Healthy Holiday Snacking

I'm certain we all have different thoughts on what we do and don't like for snacking habits, but one thing we can probably all agree on is that it gets just a little more difficult when we have unpredictable schedules, like during the holiday season.  Probably just the word "holiday" is enough to increase your anxiety level, much less toss in there the idea of eating those holiday favorites and not impacting any work you did all year to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.  Not to mention any hopes you have for starting the new year off without any weight gain during the season.  One way to stay on track is by including healthy snacks.  I know, sounds like it could be counterproductive, but not if done with some forethought and planning.

First off, snacking can always be part of a healthy diet, but only if those snacks are carefully selected, and packed with nutrients.  Sounds easy enough, but I know many are still hesitant to give snacking a chance.  Any of the basic principles you can think of that make a healthy meal are also the basics that help with creating healthy snacks.  So my big tip here is to focus on more than 1 food group.  I always recommend aiming for at least 2 food groups, which can help increase the different vitamins and minerals you can get from those snacks.

Second, don't over do it.  Snacks should complement your meals without exceeding your calorie needs.  If you aren't snacking now but plan to add in snacks, remember that you need to cut back on your meals.  Snacking is a pick me up between meals but doesn't work if those meals are really large and high in calories.

Third, prepackaged is great, but be wary of sodium.  It's ok to love convenience.  Having a snack that you can toss in your purse, bag, brief case, or glovebox, means easy access, but it also means an increased chance of too much sodium and even added sugar and fat.  This doesn't mean avoid prepackaged snacks altogether, but it does mean you should choose wisely.  Read labels and compare products.  Even better would be to prepackage those snacks yourself.  I personally like buying in bulk and dividing snack items up into my own reusable snack containers or baggies (those can be reusable too).  Not only can this save on cost, but it can increase variety because you can mix up the ingredients, like dried fruit and nuts.

Let's get back to the holiday season snacking theme since we are in that week between Christmas and New Years.  I know not everyone works from home like I do, but I can guess your schedules aren't 100% normal right now either.  You might be on the go, stuck back at your desk after a more active week during Christmas (anyone else spend time walking all over a shopping mall?), or still stuck in a hyper-social state where you seem to be dining out 24/7 with friends and family.  Whatever it may be, you may still find that snacks are a healthy way to keep you from overeating at meal times and help boost your intake of nutrients.

So what are my favorite healthy snack ideas?  Easy!  I have my regular go-to's like non-fat plain Greek yogurt with dried fruit (I usually add dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots), pretzel flats with almond butter or hummus, and roasted nuts mixed with dried fruit.  Since it is holiday time there are a few others that become easy based on leftovers from holiday parties:

veggie sticks with hummus or guacamole, 

fruit and cheese: there almost always seems to be a little left over from the holiday party fruit platter and the cheese and  cracker platter,

and "left over" soup: yes, soup makes a great mid-day snack and bonus points if you can make this on your own with a low sodium broth, leftover veggies and proteins.

Whatever it is you choose, don't forget that snacks make an easy way to boost your fruit, veggie, fiber, and dairy intake (or some calcium alternative if you prefer), especially if you found those lacking in your holiday meals over the last few weeks.  These are just some of my favorite holiday snacks.  There's no reason to have to give up healthy eating and nutritious foods over the holiday break and this will help you start off 2016 on the right foot.

For more on great snacking ideas, check out these healthy snack ideas from  And for all of my military spouse friends and readers, if you aren't already a fan of, consider checking them out (this is my own personal endorsement as I have been a long time fan and shopper on this website).  I have always found this company to be very military friendly and accommodating of those of us living overseas (you know how it can be when you try to ship to an APO address!).

Happy Holidays everyone!

Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival 2015

My mom, step-dad, and a couple they are friends with went on an awesome cruise that started in Tokyo, went around to near where I live in Aomori prefecture, and then on to Hokkaido, Russia, and a few stops in Alaska before ending in Vancouver.  My sister came along with my parents and then stayed with me while they were on the cruise.  The timing of their cruise worked out perfectly for the sakura viewing at Hirosaki castle.  We drove up and picked them up at the port, headed to see Big Buddha in Aomori, and then drove down to Hirosaki.

The pictures really speak for themselves, but like most beautiful things in nature, these can't do it justice.  It was a beautiful day.  The park was packed with visitors.  There were many good foods to choose from.  

Here you can really get an idea of the large crowds.

I love to see the river covered in cherry blossom petals.
Here you can see what is known as hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, which is often done with a picnic.

Here I am with Ryan, sitting in the same spot we sat in to take a picture a couple of years back.

This is one of my favorite views.

We managed to get a view of the snow capped mountain nearby.

Here is another one of us.

Since I have been to Tokyo so many times I ended up not taking many pictures while I was there with my family.  They took pictures but I passed and instead was busy playing the role of tour guide.  I wanted to really show them as much as possible during the few days they were visiting.  We managed to fit in a lot and it was a great trip.  Really glad they were able to make it over to Japan before we moved.

QUESTIONS:  Did you see the cherry blossoms this year?  If you live away from family, how often do they come visit?

Iwate Snow Festival at Koiwai Farms

To say I am behind on my posts is an understatement.  To start, I am well aware I am posting about winter when we are finishing up summer.  Additionally, I don't live in Japan anymore!  More on that to come!

I do have a few more posts left from things we did in our last few months in Japan, including my parents visit and a trip to see the cherry blossoms.  But for now, these are my pictures of the incredibly fun time we had at the Iwate Snow festival back in February.

It's significantly smaller than Sapporo, but significantly closer, and we had never been before.  It made sense to check it out.   Below are the pictures of the snow sculptures for 2015.

As usually, plenty of festival food vendors.
Ryan said this meat was amazing!
I, on the other hand, stuck to vegetarian options and went with the custard filled pancake.  Yum!
Although we didn't go for a sleigh ride, it certainly sounded like fun.

You can see that so many kids were having a blast on their sleds.
This was a show presenting the trains.  Yes, I said trains!  These are the different Shinkansens.

And they danced!

This part was very cool.  Although I don't eat meat, I still took a peek inside.  These are igloos that serve as a table for cooking your own meat and veggies.
Inside is a cooking source and table.
So cute!
At night this is lit up.
Some fun snow sculptures

This one was made from ice.
Koiwai is the name of the farm where this was held in Iwate Prefecture.

This was inside a snow maze, which was actually a lot of fun to walk through.

Another shot of the visitors enjoying the snow.

I enjoyed heading back inside for some warmth, only to cool down again with some fresh soft serve.  This is a dairy farm.
In the distance you can see the mountain. It's a little hard to make out.
Before leaving we got a steamed potato with butter.  It was excellent!  In fact, we are still talking about how good this potato with butter was!
Just before we left it was starting to get dark so the lights started to come on.
One last view with Mt. Iwate in the distance.
It was definitely worth checking out.  Although I am not a snow fan I will definitely miss the beautiful northern Japan winters.  At least looking at them...not going out and driving in them!

QUESTIONS:  Have you ever been to a snow festival?  When was the last time you built a snow man?  Ever dined in an igloo?