Holiday Indulgence in Moderation?

Do you have any tips on how I can indulge in all the holiday food festivities without overdoing it?

Photo: Getty Images.

You aren’t the only one wondering about this issue. With the holidays approaching, many people are concerned about trying to stay healthy while also enjoying all the delicious foods and traditions associated with the many celebrations that are or will be soon occurring.

Many people are looking for ways to either avoid temptation or make better choices that will allow them to maintain a healthy weight while they navigate all the indulgence of the season, said Jenny Lobb, a family and consumer sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

With that in mind, Lobb offers the following tips that can help you enjoy the holidays and still meet your food-related health goals.

  • Use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate dietary guidelines as your guide to healthy eating. MyPlate encourages people to eat more fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, including advocating that people make half of the food on their plate fruits and vegetables. So look for fruits and vegetables when you go to holiday gatherings and when you are planning your own meals. Filling up on those foods first might help you eat less of the other richer foods that you might encounter later.
  • Plan ahead—whether you are packing a lunch or snacks—for your workday. When you bring your own food, you might be less likely to pass through the break room and indulge in some of the sweets that other people bring in. Plan ahead for any parties you might attend as well. Doing so might help you avoid some of the sweets or rich foods offered there.
  • Survey your options. If you go to a party, take a look to see what is available before filling up your plate. Then, strategically choose what you want to indulge in.
  • Keep an eye on your portions. In the words of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “enjoy your foods, but eat less.” You can still enjoy those special holiday treats, but keep an eye on the portions and try not to overdo it. Filling up on fruits and vegetables first might help you stick to smaller portions of the richer foods you choose to eat.
  • Limit your liquid calories. Lots of holiday drinks such as alcoholic beverages, eggnog, and festive coffee drinks contain more calories and sugar than some desserts. So keep an eye on the beverages that you’re choosing, try to fill up on water first, and then treat those richer drinks more like desserts or sweets.

Lastly, try to understand that not all of your holiday eating habits are going to be perfect, so cut yourself some slack and enjoy the season. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad day.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jenny Lobb, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

A Year or Two is not Too Long to Use Uncooked Frozen Turkey

I bought two turkeys last November, with the intent to cook one at Thanksgiving and the second one for New Year’s Day. We ended up going to a friend’s house on New Year’s instead, so now I still have the frozen turkey from last year in my freezer. Is it safe to cook it for our Thanksgiving meal this year?

Photo: Getty Images

Great question!

Yes, you can still safely cook that turkey as long as it has been stored in the freezer unopened and uninterrupted and stored at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

That’s because freezing keeps food safe by slowing the movement of molecules, causing microbes to enter a dormant stage, USDA says. Freezing preserves food for extended periods because it prevents the growth of microorganisms that cause both food spoilage and foodborne illness.

However, in order to safeguard against the potential growth of harmful bacteria that may have been present on the bird before it was frozen, it’s important to use safe methods to thaw the turkey before cooking, said Sanja Ilic, the state food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University (CFAES).

There are three safe ways to thaw a frozen turkey: in the refrigerator, in a container of cold water or in a microwave.

The best method is to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator even though it is also the longest method, Ilic says. This allows the turkey to thaw in a controlled environment out of the temperature “danger zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees — where bacteria can multiply rapidly.

Turkeys thawed in the refrigerator take one day for each 4-5 pounds of weight. So, for example, if your turkey weighs 15 pounds, it can take three days to thaw. And, once thawed, you should cook the turkey within two days to ensure safety.

If you need to thaw the turkey faster, you can place it in a container or sink and submerge it in cold water. But it’s important that the turkey stay cold, so you need to ensure that the turkey is completely submerged in cold water by replacing the water with fresh cold water every 30 minutes. Turkeys thawed using this method will need 30 minutes of defrosting time per pound.

You can also thaw your turkey in the microwave by taking it out of its packaging and placing it on a microwave-safe dish. Use the defrost function based on the turkey’s weight, USDA says. Generally, allow six minutes per pound to thaw. Once the turkey has thawed, you should cook it immediately.

When cooking your turkey, it’s best not to stuff it with dressing (or stuffing depending on what you call it), because uncooked poultry can harbor bacterial pathogens, which can be present both on the inside and outside of a raw turkey.

To ensure that you’ve destroyed the bacteria, which can cause foodborne illnesses, cook your turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F before you serve it. Otherwise, it will not be safe to eat, USDA says.

And, be sure to use a digital tip-sensitive food thermometer to determine its actual temperature. While other methods have been used in many a kitchen, such as how golden brown the turkey looks or if the juices run clear, they don’t provide an accurate measurement of how safely done the bird is.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, specialist in Food Safety for Ohio State University Extension.

Less Screen Time During Meals Can Help Promote Healthier Eating in Children

My kids love to watch TV or view their cellphones or tablets while they eat. I used to eat cereal on Saturday mornings and watch cartoons when I was a kid, but my children prefer to watch a screen at every meal, every day. Is this something I should be worried about?

Research has shown that children who have family mealtimes at least three or more times a week are more likely to be of normal weight and have healthier eating habits. And children who have family meals are more likely to feel better about themselves, experience less depression, are less likely to use illegal drugs and tend to get better grades at school.

And while 63 percent of consumers believe that eating at home with their families is important, only 30 percent actually share dinner every night, according to a September report published by the Food Marketing Institute Foundation.

One of the reasons cited in the poll — too many distractions, including TV and social media.

With that in mind, researchers recommend that parents hold screen-free family meals as often as possible.

When compared to meals eaten in front of a screen, screen-free meals provide an opportunity for important social interactions between parents and children, says Ingrid Adams, an Ohio State University Extension specialist in Food, Health and Human Behavior in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

“Some studies have shown that family meals help prevent obesity and lower the chances that children will engage in risky behaviors,” she said. “Increases in screen time have been linked with unhealthy habits, such as eating more junk food, physical inactivity, poor sleep patterns and decreased social interaction.

“As a family, it is important to set healthy limits and boundaries for screen use, particularly when it comes to meal times.”

So how can you lessen the screen time at mealtimes with your kids? Adams suggests:

  • Eat your meals at the table. Have everyone sit at the table together rather than in front of the television while eating dinner. Have kids come to the kitchen when eating other meals and snacks as well.
  • Turn off the television during mealtime.
  • Create boundaries. Make firm rules about not using or viewing screens during meals. Set limits on screen time and where screen time can occur.
  • Remove distractions. Don’t bring phones, tablets or other devices to the dinner table. Consider removing any screens from the eating area.
  • Take turns sharing ideas. Have everyone take a turn sharing what he or she did during the day. This might help spark conversation and lessen the desire for distractions such as TV or phones.

Another tip? Set a good example yourself by not using any screens at mealtime and limiting your total screen time, especially when you are with your family.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Ingrid Adams, field specialist in Food, Health and Human Behavior for OSU Extension.