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Chef Gary offers a recipe for healthy holiday eating

Written by Akers Editorial

Chef Gary Appelsies, director of healthy eating for YMCA of Central Florida, contributed this article.

With the holiday season upon us, temptation for unhealthy eating is everywhere, whether it’s at a holiday dinner party, the office or just dropping by a friend’s house. Cookies, cakes, chips and whatever other food you can think of are out there taunting us to eat in a way that we don’t normally eat any other time of the year.

The act of eating often just becomes mindless as we stand around chatting and picking at what’s on the table. But when you have a plan for navigating healthy eating during the season, you can make healthy choices that will benefit you and not affect your waistline.

While we are unable to control the foodstuffs that are put in front of us, we are able to control what we decide to eat. Here are a few tips that I use to get through the holidays:

Eat regularly scheduled meals

Make sure to eat as close to your regular eating schedule as possible. If you are going to a party that starts later than when you normally eat, have a small snack before you go. This will help you to not feel starved when you arrive and start bingeing on the first thing you see. Also, you can offer to bring a healthy option like my Creamy Everyday Hummus (see recipe below) with some fresh veggies and whole grain pita that is always a hit even during the holidays.

Navigate the buffet before you dig in

Take a good look around the buffet table and seek out some of the healthier choices, like a salad, grilled veggies, fruit and some protein. Use a smaller plate and start by filling half of it with fruits and veggies—they help you stay full longer. Move away from the buffet table and mingle; pretty soon you will be so involved in conversation you will forget about all the unhealthy food back at the buffet table. Remember, its OK to indulge once in a while but space it out and have a small amount.


We all have a lot on our plate (no pun intended) this time of year, and our regular exercise schedule can easily fall by the wayside. Being active can help keep you fit during the season. When we are taking care of our bodies, our bodies take care of us. Exercise can help you stay focused on eating healthy and help make up for some of the indulging you do. If you can’t keep to your regular routine, break it up into smaller chunks, like taking a fast-paced 10-minute walk a few times a day.

Most of all, remember the holiday season is about celebrating and connecting with family, friends, co-workers and all the people you care about. Try to focus on the fun and less on all the food. Have a happy and healthy holiday season.

Creamy Everyday Hummus



1 15.5oz can low-sodium chickpeas or garbanzo beans

Zest of 1 lemon

1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

2-4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

Kosher salt to taste

1 cup sesame tahini (found in the international foods aisle of your local grocer)

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1/3 cup olive oil

For serving

Smoked or regular paprika

Olive oil

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Fresh vegetables

Warm whole-grain pita bread


  1. Using a fine mesh strainer, drain and rinse chickpeas.
  2. Add chickpeas to a medium pot and cover with water. Over a high heat, bring to a boil then reduce to medium-high and cook until chickpeas are soft and just breaking apart. Drain, set aside and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
  3. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, tahini and cumin. Blend until a thick paste forms, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. Slowly drizzle in olive oil until sauce is smooth and creamy.
  4. Add the warm, drained chickpeas to the food processor with tahini mixture. Blend until perfectly smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of bowl. This may take 2-4 minutes until the mixture is ultra-creamy and fluffy. Add some ice cold water or more oil if needed to make the contents of the blender move.
  5. Taste and adjust your seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, lemon juice and/or cumin to taste.
  6. To serve, place hummus on a large plate or serving platter. Sprinkle paprika over the top, drizzle olive oil and top with parsley. Serve with fresh vegetables and warm pita bread.

Nutritional information (per serving)

Calories: 341; fat: 27g; protein: 9g; saturated fat: 4g; total carbs: 20g; fiber: 6g; sugar: 3g; sodium: 246mg; cholesterol: 0mg.


Chef Gary Appelsies, director of healthy eating for YMCA of Central Florida.

About the writer Gary Appelsies is a nutritionist, chef and food and beverage professional with more than 30 years of experience. Gary holds a bachelor of science degree in culinary arts from the New England Culinary Institute, a bachelor of business administration degree from Pace University and a master’s of science in integrative health and nutrition from the University of Bridgeport. Gary helped spearhead the culinary medicine program at the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine in conjunction with the YMCA of Central Florida.

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