Ringing in the new year isn’t always just about the bubbly - food can be part of the tradition as well. Check out some of the menu items different cultures use to start off the year full of luck and good fortune:
• Hoppin’ John: There’s a Southern saying “peas for pennies, greens for dollars, and cornbread for gold,” and Hoppin’ John takes care of most of these. It’s a dish made of black-eyed peas stewed with spices and a ham hock and recipes for it date back to the 1840s. Serve it over a bed of rice with collard greens on the side and a slice of cornbread and you have all of the luck you need in one meal.
• Pork: Many cultures around the world eat pork on New Year’s Day because of how pigs root forward into the mud instead of going backwards - symbolizing the progress you want to have in the new year.
• Grapes: In Spain, it’s customary to eat twelve grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve - one grape for luck in every month of the upcoming year.
• Noodles: Asian cultures serve dishes that include long noodles on New Year’s Day. Their length is thought to symbolize longevity and prosperity and they’re more effective if you can prepare and eat the noodles without breaking them.
• Pomegranate: In Greece, a pomegranate is hung above your front door. At midnight it’s smashed against the door and the more seeds fall out, the more luck and fertility you’ll have in the new year.
• Lentils: Italian cultures use lentils to ring in the new year, as they’re shaped like coins and thought to bring about prosperity for the future.
• Herring: Many Scandinavian countries consider herring a sign of good fortune and bounty and traditionally eat a slice of pickled herring at the stroke of midnight. Their silvery color is thought to symbolize money.
Today is the first day of Kwanzaa and the beginning of a week-long celebration that ends with a feast. If you don’t know what Kwanzaa is all about or how it’s celebrated, read on as we take you through the basics:
• Kwanzaa is a worldwide celebration of life for people of African descent that lasts from December 26th to January 1st every year.
• The word “Kwanzaa” is Swahili for “first” and refers to the first harvest of the year. The holiday is based on traditional African harvest festivals and food plays a part in this celebration.
• Kwanzaa was started by a professor and activist named Maulana Karenga in 1966 as a way to celebrate family and social values.
• It’s not meant to replace Christmas and some celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa.
• Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa are dedicated to a different principle. Those include unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
• Colors used to celebrate Kwanzaa are red, green, and black.
• On December 31st, there is a celebratory feast called Karamu that usually includes lots of fresh produce.
During this time of year treats such as gingerbread and candy canes get most of the attention, but if you’ve got German heritage you may know of another gingerbread-like cookie called Lebkuchen.
What is it and what makes it different than gingerbread?
- Lebkuchen are a traditional German cookie given as gifts at Christmas that date back to the 1300’s.
- Very similar to gingerbread but much darker, more dense and rich, and chewier. Lebkuchen is never crunchy.
- Made with honey, whereas gingerbread uses molasses.
- Main ingredients are hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, candied orange and lemon peel, honey, flour, sugar, eggs and marzipan.
- They’re heavier on spices than gingerbread and include cinnamon, cloves, anise, cardamom, coriander, ginger and mace.
- There are several varieties of Lebkuchen, one of which is called Oblaten Lebkuchen. This type has a thin wafer called an Oblaten on the bottom of the cookie very similar to a Communion wafer. Historically they were used by monks to keep the cookies from sticking to the pan.
- Elisen Lebkuchen are the highest quality Lebkuchen available and require at least 25% almonds, hazelnuts, and/or walnuts (no other kinds of nuts are allowed) in the recipe. Also, they must contain no more than 10% flour.
In the song “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,'' carolers make it very clear they require figgy pudding and won’t leave until they get some. So what is this figgy pudding that they’re demanding? It might be a little different than you think:
- Figgy pudding is a steamed, dome-shaped cake made with alcohol and dried fruit.
- It isn’t pudding like we think of and doesn’t contain figs.
- In the UK, “pudding” refers to the sweet, final course of a meal, or what we call “dessert”.
- Figgy pudding is also known as “plum pudding” and in pre-Victorian England “plum” referred to any kind of dried fruit.
