From travel plans to last-minute shopping, the end of year brings a busy calendar that can lead to stress in the kitchen and beyond. If you’re trying to eat a balanced diet, extra activities coupled with an abundance of holiday sweets can make it seem impossible to keep up with your healthful habits. While there is definitely room to enjoy your holiday favorites in moderation, be sure to stock your kitchen with these time-saving foods for some seasonal stress relief.
Citrus Fruits: It might seem like the only trees of the season are covered in ornaments, but citrus fruits have their best showing in the winter months. Packed with vitamin C, everything from grapefruits to clementines are delicious and affordable this time of year. A powerful antioxidant, studies show that vitamin C can help reduce stress levels and offer immune-boosting qualities. Citrus fruits make quick fiber-filled snacks, as well as tasty additions to salads to add bright colors and a kick of sweetness without a lot of calories.
Sweet Potatoes: Not just a Thanksgiving staple, this root vegetable is a smart thing to keep on hand throughout the holiday season. Packed with beta-carotene, vitamin B-6, potassium, and fiber, these root vegetables will satisfy an urge for a carb craving in a nutritious way. For a quick meal, give a sweet potato a good scrub, poke with a fork, and microwave until cooked through. Top with some salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt for a low-stress dinner with plenty of fiber and protein. If you want to include in your big holiday meal, prep and cook your sweet potatoes a day ahead to save yourself some stress—and time—when you’re busy with the main feast.
Canned Fish: Canned tuna, salmon and sardines offer a no-cook protein option for a nutritious meal when you’re pressed for time. In addition to protein, fish contains B vitamins and iron, and is one of the only natural sources of omega-3s fatty acids, which appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to help with blood flow and reduce inflammation, both of which are compromised during times of heightened stress. Just one serving of Bumble Bee Omega-3 albacore tuna contains 500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. To help reach the recommended 2 to 3 servings of fish a week, make a kid-friendly tuna sandwich with diced red and green apples for some holiday flair, or go for a hearty tuna nicoise salad that’s refined enough to serve holiday guests.
Pistachios: For a more mindful snack option this holiday season, keep pistachios on hand. A Pennsylvania State University study showed that during times of stress, pistachios helped lower blood pressure and heart rate in a sample of adults with elevated cholesterol. In addition, in-shell pistachios take longer to eat, and may encourage snackers to slow down and be more conscious of what they’ve eaten. A preliminary behavioral eating study found that in-shell snackers ate 41 percent fewer calories than those who snacked on shelled nuts. A good source of protein and fiber, pistachios can help stabilize blood sugar levels for sustained energy, as well as offer a festive green color that’s perfect for the season.
Oatmeal: A popular comfort food, oatmeal provides complex carbohydrates, which produce the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain, shown to help calm the signs of stress. Plus, it’s a “sticks to your ribs” kind of grain. Beta-glucan, the type of soluble fiber found in oatmeal, has been shown to promote a feeling of fullness more so than other whole grains. In addition to holding off hunger longer, studies have shown that kids who eat oatmeal for breakfast stay sharper throughout the morning. Make a batch of the steel-cut variety on the weekend, store it in the fridge, and heat it up on busy mornings.
Meal Delivery: For a truly stress-free option, have healthy foods delivered to your doorstep. From pre-packed meals delivered upon request, to full meal plans for the entire week, meal delivery services are becoming more and more popular. Making healthy cooking easier for everyone, companies like HelloFresh provide seasonal farm fresh ingredients with recipe cards that are simple, easy-to-follow, and take no more than 30 minutes to make. Plus they have a full-time registered dietitian on staff to make sure your meals are nutritionally balanced. At about $10 per person per meal, you can choose from weekly menus and most importantly – take the stress out of: “What’s for dinner?”
Patricia Bannan is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian specializing in nutrition and health communications. She is the author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight: 150 Slim-Down Strategies and No-Cook Food Fixes." Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.