Healthy Holiday Meals
The holidays are associated with high-fat, high-sugar, and high-calorie goodies. While some recipes are old-time family favorites that are an important (and tasty!) part of holiday celebrations, other recipes can be tweaked to be healthier.
We all know what it feels like when January arrives and we're bombarded with advertisements about gym memberships, weight loss plans, diet pills, and meal programs. The frustration often sets in that we've over-indulged in December and now it's time to pay the price. However, when you enjoy a healthier holiday season, it's a lot easier to stay on track with your health goals.
Fat and sugar are the two main culprits in decadent holiday foods. However, there are many strategies and substitutions that can be used – that won't ruin the flavor.
How to Reduce Fat
- Buy lower-fat versions of food products. Try lower-fat dairy products, like light sour cream, skim milk, low-fat or reduced fat yogurt, and reduced-fat cheese (such as the 2% milk varieties). If these products are being used in a recipe, the lower-fat versions usually work very well without a noticeable change in the texture or taste of the food. Fat-free products, however, are not the best choices for cooking and baking, though they are great for toppings and condiments.
In addition, buy lower-fat poultry and meat. The skin on chicken is the least healthy part and contains a significant amount of saturated fat. Skinless chicken breasts or tenderloins are the healthiest choice for poultry. While red meat is generally higher in saturated fat, the leanest cuts of meat are round, chuck, sirloin, or loin. In addition, 'choice' or 'select' grades of beef are better choices than 'prime' because of their lower fat content. Also, look also for extra-lean or lean ground beef, or beef with no more than 15 percent fat.
- Use lower-fat cooking techniques. Using cooking techniques that don't involve added fats is another way to reduce the amount of fat in your foods. Instead of frying or sautéing your foods, bake, broil, poach, or steam them. Non-stick vegetable oil sprays (instead of butter) can also be used to treat pans, grills, and griddles to prevent foods from sticking. In addition, microwave cooking is another low-fat method. Microwaving foods like vegetables and meats is a convenient and healthy cooking technique because it locks in nutrients, flavor, and color, and also saves time.
- Season foods with herbs. Spices and herbs can add exciting flavors to foods and help make added fats (butter, sauces and gravies) unnecessary. Dried herbs are a convenient and cost-effective way to make foods more interesting – and healthier. Try spices like sage, oregano, dill, and chili powder to add new flavors to your foods. Also, using more spices helps minimize the need for added salt. Fresh lemon and lime juices and vinegar are also great flavor-enhancers and provide no fat or calories.
- Experiment in the kitchen. Try making your own favorite recipes with a few substitutes. For example, try using low-fat cheese in place of regular cheese or light sour cream in place of regular.
How to Reduce Sugar
- Use fruit purées to replace some of the sugar and fat in cookies or muffins. You can purchase fruit purées in cans (pumpkin purée) or in frozen form (frozen blueberry purée). If you are feeling adventurous, you can even make your own by boiling fruits and blending them in a food processor.
- Bake with sugar substitutes to also reduce the amount of sugar, especially in baked products. Splenda® Sugar Blend for Baking and Equal Sugar Lite® are blends that incorporate some sugar and some sugar substitute, while still yielding a good product.
- For those who don't wish to use sugar substitutes, there are other ways to adapt recipes to use less sugar. Here are some tips:
- Experiment with reducing the amount of sugar by one-quarter to one-third in most drop-cookie recipes.
- Take advantage of the natural sweetness of dried chopped fruit instead of the candied variety to add to your favorite baked goods.
- Portion smaller amounts of cookie dough (for instance, 1 teaspoon instead of 1 tablespoon) for mini-versions of your favorite treats. Bake at a lower temperature for a shorter period of time.
Continue reading for some tasty low-fat, low-sugar recipes that you can incorporate into your family holiday traditions this year. Have a happy and healthy holiday season!