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Celebrate the celebrations

Editor’s note: Are eggs good for you? Do artificial sweeteners cause cancer? And what about coffee? It seems we are being bombarded with conflicting nutrition information on a regular basis. It’s no wonder many people have given up trying to “eat healthier” because they just don’t know what that is. We’re here to help. Starting today, Shelley Rael, MS RDN LD, will be bringing her style of “Real World Nutrition” to Journal readers twice a month on this page.

As the unofficial kickoff to the holidays, Halloween often represents the start of what can be a food free-for-all for the next two months. Leftover candy because you didn’t want to run out or bear the wrath of the “tricks” because you didn’t have enough “treats”? Kids bring home more candy than anyone needs and enough to last through Valentine’s Day, or at least Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving … the U.S. holiday dedicated to eating, taking a nap, maybe shopping or watching more football, and then eating some more. Because leftovers are a part of the holiday, right?

Then the joyous time between Thanksgiving and the end of the year: December. While technically the holiday of Christmas Eve and Christmas is just a couple of days, it can seem like it lasts all month. And even if Christmas is not something you officially observe, it is still all around you. Between work potlucks, get-togethers with family and friends, cookie swaps, tamale making, baking, shop and strolls, hot chocolate, eggnog, seasonal coffee drinks, less daylight, colder weather, this can be a perfect set-up for eating less healthy than usual.

Take a moment to think about this: if you are eating “mostly” healthy most days of the week year-round, having hot chocolate or cookies, or both, isn’t going to have a significant impact on your overall health. What will have a bigger impact on your overall health is doing this all the time, or to excess.

A common saying among nutrition and health professionals: people worry about the weight they will gain between Thanksgiving and New Year when they really should be paying attention to the time between New Year and Thanksgiving.

Eating healthfully should be a year-round endeavor, not one that occurs at the start of a new year or month or week or only after the unwanted weight has appeared.

Moderation is a word used a lot in the field of nutrition, especially when discussing whether a food is “good” for you or not. Having a few pieces of Halloween candy in one “sitting” or in the day? Not so bad and could be considered moderation. Having 18 pieces of Halloween candy in a day? Not likely moderation. Even then, when does the “moderate” amount of candy become too much? That isn’t an easy definition to provide. We have to consider the bigger picture and the overall diet or eating pattern.

For many, moderation is not something that is considered at Thanksgiving. Three kinds of pie and which one to choose? One of each, please. With whipped cream? Absolutely. And, if you choose one, good for you. Really. But if you are the one who wants “one of each” – how often does this occur? Maybe once or twice a year? If you are not regularly eating two or three slices of pie in one sitting, what will doing it this one day matter? And while, yes, you can do the gluten-free, sugar-free, no-carb pie, also known as cardboard, because a carb-free pie does not exist unless it is a cow-pie, that doesn’t mean you can eat two or three times as much. That word again: moderation.

Here are some real-world things you can do to navigate the next two months healthfully while still enjoying the season:

• Move the Halloween candy. It doesn’t really matter where you move it to, just get it out of the way. Put it in the back of the pantry, the top of the refrigerator, in the freezer, take it to work and share, donate it (since a lot of places collect it after the holiday). Make it less accessible, but not necessarily inaccessible. When something is “off-limits,” we tend to desire it more.

• Make real food for Thanksgiving. While there are many substitutions people will come up with for the holidays to make things healthier, just make your traditional favorites and enjoy them. If you are concerned about over-consuming, then serve and eat less, but no need to substitute mashed cauliflower for the mashed potatoes. Portions matter.

• Eat breakfast and have a snack. Anticipating a large meal later? Don’t skip eating earlier in the day. You are not preparing for an eating competition, it is dinner. Eat breakfast, have a snack and hydrate. Skipping meals or going too long without eating can lead to overeating later. And making less healthy choices.

• Savor the seasonal foods. No need to skip the biscochitos or tamales or even the eggnog. If you aren’t eating these year-round, then take the time to enjoy what is only served this time of year. Skip the foods you can get in April and July. But also, no need to eat three dozen cookies and eight tamales, or drink a gallon of eggnog.

• Celebrate at the celebrations. Let the regular days of the week stay regular days. If you have a potluck at work on Friday, a get-together with friends on Saturday and, of course, the actual holidays, then enjoy those days. But let Monday be a Monday like any other. Eat like any other time of the year.

• Switch the mindset. While it may be easy to just “let things go” between now and New Year’s Day, don’t do that. Eating healthfully most days and not worrying about the celebration days is a lot easier than waking up on the first of January and groaning about the impending deprivation to “get back” to the pre-holiday habits.


Roasted chickpeas are easy to make, a healthy snack, and convenient to pack. Make a double batch on the weekend and season with your favorite herb or spice or other flavoring.

30 minutes total, 5 minutes hands-on time.

2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1-2 teaspoons chile powder or other spice to taste preference

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Rinse, drain and dry chickpeas. Place in bowl and toss with olive oil, evenly coating. Spread chickpeas evenly on baking sheet.

Roast in oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and return chickpeas to bowl; add salt and chile powder or other spice while the chickpeas are still warm. When cooled, store in an airtight container.

Shelley Rael, MS RDN LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist in Albuquerque and can often be found discovering new food and drink experiences in New Mexico and beyond. She is the author of “The One-Pot Weight Loss Plan” now available for pre-order on Contact her at