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Lighten Up Holiday Favorites

Most of us love the holidays, no doubt partly because of the food that we associate with the wonderful time between Thanksgiving and New Years. But holiday food can be heavy, fattening, and filled with less than optimal ingredients. Below are a few tips to help you lighten up some of those classic holiday favorites.


1: Egg Nog

Traditionally made with eggs, heavy cream, and rum, egg nog weighs in at up to 50 calories per tablespoon. Mix in a little extra booze and your really looking at something that could easily replace a meal I terms of calories and fat.

Alternate: Opt for hot chocolate instead. You get the benefit of healthy antioxidants from the chocolate, especially if you use a good dark chocolate and calcium from the milk. If the holidays just won’t be the same without some egg nog, try to find a low-fat recipe version that replaces some, if not all of the heavy cream with low-fat milk.


2: Holiday Cookies

Butter, sugar, and lots of chewy, nutty, gooey ingredients can add up fast when it comes to holiday cookies.

Alternate: Try swapping butter for avocado in your baking recipes this holiday season. You still get a rich, moist, smooth product without all the saturated fat that butter contains. Also, try going lighter on the toppings—use about half the amount of nuts or other add-ins that a recipe calls for. Finally, choose 60-70% dark chocolate vs. semi-sweet chocolate or milk chocolate when you can, to get the added benefit of nutrient dense antioxidants.


3: Potato Pancakes

Also known as potato latkes, these holiday favorites are made of grated potatoes which are then fried and usually topped with some sour cream and applesauce. Depending on size, they can range from 150-300 calories each, without any toppings.

Alternate: Try grated zucchini instead of potatoes. If you’re attached to the traditional version, consider swapping out half of the potatoes with a mixture of sweet potatoes and carrots. And remember, to keep the toppings reasonable. Try to stick to 1 tablespoon reduced-fat sour cream and 1-2 tablespoons of no-sugar added applesauce.


4: Holiday Cocktails

Fancy holiday concoctions made with hard alcohol, sugary mix-ins, and juice or soda mixers can really derail you around the holidays. Each mixed drink can easily come in at over 400 calories each!

Alternate: Keep it simple. Choose a glass of red wine (5 fluid ounces has about 100 calories), which contains reservatrol, a compound believed to have a variety of heart healthy benefits. Or have a beer (12-fluid ounces typically has about 140-160 calories) or some champagne (a typical glass contains approximately 90 calories).


5: Dips

Large quantities of mayonnaise, sour cream, and cheese can sabotage any dip, even one that’s vegetable based. These items are high in calories, saturated fat, and low in nutrients. A dip’s palatability and mouth feel can make it easy to consume hundreds of calories before you even get to your main meal.

Alternate: Substitute reduced-fat or non-fate Greek yogurt for at least half (if not all!) of the mayonnaise and sour cream called for in dips. Better yet, choose hummus if possible. This chickpea based spread has no cholesterol or saturated fat and even contains some fiber, which will help keep you feeling fuller, longer.


6: Casseroles

Casserole dishes typically feature vegetables that are smothered in cheese, creamy soup and some sort of crunchy topping (i.e. slivered almonds, fried onion rings) that can pack in a ton of saturated fat and calories.

Alternate: Try roasting your vegetables instead. This is one of the easiest and healthiest cooking methods you can use to prepare a side dish. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness in most veggies so you avoid adding buttery, sugary glazes and cream sauces, which can add lots of fat and calories with little nutritional benefit.

How to: Toss any veggie in some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until tender and slightly browned.


7: Gravy

Gravy is usually based on left over fat, grease, and scraps to which flour, butter, and milk is typically added to create a smooth, savory, and decadent sauce. High in saturated fat, calories, and containing few nutrients, it’s one of those holiday favorites that can add up quickly.  preparing the base of a holiday gravy, try creating a mushroom-based gravy instead.

Alternate: Try preparing a mushroom-based gravy instead. Porcini and cremini mushrooms have a meaty flavor and chewy texture that goes wonderfully well in gravy. These vegetables are also high in selenium and vitamin B12, adding some nutritional bang to an item that is typically void of beneficial nutrients.

How to: Sautée mushrooms, garlic, and shallots in bit of oil. Then add a pinch of flour, salt, and pepper as well as some low-fat chicken broth. Sautee until mushrooms are soft, tender, and fragrant. Transfer everything to a blender and pulse until creamy. Serve and enjoy!

[i] Amidor, T. 8 Tricks for lightening up holiday foods. Food Network.  Accessed at: http://blog.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/2012/12/13/8-tricks-for-lightening-up-holiday-foods/
[ii] Liao, S. Top 25 tricks for eating light during the holidays. Shape. Accessed at: http://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/meal-ideas/top-25-tricks-eating-light-during-holidays?page=3


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