Navigating Nutrition during the Holidays: Tips from an Oncology Nutrition Specialist
The holidays can be a hectic time of year for all of us, but before you let healthy eating habits melt away, read through these tips from Molly Rockford, R.D., a dietitian who is board-certified in Oncology Nutrition. She shares tips to address some of the most common healthy-eating challenges we all face this time of year.
Spend some time meal planning to save on stress later. Gather recipes and see which ingredients you still need. That will help you feel less rushed and anxious while in the busy store or market. If you can, take advantage of local produce available this time of year at places like the Rochester Public Market or the Brighton Farmers Market, both of which operate all year round.
Manage stress with mindful movement. Staying active is a healthy way to reduce stress levels, but you don’t have to do something you hate. In fact, you shouldn’t! Walking outside — bring the dogs or a friend for more fun — or even walking around the mall looking for gifts are great ways to move. But think outside the box, too: Dance to Christmas music or cut down your own tree – including a nice long walk out to find it. Put up holiday lights or play in the snow with the kids. Do what feels right! But remember: Movement shouldn’t be thought of as a weight loss method. You don’t need to “earn” your food or “burn off” what you ate.
If you’re a cancer patient or survivor who’s received treatment at any Wilmot Cancer Institute location, you could consider attending a fitness class at Wilmot’s Pluta Integrative Oncology & Wellness Center. The center offers yoga, tai chi, qi gong, group exercise and more, most of which are free to patients. To learn more, visit wilmot.urmc.edu/integrative or call (585) 486-0630.
Find joy in smaller amounts at holiday gatherings. Seeing all of our favorite goodies laid in beautiful arrangements at a party can make it hard to resist overindulging. It’s okay to try it all! Just take small amounts of only the things you really like. Don’t feel like you have to eat something just because it’s there. Family and friends can sometimes be pushy about having you try what they’ve made, but you can politely decline by saying things like, “It looks great, can I take some home to enjoy later?” or even the classic, “I’m saving room for dessert!” When it comes to the holidays, remember that we have many chances to enjoy our favorite holiday foods. This can help reduce overindulging at one time.
Avoid skipping meals if you know a party or feast is coming. It might seem counterintuitive, but you want to avoid starving yourself heading into a feast. You’re bound to eat more if you’re ravenously hungry! Instead, eat a satisfying breakfast the day of a big meal or party – ideally something with a mix of protein and carbs, such as eggs and toast, vanilla Greek yogurt with fruit, or oatmeal with milk and fruit. It’ll help you feel satisfied.
Make healthier versions of your favorite holiday dishes. There are so many classics that so many of us love for a holiday meal: green bean casserole, latkes, sweet potato casserole, pies – the list goes on. For most traditional recipes, though, there are a few swaps you can make to help lighten it up a little bit. Here are a few ideas:
Try finding creative ways to enjoy treats despite side effects of cancer treatment. Cancer impacts us all year long but especially during the holiday season, and for some, that can include what you’re able to eat. Depending on the type of cancer you have and treatment you’ve received, you may experience side effects that make eating difficult, but there are some tricks to try. For example, ginger is known to help ease nausea. If you’ve felt nauseous, why not try some gingerbread cookies with real ginger? For those who have trouble swallowing, focus on the feast foods that are easy to chew and swallow: Mashed potatoes, butternut squash soup and deviled eggs, perhaps with cream pies or puddings for dessert. If swallowing is very challenging, you could try drinking your calories through homemade egg nog, hot chocolate or chocolate milk. It’s important to maintain weight throughout treatment, so you can be strong enough to finish your treatment regimen.
My colleague, Joanna Lipp, R.D., created this recipe for Vegan Egg nog that I’d like to share:
Vegan Egg Nog
1 cup Good Karma Flax Plus Protein milk
½ soaked raw cashews, drained
2 T coconut cream
2 tsp agave
½ tsp nutritional yeast
¾ tsp rum extract
½ tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp cinnamon Dash nutmeg
Blend all ingredients together. Makes 1 ½ c (12 oz). The entire recipe is about 450 calories, 21 g protein. Per 8 oz serving = 300 calories, 14 g protein (19%).
Through it all, remember that your oncology team is here to help you, and that includes a registered dietitian! Wilmot patients have access to registered dietitians who are board-certified in Oncology Nutrition and can provide individualized counseling based on your unique needs. If you’d like to talk with someone, ask your team or learn more on our Nutrition and Diet webpage.
Molly Rockford works as an outpatient dietitian at Wilmot Cancer Center. Born and raised in Rochester, she graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology before going to the University of Virginia to complete her training in dietetics.
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