Dec. 16, 2013

Surviving the Holidays

by Jessica Goldman Foung

It happens every year. The air gets crisp. The leaves turn gold. The radio fills with cheer. And the streets twinkle with lanyards of lights. All meaning, it is holiday time; which is personally my favorite time of the year.

But with all the joy of the season, there come challenges as well, especially if you’re on a special diet. Endless parties and dinners, plane rides and trips to grandmother’s house and feasts upon feasts will take you away from your trusty kitchen and stove, force you out of your special diet comfort zone and interrupt your routine making it difficult to stick to your food needs. In order to keep a sense of normalcy and tradition, many trade in healthy eating for ease. This can lead to guilt, discomfort, or worse, spending the holidays at the doctor’s office. Speaking from experience, it isn't so jolly.

So this year, let's promise to all stay on the good list.

With the right approach, you can avoid naughty nibbling while keeping both your favorite traditions and your special diet. For the rest of this post, we will give you a roadmap to get through all the holiday obstacles full of feasts, get-togethers and your grandmother’s casseroles. With some creativity and forethought, it’s totally possible to have the dinner you crave and keep your special diet. How’s that for a holiday miracle?


If you’re on the move this holiday season, remember that you can take your kitchen with you. From the suitcase to the hotel, there are ways to keep cooking (and stay full) even when you’re on the road.

Pack Smart

Remember to fill your bag with non-perishable snacks such as, dried fruits and nuts, microwavable rice and oats, granola bars, spice mixes and other treats that will guarantee tasty food to munch on as you journey from point A to point B.

Send Ahead

Whether you are staying at a friend’s house or a hotel, send your favorite pantry items ahead of time. Ship non-suitcase-friendly vitals via mail and sometimes, you can even ask the concierge to do a little pre-arrival grocery shopping for other items, like fresh vegetables and fruit. Most hotels are also usually happy to outfit your room with mini fridges, microwaves and electric kettles to make in-room food storage and prep a snap.

Map It

Before you leave your own town, make sure to check out the resources in the city you plan to visit. Find grocery stores and restaurants ahead of time so that you know where to grab ingredients and meals that will keep you full and satisfied.

Forget the View, Get a Kitchen

When searching for accommodations, look for spaces with small kitchenettes. Or you can always skip the hotel and rent through VRBO or Airbnb, options that usually include access to a kitchen, a small stove, or at the least, simple cooking tools. That means you can prepare fuller meals and make snack packs for that holiday get together, all in the comfort of your rented room.


Cooking the holiday feast is a great way to ensure you’ll stay within your dietary needs and stay full. Before you heat up a single pan, do your holiday homework. Whether it is the honey-baked ham, Tanta's tamales, or that famous pecan pie, some of your favorite treats may include ingredients you should avoid. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for a bland piece of grilled chicken breast (no offense, chicken breast) while your guests eat decadent dishes. It is easy to stay within your dietary needs while putting on a feast to remember.

Twist the Traditions

Think of recipes as suggestions, not commandments. They are a perfect place for inspiration and ideas. But you have creative license to make them your own. And with some savvy substitutes, you’ll create new family favorites. Credit this holiday season will not belong to Chef Emeril, or Julia, or Ina. The glory will be all yours.

Remix the Recipes

Decide on the dish you most wish to make and then boil it down to the basics. Highlight which ingredients you need to replace. Then brainstorm what will best mimic the flavor, look, texture and smell of the original items.

You may not end up with a perfect low-sodium replica of a honey-baked ham, but you will create a Chinese five-spice rubbed pork chop with a maple, molasses and apricot preserve glaze that has all the sweet savory personality of the original (not to mention many flavors of your own invention). Consider it your chance to put a personal stamp on the season.


If you’re worried that Aunt Jane will miss the parmesan on her potatoes or Cousin John will bemoan the absence of his favorite canned gravy...there’s a solution. The best way to ensure that every guest will eat well (and eat what they crave) is to create a flexible feast! That’s right. Design a buffet with a range of fixings, separated and invite everyone to dress up their dream plate. So Jane gets her parmesan, John gets his gravy and you get to stick to your own diet. Check out this link for a detailed guide on everything from stuffing to dessert.


Without imposing, you can eat at someone else’s table while sticking to your dietary needs. But before we get to the tips, remember this: people want their guests to be happy and full. If the host or hostess finds you nibbling on the edible table arrangements to stave off starvation, they will feel terrible they did not provide anything for you to eat. Sharing is caring. So here are some ways to let your family and friends cook for you, without asking too much of their time, money, or catering bill.


Your relatives and best friends most likely already know about your needs and may even be eager to try their hand at making special food for you. When you send that RSVP, also ask if you can send a recipe or two for an easy appetizer or entree. Or if they want to make everything themselves, pass along a list ingredients to use and, of course, those to avoid.

Helping Hand

To avoid asking the busy host or hostess to make a special meal for you, offer to bring a few share-worthy dishes yourself. Easily transportable appetizers — like apple cider pickled cherries or strawberry bruschetta — and family-style sides — like wild rice and pomegranate stuffing — will not only fill you up, but will taste equally delicious to others. Remember: special diet or not, it’s always nice to bring your own serving utensils!

Edible Gifts

If you don't know the host or hostess that well and you don't want to bring up your health needs, bring an edible gift instead. I know, sneaky. Colorful, finger foods — like spiced popcorn and candied apples — will look too good (and too perishable) to put in the cupboard. And when these items join the other appetizers and desserts, you're guaranteed something safe to eat.

Secret Stash

Last but not least, pack a snack pack. If you wish to keep your dietary needs on the hush, hush, bring a small bag of prepared portions. You can even choose to mimic the host's menu so your meal matches the others. And if someone realizes you have nothing to eat (gasp!), they'll be happy to know you came prepared. Throw your food on a plate and be served with everyone else. You’ll show them just how crafty you can be.

Staying Healthy

With present wrapping, city hopping, food making and feast attending it is easy to forget about the most important part of the holidays: YOUR HEALTH. So above all, be sure to give yourself the gift of rest and relaxation. Go for walks while your slow cooker makes the pumpkin soup. Get fresh air between plane rides and road trips. And when you sneak an extra helping of pie, enjoy it.

For more special diet, low-sodium advice, recipes, and adventures, visit And pick up a copy of SodiumGirl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or anywhere books are sold

Related Stories

Blog | Dec. 14, 2012

Protect Yourself This Cold and Flu Season

The cold and flu season is upon us again, and this year it has gotten off to "about the earliest start in the last decade," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dawn Isherwood, Health Educator for the Lupus Foundation of America, writes about a few ways to avoid the cold and flu this season.

Blog | Sep. 17, 2013

Guest Blog: Climbing Kilimanjaro for Lupus Awareness

Jody Gehrmann shares her experience of living with lupus and staying physically active and the journey she and her husband are taking to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.