fire. The slow cooking method allows the beans to slowly absorb the flavors of the simple herbs, garlic, and olive oil, intensifying the flavor. All you need for this modern take on a Tuscan classic is a 32 oz.mason or ball jar with a lid that will create a great seal and a large saucepan. Cannellini al Fiasco can be served warm or chilled, either as an appetizer, side dish, snack, or tossed with pasta or calamari.


  • 9 oz. cannellini beans dried
  • 1 fresh rosemary sprig
  • 5 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 clove whole peeled garlic
  • ½ bay leaf
  • 1 pinch red pepper flake
  • 1½ cups water
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sea salt


  1. Soak the beans in cold water overnight. Drain and place them in the jar with the rosemary, sage, garlic, bay leaf, red pepper, water, oil and salt.  Seal the jar with the lid tightly.
  2. Place the jar in a pot of boiling water and allow to cook for 3 hours.  When the beans absorb the water and the oil the beans are cooked.
  3. Carefully remove the beans from the jar and serve them in any of the ways mentioned above. If serving as a side dish or on their own, drizzle the beans with olive oil and add sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper.


Appetizers Healthy Options Thanksgiving

Roasted fall sweet potatoes

Roasted Fall sweet potatoesRecipe featured in Blast Magazine in September 2010.

You eat a lot of broccoli and a lot of rice when you do something crazy like I did and swear off french fries for an entire year.

Finally, you discover that sweet potatoes are, indeed, not the same as white potatoes. They are a so-called “good carb,” and there are ways to cook them that are delicious and healthy, while allowing you to forget your fried troubles.

We’ve done a few things with sweet potatoes, but the best thing to do, I’ve found, is throw them in a pan, put your favorite spices on them, roast them up at a good temperature.

For the fall, we go for something sweeter, like a good slice of pumpkin pie.


  • 3 large yams/sweet potatoes
  • 2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice (nutmeg and cinnamon work in a pinch)
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil.
  • Cooking spray


  1. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into about 10-12 dices or slices. Don’t make them too thick (The ones in the photo are too thick) or they will be a bit mushy. Be careful. Sweet potatoes are a pain in the neck to cut. You need a sharp knife and some elbow grease. Don’t cut fingers off.
  2. Place aluminum foil on a 2-inch deep baking pan and liberally coat it with the cooking spray.
  3. Spread the sweet potatoes out evenly. Apply the spices evenly on top of the potatoes. Don’t overdo the salt and pepper. Just a few shakes will do.
  4. Drizzle about 4 tablespoons of olive oil all around and on top of the potatoes. Get your hands in there, and mix it up.
  5. Bake for one hour at 425-degrees, turning the potatoes as necessary

Sweet potatoes don’t get crispy like white potatoes. They’ll come out soft and will be crispier if you cut them correctly. You could also buy an Oxo brand crinkle cutter to get a “french fry simulation.” The sweet, nutty spices really make this dish for the fall. These also make a good alternative to Thanksgiving mashed yams.

American Appetizers Asian Featured Recipes Healthy Options

Hawaiian Poke

This traditional Hawaiian dish originated when local fishermen would cut the raw fish they had just caught into small cubes and season it with a variety of spices, vegetables, and, essentially, whatever else they had on hand for a quick, yet satisfying, meal. Presently, the dish has made its way onto many high-end restaurants’ menus as an appetizer. The dish can be made using whatever ingredients you see fit (common examples are cucumber and mango) along with the traditional ingredients listed below. Make sure to use only sashimi or sushi-grade fish.


  • 2 lbs. fresh tuna steaks, cubed into bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup finely-chopped green onions
  • 2 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp. crushed red pepper
  • juice of one lime
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste


  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients mixing well.
  2. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours allowing the flavors to marry.

You can serve the dish in a variety of ways, the most common being:

  • Tearing romaine lettuce leaves into 4×4 inch cups and spooning the Poke mixture into the leaves.
  • Treating the dish like tapas and cutting pita bread into one-inch, equilateral, (lightly fried) triangles and placing the mixture on the crisped bread.
  • The simplest way is to fill a martini glass with the mixture and garnish the dish with a lime wedge on the rim of the glass. Use a pinch of the green onion and sesame seeds over the top of the fish for presentation purposes.

