Prairie Fare: Stay healthier by limiting holiday stress

When I flipped the calendar page to December, I felt a little stressed by the short number of days between that moment and the action-packed holiday season ahead.

Apple Spice Hummus is a guilt-free dip with fiber and plenty of flavor. Special to The Forum

When I flipped the calendar page to December, I felt a little stressed by the short number of days between that moment and the action-packed holiday season ahead.
Often, the weeks preceding holidays are filled with baking, shopping, parties, concerts and, of course, regular work.
What happened to November, anyway?
I had a cup of tea and turned on the TV to relax and ponder how to simplify things in the next few weeks. I had my trusty yellow legal pad and a pen to sketch out my simplified plan.
Seeing me writing a list makes my family a little nervous. I had plans for them.
We certainly do not need 14 kinds of cookies, even if we enjoy making them. The other day, I found a container of Snickerdoodle cookies from last year in the bottom of the freezer. I guess I’m the only one who likes them, and after a few of them, I had enough.
I think six of our favorite kinds of treats will be enough to get done. I can make a small batch of Snickerdoodles for me. On second thought, perhaps four treats will suffice.
Maybe I can just buy some cookies.
I think complaints would be registered from my children if we had a “homemade treatless” holiday season. I will ask each of my three kids to pick two favorites, and we will go with that. I was back to six treats on my list.
Stress is inevitable in life. Some stress is OK because it braces us to cope with threats. We may breathe faster, our pulse may quicken and our muscles may tense, just as the bodies of our distant ancestors reacted to dangers generations ago.
Sometimes stress is fleeting and passes when we figure out how to cope with the situation. Other times, serious stress, such as the loss of a loved one or loss of a job, can lead to physical and/or mental health issues. For example, prolonged stress can promote the development of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Simplifying expectations, eating a healthful diet, getting plenty of exercise and scheduling time for relaxation can help you cope with the situation. Be sure to see a qualified health care professional for other options.
Here’s a list of holiday food ideas to keep your recipes fun, healthful, safe and fairly simple.

  • Keep the celebration simple. How about a soup, bread and salad potluck? If some of your guests do not have time to cook, could they help organize or assist with cleanup?
  • Have fun with your menu ideas. Be sure to feature fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other healthful foods such as red and green apple wedges with lemon yogurt dip, parfaits made by layering nonfat vanilla yogurt with frozen red berries, pomegranate seeds sprinkled over kiwi slices or spinach dip served with red and green pepper strips and whole-grain pita chips.
  • Slim your recipes. Choose lower-fat versions of your ingredients, such as “light” cream cheese. If you are making a dip, substitute plain, nonfat yogurt for the mayonnaise or sour cream. Choose baked chips instead of fried.
  • Remember food safety for holiday gatherings. Perishable food, such as cut fruit and vegetables, salads, meats and casseroles, should spend no more than two hours at room temperature. Use a slow cooker to hold hot foods hot. Keep food warm in the oven until you serve it. Keep cold foods cold by making an “ice nest” by setting bowls or plates of food inside or on top of bowls of ice to help keep the food cold. Replace the ice if it melts.
  • Make activity part of the celebration. Organize a sledding party. If it’s too cold outdoors, make room for dancing indoors.
  • Explore some new recipes. Visit and click on “recipes” for hundreds of foods in categories such as appetizers, soups, breads and main dishes. Check out all the nutrition resources and videos, too.

Here’s a guilt-free dip with fiber and plenty of flavor. Serve it with red and green apple slices for a festive treat. Visit our new pulse foods collection at to learn more about chickpeas, lentils and split peas and ways to incorporate them into a healthful diet.

Apple Spice Hummus

2 (15 ounces) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 medium golden delicious apples, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup creamy peanut butter
2 to 3 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
Apple slices, carrot slices and/or whole-wheat crackers
In a food processor bowl or blender container, place the following ingredients: chickpeas, apples, lemon juice, peanut butter, water, salt and spices. Cover and process or blend until smooth; transfer to bowl. Cover and refrigerate up to three days. Serve dip with apple slices, carrot slices and/or whole-wheat crackers.

Makes 28 servings (2 tablespoons each). Each serving has 80 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 3 g of protein, 10 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber, 140 milligrams (mg) of sodium, 15 micrograms of folate and 0.5 mg of iron.

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