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USDA, Food Pantries Encourage Healthy Eating During Holidays

Times Record (Fort Smith, AR)


Dec. 24--As the time draws near for families to congregate around the dinner table, officials encourage healthy eating this holiday season.

Kevin Concannon, deputy under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says the agency is promoting a holiday eating program called MyPlate Holiday Makeover, designed to urge people to eat healthier and practice moderation during the holidays.

"During the holidays, the central part of the American experience is eating," Concannon said. "This program is to encourage doing things in moderation and trying simple adjustments to your meal. You'll feel better and you won't have added the extra pounds."

The program suggests some basic, simple steps that households can take to not overdo it such as tweaking the intake of sweets by using more fruits, as opposed to a lot of sugar or heavy cream, drinking more water rather than sugar-sweetened beverages and baking healthier by using spices instead of sugars and salt.

Local food pantries also encourage healthy decisions while preparing holiday meals.

Justin Cripps, communications director with Alma Community Outreach, says the organization strives to provide balanced, healthy meals to the people it serves.

"We're funded by churches and rely private donations from places like the River Valley Regional Food Bank, but with anything we take in, our goal remains to provide nutritional meals," Cripps said, mentioning the agency has provided more than a million pounds of fresh produce this year to its patrons.

"We aim for proteins, meats and cereal to include in our meals and we give out fresh produce, while occasionally providing dairy products and biscuits," Cripps said. "We served close to 1,500 people last month and our service numbers continue to rise. We want people to have healthy options here and try to give them four to five boxes of balanced meals."

Charlotte Tidwell, director of Antioch Consolidated Association for Youth and Family, said the organization serves about 8,000 people a month and said providing healthy options is a priority.

"It's so important because of the obesity we see in America," Tidwell said. "It's easier and cost-efficient to buy rice or potatoes than it is to buy fruits and veggies, but it's nutritionally imbalanced. A primarily carbohydrate diet causes you to miss essential vitamins and minerals you need, so it's important to us to provide those essential items to people."

Concannon agreed, adding consumers don't have to give up some of the traditional holiday staples, but encouraged using alternatives to reduce calorie count.

"Food is more accessible these days, but we consume too many calories and there are health risks involved with that," Concannon said. "We're trying to promote alternatives, by using a moderate approach, and not overindulging to lessen the overall calorie count at the end of the meal. You don't have to put on a hairshirt on the holidays, just use moderation."

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