Appetizers Featured Recipes Healthy Options Salad

Garden of Spring

The artistic home cook will enjoy creating a collage of color, texture and flavor, not to mention the fact that this salad contains scads of fiber and nutrients.  Add depth by placing a glob of goat cheese (or feta) on top if desired, but flavor also comes from a drizzling of vinaigrette. Proper blanching of each vegetable is critical, so note how long each should be dunked in boiling water, then shock them in ice water. Three tips:  BIG POT, LOTS OF HEAVILY SALTED WATER, BIG BOWLS OF ICE WATER.


Lower layer: Beet Tartare

Take one large beet, trimmed and peeled, and roast it in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Finely chop it into tiny squares and season with salt and pepper to taste,  then add a  tiny splash each of EVOO and balsamic vinegar, plus ½ tsp. Dijon mustard

Upper layer: Spring Vegetables

Boil water in a large pot, and drop veggies in one by one, using an egg timer to make sure none get too thoroughly cooked.

  • 1 radish, raw, sliced thin
  • 4 whole stalks asparagus, raw, peeled then shaved
  • 4 Snow peas- blanched 50 seconds
  • 4 Fava beans- blanched 70 seconds
  • 4 Sugar snaps- blanched 60 seconds
  • 4 asparagus tips- blanched 75 seconds
  • 4 Pearl onions – peeled and blanched 80 seconds

Allow vegetables to drain and cool on a paper towel, then toss them in the dressing.

Caper-Mustard-Honey Vinaigrette: Place 1 tbsp. each capers, Dijon mustard and honey into a food processor, adding 2 tbsp. lemon juice and EVOO as needed until smooth and emulsified.

To plate: Shape beet tartare in an 8”x 1” high rectangle on the plate, then top that with the vegetables in whatever design you choose.  Top with cheese if desired, and/or garnish with chives, lemon zest and fleur de sel.

Appetizers Featured Recipes Healthy Options Salad

Grated Beet & Carrot Salad with Ginger


  • 1 lb. red or golden beets
  • 1 lb. carrots
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 1 tbsp. freshly peeled and grated ginger
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Peel and grate the beets and carrots.
  2. Wash and slice the scallions (white and green parts) thinly.
  3. Toss together the grated vegetables, scallions and ginger.
  4. Add the mustard, lime juice, and oil.
  5. Season with salt and pepper and toss together.
  6. Just before serving, garnish with the cilantro leaves.
Entree/Dinner Featured Recipes Healthy Options Meals

Vegetarian Paella

Brehon Garcia-Dale has transformed the Food & Wine Program at the Boston Center for Adult Education. Since assuming her current position a year ago, the classes, with a consistent and steady explosion in popularity, have been taught by a veritable who’s who in the Boston restaurant scene and a steady group of professional culinary educators. Some chefs who have particpated are; Gordon Hamersley of Hamersley’s Bistro, Rebecca Newell of The Beehive, Brian Poe of Poe’s Kitchen at The Rattlesnake, and Thomas Frost from Fairmont Hotels.

Brehon learned this recipe from Chef Instructor Diane Manteca during the “International Vegetarian Cuisine” course at the BCAE. The dish serves six people.


  • 1 block tofu, marinated in 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. thyme, 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1/2 pound soy based sausage (smoky flavor if possible)
  • 2 cups dry rice (long grain – uncle ben’s is best)
  • 8 plum tomatoes, diced in about 1/8″ pieces
  • 2 small yellow onions, diced small
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced fine
  • 1/2 tsp. saffron
  • 1 tsp. dry thyme
  • 1 tb kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • a few pinches of cayenne pepper

Cooking Instructions

  1. In a large pot add the olive oil and put heat on high.
  2. Add onions and sprinkle with the salt, pepper, and thyme. Cook on high for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook for 3 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes. Do not allow the tomatoes to overcook and lose their shape.
  5. Add the sausage, stir and cook another minute.
  6. Add the rice, wine, vegetable stock, tofu, bay leaves, cayenne, and bring to a boil.
  7. Lower the heat and cover, allowing the mixture to simmer for 15 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed.
  8. Add the peas .
  9. Season the dish to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with fresh parsley.