Dealing with Unwanted Holiday Guests – Avoiding Food Poisoning

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Bring the turkey to temperature using a thermometer.

There are many hazards to watch for during the holidays, and while most of us think about drunk drivers and being trampled at the big box store, food safety can affect all of us.

If we are the one preparing the food, we are the one under pressure to get everything done at the time promised, especially if people are hungry, and may take short-cuts during preparation. Or, we may want to just relax after dinner and put the food away “later.” While this may be the fast-track to lose weight post-Thanksgiving, some people may have other plans for their holiday weekend instead of recovering from the food poisoning they got from the holiday meal.

One of my favorite cooking tools is my instant read thermometer. I don’t go by color or pressure (though sometimes a toothpick works, if I am baking). The instant read thermometer is my go-to tool during cooking. I also have a handy electronic meat thermometer that I use so my meat doesn’t become over-cooked and I don’t have to keep opening the over-door.

While it is likely too late to tell you not to leave the turkey out on the counter to defrost it, or even in the garage (in some places this could be okay, though it isn’t recommended) or inside the dryer for the quicker defrost (still not recommended, since you may have to explain this to the repair-person unless you used the drying rack). You can call the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line® at 1-800-BUTTERBALL for help in this issue.

COOKING THE TURKEY and STUFFING TIPS:

  • Cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F. While your turkey may have come with one of those cute, red pop-up indicators, it is better to use a food or meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey.
  • Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. If you have stuffed your turkey, the center of the stuffing must also reach 165°F. (If your bird has reached the 165°F, you can remove the stuffing and cook/bake it separately until it reaches 165°F on its own so your bird doesn’t get over-cooked and dry.)
  • Some meat, even in poultry, may still be pink, but it is safe to eat as soon as all parts of the bird reach at least 165°F.

LINGERING LEFTOVERS:

While we like to linger at the table, relax in the living room, or even go outside and play, put off doing the dishes is okay, but putting off clearing the food away is not a good idea.

We need to refrigerate promptly! There are three numbers we need to remember:

  1. 2 hours: Refrigerate cooked foods, including the turkey, stuffing, potatoes and everything else within 2 hours after cooking. Keep track of how long foods have sat on the table and discard anything there two hours or more. To help extend this 2 hour serving time, put things out at the last-minute, and only put out as much as necessary.
  2. 3-4 days: Place leftovers in shallow containers and use within 3–4 days. Come Monday night, if you still have any Thanksgiving leftovers, guess what’s for dinner? After dinner that night, toss it.
  3. 165°F: Reheat all of your leftovers to minimum internal temperature of 165°F. You often hear “140°F” for food safety, this is the temperature for the first go round. For reheating leftovers, it’s higher…

One of the other great tools you can use is the freezer. If you realize that there is just too much food to plow through in your four-day window – ull out the ziptop bags and markers (to note the date) and freeze your turkey, potatoes and other holiday faves for next week, next month, or next April.

Happy Thanksgiving and hoping it is bacteria free!

Holiday Dinner Guest and Diet Restrictions


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Having guests? Have a plan for their dietary restrictions.

If you are hosting Thanksgiving this week, have you dared to ask your guests if they have any diet restrictions? A friend was telling me about her family gathering that included vegetarians, a family member with a wheat allergy, and another with a dairy allergy. Oh, and a couple of family members were diabetic.

What to do with so many dinner guests and their diet restrictions?

  1. Ask! When you invite people over, especially if they aren’t family, or are new family members, ask if they have diet restrictions that you should know about. Even with you usual family, double-check – you don’t want to forget that your niece has the nut allergy and cook the chestnuts in the stuffing inside the turkey. Then she may not eat the stuffing or the turkey due to cross-contamination.
  2. Bring a dish to share. Not sure how to make a gluten-free pie crust? When your guests say, “what can I bring?” invite your guest that is now eating gluten-free to his or her own pie, so they can have some dessert too and so everyone can see how tasty it is. And now, one less thing for you to worry about.
  3. Integrate the “special” food into the meal. Rather than making the mashed potatoes with milk, try it with olive oil (instead of butter) and soymilk (instead of milk or cream). This will fulfill the needs of both the vegetarian and the dairy allergy. And, don’t make two separate batches, just the one for everyone will do. We don’t need to make our guest feel like they have “special needs.”
  4. Include veggies! Whether someone needs low-fat, wheat-free, dairy-free, diabetic-friendly, or all of these, fresh or steamed seasoned veggies will fit the needs for everyone (green beans are always safe!) and it will help balance out the carbohydrates of the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and stuffing.
  5. Offer alcohol and soda-alternatives! Stay in the Thanksgiving mood with cranberry juice, a squeeze of lime and seltzer and even the kids will think they are toasting with the adults. Also, plain water will do just fine too.

While we want to accommodate all of our guests, we don’t want them to feel left out either. Make everyone fit in as best as you can and try not to have the separate dishes for someone unless it is essential. Just keep in mind that some people do have very specific diet restrictions, and they aren’t all in their head (usually).

