The key to surviving the holidays on any sort of restricted diet comes down to two simple words: be prepared. As with most holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas center heavily around food and plenty of it. And so much of it is laden with sugar, gluten and all the other things you work so hard to avoid. It’s everywhere you turn, from the office cookie platter to the festive parties to the big family feast. A veritable minefield of temptation from the end of November to January 1st.
How are you going to handle that? You could go into hibernation in mid-November, avoiding all friends and family and any associated festivities, only to emerge in early January. But I don’t recommend it. Bears are pretty grumpy after their long winter’s sleep and you would be too, having missed all the fun.
But if you follow the mantra of being prepared, you can not only survive the holidays but enjoy them too. All while sticking to your healthy, restricted diet and not missing out on the festivities OR the great food. Now, the words “be prepared” might be quite simple, but the actual execution is less so. You have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and do a good bit of the work ahead of time. You have to be willing to stock up your freezer and pantry with foods that fit your dietary needs. And you have to be willing to stick to your guns when well-meaning friends and family urge you to “just try a little bit” of something you know you shouldn’t eat.
First steps first. Find recipes that fit your diet, purchase the ingredients and test them out. No matter how restrictive your diet, I guarantee that a quick internet search will bring up many wonderful recipes that fit the bill. Dietary restrictions are so common these days and so many people are creating great recipes and publishing them on the world wide web, so you are bound to find something. There are even many alternative recipes for traditional foods like stuffing, cake and pie. You really don’t need to abstain from these things; you just need to be prepared to make them yourself.
Find a recipe (or two, or three) you like? Great! Make a double batch and sock some away in your freezer for emergencies. The more you can do this, the better prepared you will be and the easier the holidays will be. If it’s something that needs to come out of the oven right before serving, do as much advanced prep work as possible. For example, many alternatives to Thanksgiving stuffing require you to make your own non-wheat-based bread, so that extra step can be time consuming. Making the bread in advance and freezing it until you need it means more free time on the actual day.
Have some quick and easy snacks at the ready at all times. We are all more likely to give into temptation when we are ravenous, so head that hunger off at the pass. Whatever snacks fit your dietary needs, keep some in your car or in your purse so that you are never caught empty-handed when hunger strikes. And eat a little handful before heading to parties and get-togethers so you don’t gravitate straight to the food table upon arrival.
Be prepared to stand your ground with well-meaning friends and family. This is a tough one, even for some of us battle-hardened veterans. I find it particularly difficult when I am a guest in someone else’s home and didn’t prepare the food myself. But even close loved ones will often say “but just a taste can’t hurt, right?” Well, sometimes that little taste can actually hurt. Don’t be afraid to politely decline; it’s not rude when your health is at stake. And if you are worried there won’t be anything you can eat at an event, bring some of your own. Bring enough to share and consider it a hostess gift.
Treat yourself right. You don’t need to go through the holidays denying yourself any and all desserts and goodies. I find it much easier to stick to my low carb diet if I can indulge in some low carb sweets and satisfy that craving. But again, you need to be prepared to make your own. Good recipes can rival even their conventional counterparts (I pride myself that some of mine fit this description) and you won’t miss the old stand-bys. And these can make the perfect hostess gift for holiday parties too!
So, ready to face the holidays in style?
Maple Walnut Creme Brulee
- 2 cups Heavy Cream
- 4 large Egg Yolks
- 6 Tbsp Swerve Sweetener or other erythritol-based sweetener, divided
- 1 ½ tsp Maple Extract
For the creme brulee, preheat oven to 300F.
In a medium saucepan, warm cream over medium heat until steam just rises from the surface. Do not allow to simmer. Remove from heat.
In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks with ¼ cup sweetener until thickened and pale yellow. Add hot cream very slowly, stirring continuously. Stir in maple extract.
Divide custard between 6 small ramekins or a singe 1-quart ceramic or glass baking dish. Set into a larger baking dish and pour hot water to within 1 inch from the top of the ramekins.
Transfer to oven and bake 40 to 45 minutes or until custard is just set but still slightly wobbly in the center. Remove and let cool, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
For the candied walnuts, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine sweetener and water, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil and then cook until mixture darkens, about 7 minutes. Stir in Walnut Baker’s Pieces and salt, tossing to coat walnut pieces well.
Spread out onto prepared baking sheet and let cool and harden.
Just before serving brulee, divide remaining 2 tbsp sweetener over tops of custards. Heat with a kitchen torch until topping bubbles and browns. Let sit for a few moments to cool and harden. You can also place ramekins a few inches under a preheated broiler, watching carefully and turning cups to ensure even browning.
Divide candied walnut pieces over the tops of each brulee and serve.
Carolyn Ketchum is the writer, photographer and almond flour wizard behind All Day I Dream About Food, a low carb and gluten-free food blog. Her mission is to prove to the world that special diets need not be boring or restrictive and that healthy dishes can be just as good, or better, than their sugar and gluten-filled counterparts. It’s astonishing what you can do with a bag of almond flour, a stick of butter, and a willingness to experiment. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and Pinterest for inspiring ideas for the low carb, gluten free lifestyle.