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Lighten Up Your Holiday Favorite Recipes

It’s hard, maybe especially hard this holiday season, to keep our health and fitness goals in mind when we’re tempted during the holidays. Though many celebrations will be muted this year, there still will be both the temptation and the opportunity to overeat and eat the tasty high calorie, high fat, high sodium snacks, meals, sides and desserts for the next 2 or 3 weeks.

Heartline is a fitness company and we’re fortunate to have many, many fitness experts on staff. Our mid-west president, Dan Green, put it this way, “You cannot out exercise calories; I know because I’ve tried!” So even if you manage to up your workout game during all this overeating, you will at best maintain. Which is good, but in this article, we want to help you eat your holiday favorites – just lighten upped, healthier versions.

Here are a few tips and recipes to help you have the same appetizers, side dishes and desserts you look forward to every year, while not completely blowing your diet and then piling on the guilt.

Some switches are easy – low-fat (or no fat) sour cream and cream cheese, but here’s one you may not have heard of: Use half real eggs and 1/2 cup egg substitute in your holiday egg recipes and you’ll cut around 90 calories and 10 grams of fat and 500 milligrams cholesterol for every 4 eggs normally called for.

Here’s another you might not think of: Use light turkey sausage or turkey bacon (and use half as much when possible) in your holiday recipes instead of regular sausage in the regular amounts and you’ll trim around 347 calories, 42 grams of fat per 12-ounce package of sausage (9 ounces cooked). And I bet your sausage stuffing won’t suffer a bit!

Use light mayonnaise instead of regular mayonnaise. But you can shave even more calories and fat by blending 1/2 cup of light mayonnaise with 1/2 cup of fat-free sour cream for every 1 cup of mayonnaise called for. You’ll then cut around 1,058 calories and 136 grams of fat for every 1 cup of regular mayonnaise called for. I have a great recipe for spinach artichoke dip that I’m trying this in this year!

Start off on the right foot with healthier appetizers

Choose whole grain and lower-fat bread and cracker products to accompany your holiday appetizers to increase the fiber and take down the fat. Using reduced-fat Triscuits, for example, instead of regular, will cut around 30 calories and 3 grams of fat per seven-cracker serving. And let’s face it – it’s what’s on top of the cracker everyone wants to taste!

These tips come from WebMD and they also have some recipes using these substitutions that really sound yummy. Here are just two (link):

  • Spicy Baked Cheese Fondue (in bread bowl)
  • Light 7-Layer Dip

Perennial Side Dish Favorites

Now let’s look at what are probably the top 4 Holiday side dish staples. Here are some great ways to lighten up mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, and stuffing. (These come from corporate Dietician, Natalie Menza, MS, RD, Wakefern Food Corporation,  shared on fruitsandveggies.org.)

Mashed Potatoes. Use Yukon gold potatoes, which have a light yellow color, dense and creamy texture, and rich buttery flavor, and use evaporated skim milk instead of whole milk or cream. Reduce or eliminate butter or substitute trans-fat free margarine. For a twist on the traditional, make garlic mashed potatoes. Cook chopped fresh garlic in a small amount of skim milk and add it to mashed potatoes. The nice sharp taste means you don’t even miss the taste of the missing butter.

Sweet Potato Casserole. Sweet potatoes are a nutrient powerhouse. However, the traditional sweet potato casserole is typically loaded with butter and brown sugar. For most recipes, you can easily cut the butter and sugar in half without impacting flavor, thanks to the sweet potato’s natural sweetness. You can also add naturally sweet ingredients such as raisins or currants, and seasonings such as cinnamon and vanilla extract. Skip the streusel or marshmallow that often tops this casserole, and instead try a simple sprinkling of chopped nuts.

Green Bean Casserole. A casserole of canned or frozen green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and milk or sour cream, topped with French-fried onions, is a long-standing staple on many holiday tables. This quick-and-easy casserole is simple to lighten up by using low-sodium and low-fat cream of mushroom soup, skim milk or fat-free plain yogurt instead of sour cream, and reduced fat cheese. To get the flavor and crunch of French-fried onion rings without the fat, spray an equal amount of chopped onions and fine dry plain bread crumbs with nonfat cooking spray. Bake at 350°F until golden brown (about 12 minutes). Use to top casserole.

Dressing/Stuffing. Cooking dressing separate from the turkey is one of the easiest ways to reduce fat (because the fat drippings won’t soak into the dressing). Use reduced sodium broth instead of drippings to moisten the dressing. Try using whole wheat bread instead of white. Double the amount of vegetables and get creative with exotic ingredients such as shiitake mushrooms that add flavor without adding fat. Boost flavor by using low-sodium seasoning and fresh herbs instead of additional salt.

A must-have for Jewish holiday tables are latkes, a.k.a., potato pancakes. The grated and fried potato mixture is delightfully topped with sour cream and applesauce. Depending on size, they can range from 100-200 calories each, not including the toppings. To lessen the calories, swap out some of the potatoes for carrots or parsnips. Keep the size small and stick with 1 tablespoon reduced-fat sour cream or homemade applesauce.

Everyone’s Favorite – Dessert!

Here are some dessert recipes from the food blog myfooddiary.com that lighten up the holidays without sacrificing flavor. 

Apple-Spice Angel Food Cake: Dress up an angel food cake mix (It can be a box); add in some nuts, spice, and applesauce to make an easy and light dessert. You can top with a dollop of whipped topping mixed with a half cup of sour cream, on the side or right on top. Recipe.

Warm Chocolate Melting Cups:  These little cakes will quickly become a favorite of your guests. You’ll all be surprised that such chocolaty desserts are so light­—less than 200 calories a piece! Plus, instant portion control by putting in individual cups. Recipe.

Semi-Homemade Pumpkin Pecan Frozen Yogurt. Let a quart of store-bought fat-free frozen yogurt get really soft. Then mix in 1/2 cup canned pumpkin, 1/3 cup packed brown sugar, 3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (of course, substitute or add your favorite spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.) . Put it back in the freezer and let it set . When you’re ready to serve, top with 1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans (you can toast them in advance). Do this early in the day and you can serve it up in just minutes after dinner.

Cinnamon Nut Bars: Classic dessert bar meets good-for-you ingredients in this updated recipe. Flavor tip: after the bars are cool, cut and store them in a tin for a day to allow the flavors to meld…Like so many things, they taste even better the next day. Recipe.

The holidays are also a time for self-care. These tips are intended to help you enjoy your holiday foods in a healthier way so that, and I’m paraphrasing an article I saw today when your “Aunt Ida” brings her world-famous pecan pie that’s only served once a year and you’re dying for a slice? Then have a slice! If you allow yourself this special indulgence, you’ll be less likely to waste your time (and calories/fat) on cheap, mass-produced boxed baked goods. So you can have your pie and not “pay for it later” with guilt and self-criticism.

Although food is an integral part of the holidays, put the focus on family and friends, laughter and cheer. If balance and moderation are your guides, it’s okay to indulge occasionally.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL! 🎄🎄

(The article mentioned in the last paragraph is from Harvard Medical School Publishing. It’s full of other practical self-care tips for not overdoing it and dealing with it if you do. You can read it here.)