- Traditionally, it’s aged for 5 weeks to help richen its flavors.
- Right before it’s served, it’s doused in brandy and set on fire.
- Typical ingredients of modern figgy pudding includes breadcrumbs, eggs, brown sugar, suet (solid white animal fat), raisins, currants, candied orange peel, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and alcohol.
If you’ve been good all year and want to avoid the naughty list when it comes to food, here are some quick tips that can help during the holidays:
1. Watch your portion sizes.
2. Choose snacks that will satisfy your hunger..
3. Only eat if you’re hungry, not just because there’s food.
4. Drink plenty of water so you don’t think you’re hungry when you’re actually thirsty.
5. Stay active when spending time with family and friends - go for a walk, for example.
6. Get plenty of sleep to manage hunger properly and stick to exercise routines.
7. Keep fiber intake up to feel full and keep things regular.
8. Don’t make a meal out of desserts as they’re usually calorically-dense.
9. Limit liquid calories from juice and cocktails, as these can add up very quickly.
10. Use a smaller plate to help curb overeating.
Last week we looked at things that can decrease your sleep quality. Now let’s take a look at some things that can help increase the quality of the rest you get each night.
1. Exercise - Exercise has been shown to improve almost every aspect of sleep including the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, wakefulness throughout the night, and length of REM sleep.
2. Consistency - The circadian rhythms in your body thrive on consistency. Try to stick close to the same sleep/wake times, even on the weekends, to ensure you aren’t throwing off these patterns.
3. Magnesium - Ensure you’re eating enough of this mineral and consider supplementation to see if that helps. Magnesium has been shown to improve relaxation and improve quality of sleep.
4. Melatonin - This is what tells our brains when it’s time to relax and start heading to bed. It’s most abundant after a couple hours with no exposure to light from outside or from electronic screens. It can also be supplemented if needed.
5. Wind Down - Spend the last hour before you go to bed doing something relaxing, such as reading or taking a bath and make this a habit. Some kind of relaxing pre-bedtime ritual can help you wind down.
Sleep is a very important part of life. It’s needed for mental and physical restoration, so when you don’t sleep well, it makes for a long day where everything seems difficult.
Here are five things to avoid that decrease sleep quality:
1. Light: Melatonin can be affected by light, especially blue light. The sun gives off blue light, but so do electronics. Limit your exposure to blue light around bedtime and make sure where you sleep is reasonably dark.
2. Noise: The most disruptive noises during sleep are sudden ones. Consistent and even noise can actually help lull you to sleep. Things like white noise machines and earplugs can help if you’re in a very noisy environment.
3. Heat: Elevated body temperatures have been shown to make it harder to fall asleep and decrease quality of sleep. A cool room causes you to drift off easier and also enter deep sleep faster.
4. Alcohol: While it may seem that alcohol helps you sleep better, science has shown it actually decreases sleep quality. Even small amounts of alcohol inhibit entering REM sleep and decrease its duration when it does happen.
5. Caffeine: This may seem obvious, but caffeine and sleep don’t mix. Even if you are able to fall asleep with caffeine onboard, your sleep will be shallow and low quality since you’re more alert. This even affects regular caffeine users.
When it comes to breakfast, it doesn’t need to be complicated to get you started right. There are plenty of healthy options that require little to no prep and nutrient-rich. Here are some whole food breakfast ideas:
• Oats - low in calories, but high in fiber and protein
• Nuts - fiber, protein, and healthy fats but calorically-dense so go with a serving of about 1 ounce
• Eggs - nutritional powerhouse that provides protein, vitamins, and minerals to help you feel full
• Bananas - healthy alternative to sugar-rich foods, bananas are full of fiber and potassium which can help lower blood pressure
• Yogurt - go with the “no sugar added” varieties and go Greek for the highest protein amounts
• Grapefruit - low in calories but high in fiber and water content and very satisfying
• Berries - packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, berries also contain fiber and are a sweet way to start your day