Tricks for Reducing Holiday Stress

A Healthier You

Tricks for Reducing Holiday Stress

Staci NormanContributor: Dr. Staci-Marie Norman, PharmD, DCES

Hello December and the crazy holiday season! Are you feeling stressed yet? Christmas is coming fast, and I haven't really started shopping for gifts yet. Okay, my blood pressure rose a few points with that thought! But in all seriousness, this time of year can be incredibly stressful. Along with getting ready for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza celebrations, extra social engagements come at this time of year - holiday office parties, friend's gatherings, and family get-togethers. Do these gatherings stress you out thinking about how you will manage diabetes while partying? Are you dreading the "knowing looks" from those who are "monitoring" what is on your plate? Or worse, the "helpful" comments about what should or shouldn't fill your plate? Let's think about a few tricks that might make these holiday landmines less stressful.

First, let's tackle blood glucose management.

  • The holidays seem to have more tempting goodies associated with them and more occasions to partake. My best advice is to plan ahead! It's easier to indulge if you try to build it into your meal plan to keep your blood glucose levels where you want them. If you want a slice of the carb-laden yule log cake after dinner, try to limit your carbohydrates during dinner. Skip the potatoes, bread, rice, and pasta, and fill your plate with vegetables instead.
  • Are you going to an event with appetizers? This can be an easy place to lose track because "it's just a bite," but those bites add up. Before heading to the party, have a small snack with some protein to stabilize your blood glucose and help keep you from overeating those tasty little bites.
  • Alcohol also can do a number on your blood glucose, often causing hypoglycemia, which can be dangerous. To avoid this, make sure you enjoy your glass of wine or fancy drink with a meal to decrease your risk of low blood glucose.
  • Last but not least, if you are going to a gathering of friends or family, offer to bring a dish that will help you stick to your plan. A vegetable tray or a yummy dessert that you know is "healthier" are good options, and many frazzled hosts would be happy to have one less dish to prepare!

Now let's deal with the "food police" at holiday gatherings. This usually comes from a place of care and concern for your health, but it sure can be maddening. My best advice is to develop an excellent short response that lets your loved ones know that you've got this, and they don't need to worry.

I'm lucky enough to work for a grocery store with a cooking school, and I have teamed up with the school's director occasionally to do classes. One of my favorites was a series that took traditional desserts and switched some ingredients to make them healthier, i.e., less sugar, less fat, fewer calories. Here is the list of simple tricks we use:

Ways to Decrease Fat Calories in Baking and Cooking:

  1. Use non-stick pans or parchment paper.
  2. Use vegetable sprays (i.e., Pam®).
  3. Replace saturated fats (butter, shortening) with poly or monounsaturated fats (vegetable, canola, safflower, olive oil).
  4. Decrease high fat/calorie additions like nuts and chocolate chips by 25-50%.
  5. Use evaporated skim milk instead of whipping cream or half & half in sauces.
  6. Use fat-free unflavored yogurt or fat-free sour cream instead of sour cream. Yogurt cooks/bakes better. Greek yogurt gives you bonus protein.
  7. Use applesauce for butter/oil in muffins, quick breads, and cakes.
  8. Substitute marshmallow cream for margarine or butter in frosting.
  9. Substitute cocoa powder for unsweetened chocolate squares. 3 Tbsp cocoa powder & 2 tsp hot water = 1 square chocolate

Ways to Decrease Sugar in Cooking and Baking:

  1. In most recipes, the sugar can be decreased by 25% without changing taste.
  2. Experiment with Splenda®, stevia, or agave l Recommend 1 to 1 conversion l Might need less Splenda ® for the same taste.
  3. Dust cakes or brownies with powdered sugar instead of frosting (cuts fat too).

Here are a few favorite recipes from these classes, I hope they help make your holiday a little less stressful. Have a wonderful holiday season with your friends and family!