If you are hosting Thanksgiving this week – good luck to you. And enjoy the time you have with your friends and family however many you have coming over. And, please, leave the cleaning to someone else!

Just 8 Weeks to the New Year

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Cold is no excuse to stop exercising.

With just two months left in the year, what is your plan to combat the stressors, the usual end of year “too much to do,” trying-to-fit-it-all-in-and-not-enough-time-for-fitness? Let it all go and then realize you need to “start all over” or be mindful of your actions?

I have a plan. I (almost) always have a plan – just ask my co-workers. I started last week (on Monday, October 31) with my updated plan for the rest of the year. It has three parts:

  1. 620,000 steps completed. Since this started last Monday, October 31, if I calculated correctly, that is an average of 10,000 steps a day through December 31st.  I am wearing my pedometer every day.
  2. Run 200 miles – about 30 miles a week. I run about 4-5 times a week.
  3. Bike 500 miles – about 55 miles a week. I bike about twice a week.

My plan isn’t to beat myself up or exhaust myself, but to stay calm and have an outlet for the stress that inevitably comes, combat temptations and ultimately be the same weight in January as I was in September.

Most of us can do it. I know. When we have the plan to do it, we can. I know many people who have done it.

Whether I will get all 700 miles and 620,000 steps in or not aren’t as important as the effort of trying. If I run 179 miles, bike 476 miles, and get 618,359 steps it is okay. I know that I worked towards getting those miles and steps. Failure would be not trying or putting in the effort and saying, “I’m too tired to do it today,” when I know I will feel better doing it.

What are you doing the next 8 weeks to help you get through the holidays ?

Have a Happy Halloween

Starting now and over the next several weeks, it is likely  you will see many articles and news stories from dietitians and other health  experts on healthy holidays and avoiding holiday weight gain. As we reach a “difficult” time of year when many people give up for the next  couple of months, we truly want people to stay on track over the next couple of months

As the holiday season kicks off with Halloween there are differing views on how to approach it, especially if you have kids. Some say, “Let them enjoy it, it is just one day!” And others will say, “Let them pick their favorites and throw the rest out.” While Halloween is “just one day,” let’s be honest and acknowledge that Halloween celebrations are much more than one day and the loot collected on Halloween night last much longer than just one night.

For adults, even if we no longer have children at home, it is tempting if we have the candy to hand out. As someone who refused to buy the candy until just yesterday (the 29h), I still had to hide it from the family as soon as I walked in the door. Just having the candy around the house is a problem for many people. I know people who have already bought their Halloween candy three times.

Here are tips for you and your household, whether you have kids inside the house or not:

  1. Plan a “real” dinner. Have an easy to make, hearty soup and sandwiches, a Crockpot meal or even a pizza before the kids head out the door. So the kids don’t get the stomach ache, they should have something in their stomach before they head out for the treat-trek. Make sure you have some too. One of my favorites is Loaded Potato Soup. Very filling and everyone loves it.
  2. Don’t snack on the candy yourself. Many times the adults will give themselves a treat with each visit to the door. Chew on gum, or have a bowl of popcorn for yourself.
  3. Be generous. If it seems like you may have some candy left over, be generous  in the last half-hour, such as 8:30 – 9:00, or whatever your cut-off time is. If you run-out earlier, no biggie.
  4. Sort the candy. When the kids come home, let them sort the candy into three piles: what they love, what they hate, and what is just “okay.” If you have any left-over candy of your own, do the same.
    1. Keep what you love: Enjoy it throughout the next several days and weeks.
    2. Freeze the just “okay” stuff or think about donating it. If you toss it in the freezer, after a week or two, take it out and reconsider whether you really want it.
    3. Donate what you hate: There are many community buy-back locations or donation locations. If you can’t find one, Operation Gratitude accepts candy donations to send care-packages to troops serving over-seas. Consider shipping it to them. When kids hear about this program, many of them are very willing to get a group
      collection together and give a lot of their candy.
    4. Consider dinner and a movie OUT. If you have no kids at home, then this is an option to “avoid” the temptations of having the candy and the “trick-or-treats” altogether. Heck, it could be cheaper than the cost of the candy, and much more fun!

No matter what you do, enjoy and I get dibs on the dark chocolate candies your kids don’t want. I’ll send you my address.

New Year’s Eve Tradition: Seafood Extravaganza


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The 6 pounds of shrimp!

Our New Year’s Eve dinner side dishes.

One of the great traditions we have in our family is every New Year’s Eve, we get together with friends and enjoy a seafood feast. Part of the fun is getting together with friends and preparing the food together. Of course, the food is always good too.

Since we live in landlocked New Mexico, we get our seafood frozen from Costco, but it is still good. We have king crab legs and shrimp, since everyone likes them and they are easy to cook. Along with the seafood, we have a vegetable dish and salad each year along with homemade potato skins (sliced baked potatoes with cheddar and bacon crumbles). I often bring or make dessert, but we didn’t even eat it this year. I’m probably skipping it next year! (By the way, I brought gourmet cupcakes from Cake Fetish.)

