Basic recipe alterations can make for more healthful holiday meals

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COLLEGE STATION – Holiday meals can be healthier and taste just as good by using some basic recipe substitutions or alterations, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

“The sugar, fat or sodium content of almost any holiday recipe can be reduced without a noticeable difference in taste,” said Dr. Jenna Anding, AgriLife Extension Service program leader in family and community health, College Station.

Anding said reducing sugar, salt and fat content are the most effective means of making holiday meals healthier.

“If a recipe calls for a cup of sugar, use two-thirds of a cup,” she said. “If it calls for a half-cup of oil, shortening or other fat, use one-third cup.”

Anding said processed foods typically have a higher salt or sodium content, so consumers should be vigilant and check food labels for sodium content and other nutrition data.

“If you would typically use one-half teaspoon of salt in a recipe, try a quarter-teaspoon instead or leave the salt out entirely,” she suggested. “And remember that low-fat doesn’t always mean low-calorie, so be aware of both when making holiday food selections.”

Anding suggested using reduced-fat or non-fat cheese, milk, cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt or mayonnaise instead of their higher-fat counterparts.

“Try substituting evaporated milk for cream,” she said. “For mashed potatoes, try using defatted broth instead of butter to reduce both fat and calories. Another alternative is to make a mashed cauliflower dish instead of mashed potatoes.”

Anding warned modifying more complicated recipes may not always produce the desired texture, so it’s best to test the recipe before serving to friends and family.

“Also, many traditional holiday foods can be healthy and nutritious choices, so long as they are prepared properly and not ‘embellished’ in ways that take away from that nutritional value,” she noted.

For example, she said, if cooking a turkey, leave the skin on to contain the flavor, but then remove it afterward to reduce the fat content.

“Baste your turkey it in its own juice or use a defatted broth,” Anding said.

She said for vegetables, the healthiest method of cooking is either steaming or roasting using a small amount of oil or cooking spray.

“Try adding herbs and spices to enhance the flavor without adding any fat or calories,” she said.

Anding said one holiday favorite in particular is full of phytochemicals and antioxidant properties, as well as essential vitamins and minerals.

“Sweet potatoes have fiber, vitamins A and C and manganese and are also low in calories, with a medium-sized baked sweet potato containing only about 100 calories,” she explained. “The problem is when you embellish them with added sugar, butter and other ingredients. A baked sweet potato with a little bit of brown sugar and cinnamon is a far healthier option than one topped with butter and lots of marshmallows.”

Anding said another popular holiday item, the cranberry, which is loaded with phytonutrients and known for having anti-inflammatory properties and promoting health, as well as possibly reducing the risk for disease.

“Adding fresh cranberries to salads and baked items such as muffins, cookies and pies is a good way to sneak in some extra nutrition and flavor,” she said.

Even with healthier ingredients and preparation techniques, it’s important to remember to exercise restraint at holiday meals, Anding noted.

“Many of us have favorite holiday foods we only eat a few times during the year,” she said. “If that’s the case, just pay attention to how much you eat and don’t overdo it.

“Because holidays provide more opportunities to eat due to social gatherings, office parties and other festivities, try to plan accordingly so you can keep your calorie intake in check. And don’t forget about getting some physical activity to help burn off extra calories and help relieve some of the stress often associated with the holidays – and that can sometimes lead to overeating.”

For more food and nutrition information and resources, go to https://fch.tamu.edu/.

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