Spiced Cookies with Crystallized Ginger
Adapted from Martin’s School of Cooking “Cooking with Spices” Hosted by Chef Pete Pica
These cookies are a unique spin on a gingersnap. The crystallized ginger gives it a unique touch. This cookie is most comparable to the consistency of a snickerdoodle.

1/2 cup Splenda
3/8 cup applesauce
1 egg white
2 tbsp honey
3 tbsp crystallized ginger
2 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1/3 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 2 large cookie sheets.
In a large bowl, mix applesauce and sugar. Add egg white and honey; mix until fluffy. Stir in the crystallized ginger. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, and cloves; stir into the egg mixture. When dough starts to come together, mix with your hands to form a smooth dough.
Form dough into 1-inch balls and roll in brown sugar substitute. Place balls on a cookie sheet 2 inches apart and press down with the bottom of a glass. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, cookies should be golden brown.
Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before moving to a rack to cool completely. Dip ½ of each cookie into confectioners’ sugar for decoration (optional).


Chocolate Pinwheel Cake

4 (1 ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
1 3/4 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups Splenda
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups evaporated nonfat milk
4 egg whites
1/4 cup applesauce
1 (1 ounce) square unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup applesauce
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup evaporated nonfat milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line two 9-inch pans with parchment paper. Cut 9-inch circles, so bottoms will be smooth. Springform pans are preferred.
Melt 2 squares chocolate in saucepan over low heat. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour, 1 1/2 cup Splenda, baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt and soda.
In a large bowl, with electric mixer, blend 1/4 cup applesauce, 1 1/4 cup evaporated milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add flour mixture and beat with mixer 2 minutes at medium speed.
Add 4 egg whites and mix until eggs are just blended. Add the melted 2 squares of chocolate (drizzle in while blending). Beat 1 minute at medium speed. Divide batter into two 9-inch pans.
Melt remaining 2 squares of unsweetened chocolate. Drizzle melted chocolate in ring shape onto batter, about 1 to 2 inches from edge. Using a butter knife or thin spatula, swirl chocolate into pinwheel pattern with a large circular motion. Don't swirl too much as you want chunks to remain. Press knife or spatula all the way to bottom of pan as you swirl.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool completely.
To make the filling: Melt 1 square of chocolate. In a large bowl, combine 1/3 cup applesauce, 1/3 cup Splenda, 1/4 cup evaporated milk 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla and water. Add melted chocolate and beat on high speed for 10 minutes.
Using a long-serrated knife, divide each cooled cake into 2 layers. Spread filling between layers. Use prettiest pinwheel layer as top layer.


Fresh Raspberry Ricotta Cheesecake

1 (15-ounce) container part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup fat free sour cream
4 ounces fat free cream cheese, softened
6 egg whites
3/4 cup Splenda
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all-fruit seedless raspberry jam
1 tablespoon Triple Sec
2 (6-ounce) containers fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Coat a 9-inch spring-form pan with cooking spray. Place ricotta in a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Add sour cream, cream cheese, eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla, orange zest and salt. Process until well blended. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until the center is just set, 50 to 55 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and then cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.
In a small saucepan, bring the jam and liqueur or water to a boil, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove sides of pan. Brush the tart with the jam mixture and top with raspberries, flat side down.

Dr. Staci-Marie Norman, PharmD, DCES received her bachelors from Purdue University (’94) and her Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Oklahoma (’96). In 2000 Dr. Norman added to her credentials by becoming a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. She is currently the Clinical Coordinator and staff pharmacist for Martin’s Pharmacy. Dr. Norman is a national faculty member for the American Pharmacist Association, teaching certificate programs in both diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She serves on the advisory board that oversees development and revision of these programs. Along with teaching and development responsibilities for APhA, Dr. Norman serves as a peer reviewer for research grants and publication submission. Dr. Norman has also spoken for Abbott, Bayer, Lilly, Mannkind, and Lifescan as a diabetes specialist.