This year we had Roasted Tomatoes with Garlic, Gorgonzola and Herbs from Giadia De Laurentiis as our vegetables, and Ellie Krieger’s Orange, Radish and Mint Salad. Lots of color – orange and reds with the tomatoes, oranges and the cooked seafood!

The great thing about crab and shrimp is that it is low-calorie and low-fat compared to other meat we could, and likely would, choose.

According to CalorieKing.com: four ounces of snow crab = 130 calories, less than 2 grams of fat (less than 0.5 grams saturated), no carbs, and almost 30 grams of protein. And, four ounces of shrimp = 110 calories, about 1 gram of fat (less than 0.5 grams saturated), no carbs, and nearly 24 grams of protein. Shrimp also has over 200 mg potassium and about 45 mg calcium.

Compare these two shellfish with a beef top sirloin (a lean cut of beef): four ounces is 240 calories, 16 grams of fat, 6 saturated, no carbs, and 22 grams of protein. Or with a pork loin, which is also a lean cut: 133 calories, 2.6 grams of fat (about 1 gram saturated), no carbs and 25 grams of protein.

Also, think about all the work that is takes to get 4 ounces of crab meat! It is difficult to overeat it, but we sure try.

Something that many people bring up with shrimp is the cholesterol content: over 200 mg in the four-ounce serving. The recommendation is less than 300 mg per day. Considering that shrimp is low in fat, and especially saturate fat, this isn’t what effects blood cholesterol in most people, so we tend not to worry about it when eaten occasionally. Unfortunately the melted butter that people often have with their seafood has saturated fat, so stick to cocktail sauce!

We look forward to next year’s New Year’s Eve get together with friendship, seafood, and some new recipes to try. Happy New Year friends and a healthy 2011!

Do you have a New Year’s Eve tradition?

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Health Benefits of a Partridge in a Pear Tree

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Green anjou is just one of the many varieties of pears.

If your true love gives you a partridge in a pear tree, then give your true love a kiss. Your pear tree is providing you a fruit low in calories, high in fiber and full of vitamin C. A medium pear is about 100 calories and has 6 grams of fiber, about one-fifth to one-quarter of your fiber needs in just ONE pear.

Pears ripen better after picking, and sometimes still need ripening after you buy them. Hard, unripened pears don’t taste as good as a ripe one, so have patience.

With over 10 varieties of pears, just grown in the US, eat a different pear every day of the week! That’s a lot of pear trees!

Serving and Eating Pears:

A perfect accompaniment to pears is a small piece of cheese (about 1 ounce) to give you some protein.  

Most people think of pears eaten whole or from the can (in its own juice or light syrup, drained), but they are good in many sweet or savory themed recipes. They are good dessert fruits (poached pears), good on salads (on top of greens with some candied walnuts), as a pizza topping (try it), or any variety of options. You can even serve it with partridge if you are so inclined…(they are in the same family as the pheasant and quail, and you can eat it).

For pear recipes check out these sites:

USA Pears – recipes, wine and cheese “pearings,” and more about how to ripen your pears.

Food Network – pear crisp, pear cider, poached pears and more! Partridge recipes here too!

MyRecipes.com – desserts, salads, main dishes and more. There is a great recipe for Pear Mimosa as today’s featured recipe. MyRecipes.com includes the periodicals Cooking Light, Southern Living, Health, Sunset, Real Simple and more. To find healthier recipes, choose Cooking Light or Health publications in the left column.

Enjoy your partridge in a pear tree. Don’t forget to wash your pears before you eat them.

I have no affiliation with USA Pears, Food Network, MyRecipes.com or any of their publications.

Holiday Season: Make it About You

Put "MeFirst" this year.

How many holiday seasons have you put everyone else first, while you stress, burn out and stay up late making one more baked-good?

This year, my friend and colleague, registered dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield and her partner Bernie Salazar (season 5 Biggest Loser AT-HOME winner) launched the “Me Movement.”

The Me Movement is all about putting yourself first this year. That is NOW, December 1, 2010, not January 1, 2011.

Several of my fellow dietitians on board with the Me Movement and have taken the pledge too. We don’t want un-healthy people; we want them healthy and well.  We don’t want people to feel guilty about food, but we do urge mindful eating instead of mindless eating. We don’t want people to sacrifice themselves and be stressed or over-booked because they are putting others first. We want healthy people who are better helping others when they are well.

How do you become part of the Me Movement? Go to MeMovement.com and take the “me” pledge. Set your goals for putting Me First. Also, if you are on Twitter, follow and use the #MeFirst hashtag. Twitter chats occur every Wednesday at 7 pm MST.

Even if you cannot join the chats, go to the MeMovement website and read the blogs. There is a lot of great, FREE information to help you get through the holidays and beyond.

Have a happy, low-stress December and pledge to put MeFirst this year.