holiday-country-web-healthy-holidays-cranberries Here come the holidays — the season for bright lights and bows, boxes and bags, and gatherings galore. There are dinner parties, office parties, gift exchanges, cocktail soirées, and cookie swaps. Holiday celebrations include overnight guests, shopping marathons, mountains of gift wrapping, and a bevy of baking. All of this merrymaking can be ever so festive, and ever so fatiguing.

While these are fun-filled events, suddenly your days can feel frenetic, exhausting and overwhelming. Without a smart strategy, immune systems can become strained, good humor diminished and patience painfully overtaxed. To keep the “happy” in the holidays, employ healthy ingredients and practices into your schedule.

Restore and rejuvenate your system by taking a “breath break” every day. This relaxing practice will help soothe and settle any tides of turmoil. Close your eyes and breathe in very deeply through your nose, then release the breath slowly and deliberately through your mouth. Repeat a minimum of three times, while striving for a total of 10. This practice is particularly useful if road rage is running rampant during your travels, or you are mired in a lengthy checkout line.

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During this season of sugar shock and copious calorie consumption, stock your refrigerator, pantry and bar with ingredients that will boost your immune system and provide balance for your body. Prepare and provide a variety of foods, including citrus fruits such as grapefruit, easy-to-peel clementines, tasty tangerines, and juicy oranges for a vivacious burst of vitamin C.

Satiating snacks can include washed and cut up carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, string beans, and grape tomatoes, served alongside a homemade dip of Greek yogurt and freshly chopped herbs.  Baked oatmeal and homemade granola are delicious do-ahead treats that will give breakfast time a healthy boost. Keep whole-grain breads, nut butters, rice or grain salads, and hard-boiled eggs on hand for quick and convenient mini meals for a busy household.

Traditional family recipes are treasured treats that should absolutely be enjoyed during the holidays. However, should your stomach rebel after one too many of Aunt Shirley’s sugar cookies, or Grandma Ruthie’s rugelach, or even an excess of alcoholic concoctions, fresh ginger will nicely nurse your nausea. A soothing tea made with thick slices of fresh ginger and sweetened with a bit of honey will reverse any swells of sickness. Ginger is marvelous for the digestive system, and you may want to include it as a holiday staple on your grocery list.

To lighten up Christmas cocktails, keep a supply of 100% pomegranate or cranberry juice on hand. Stock your bar with plenty of Prosecco, a bubbly alternative to Champagne that has less alcohol and is wonderfully affordable. Fill pretty flutes or glasses with chilled Prosecco, then add a splash of cranberry or pomegranate juice. Garnish with pomegranate seeds or sugared cranberries and enjoy your beautiful, jewel-colored beverage.

Cranberry and pomegranate juice both offer a high vitamin C content, which can help regenerate skin cells and have anti-aging effects, as well as possibly offering effective protection against certain infections and diseases. Club soda can stand in for the Prosecco when it’s time for a non-alcoholic choice.

For a delectable and delightfully easy hors d’oeuvre, serve homemade cocktail olives. A bit salty, a bit meaty, olives are a bracing biteful of healthy monounsaturated fat and will perfectly complement your bubbly beverage. A batch will last at least two weeks in the refrigerator.

The healthiest of homes will be blessed this holiday season with an attitude of gratitude. Being generous with those less fortunate, performing random acts of kindness, and adopting merrymaking in moderation will keep you and yours at the peak of perfect health and happiness.

SOOTHING GINGER TEA
(Makes 2 servings)

4-6 slices of peeled fresh ginger (peel by using the back of a spoon, the peel will slip right off)
2 cups water (filtered if possible)
1 tablespoon raw honey
½ tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice

In a saucepan, bring the 2 cups of water to a boil. Add ginger, put the lid on the pot, remove from the heat, and let steep for 10 minutes. Add honey and juice. Stir to dissolve, then pour into a mug and enjoy.

Good for You Granola

3 cups old-fashioned oats
½ cup raw, unsalted walnuts, chopped
½ cup raw, unsalted almonds, chopped
½ cup raw, unsalted pecans, chopped
¼ cup flax seeds
½ cup raw pumpkin seeds
½ cup raw sunflower seeds
½ cup maple syrup
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon pumpkin pie or apple pie spice
½ cup golden raisins, raisins, dried cranberries, chopped dried apricots, or any dried fruit of your choice

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the oats, nuts, seeds, maple syrup, salt, cinnamon, and spice. Spread the mixture on the baking sheet and bake until golden brown, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Transfer sheet to a cooling rack and add dried fruit. Mix fruit around to incorporate. Store in an airtight container when cool.

This makes an excellent hostess gift as well! Pack into clear bags and attach a festive bow and a sprig of holly.

Cocktail Olives

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1 8-ounce container mixed olives
1 sprig rosemary
1 tablespoon hot red chili pepper flakes
1 wide strip of orange peel
½ tablespoon toasted fennel seeds

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté garlic for 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients and cook until heated through. Serve warm immediately or store in refrigerator until ready to serve, up to 2 weeks.