Posted Nov 13, 2010

Everyone looks forward to wonderful holiday meals, but not many of us relish the idea of an expanded holiday waistline.

That’s why experts with the Texas extension service and Texas A&M University have offered some suggestions on altering traditional recipes and making better food choices to help cut holiday calories.

“The sugar, fat or salt content of almost any holiday recipe can be reduced without a noticeable difference in taste,” said Dr. Mary Bielamowicz, an extension nutrition specialist in College Station, Texas. “If a recipe calls for a cup of sugar, use two-thirds of a cup. If it calls for a half-cup of oil, shortening or other fat, use one-third cup. And if a recipe says to use one-half teaspoon of salt, use one-quarter teaspoon or omit the salt entirely.”

Holiday meals don’t have to be high in fat or calories to be tasty, said Dr. Connie Sheppard, a Texas extension agent for family and consumer sciences.

Bielamowicz said modifying more complicated recipes may not always produce the desired texture or flavor — so give your new recipes a test run before serving them to friends and family.

“But most changes in flavor or texture are typically not significant and are well worth the trade-off of a much healthier dish with less fat and fewer calories,” she said.

Here are some tips on how to do it.

–For more healthful substitutions to holiday recipes, try using plain low-fat yogurt or applesauce in lieu of butter or margarine. Fat-free, skim or low-fat milk can replace whole milk, and egg whites or an egg substitute can be used for whole eggs. Another more healthful substitution is to use whole-grain or bran flours in recipes calling for all-purpose flour.

–In some instances, cooks can replace one-quarter to one-half the amount of all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. But beware of substituting whole wheat flour for all the flour in a recipe, because it may not produce the same texture you’re used to.

–For vegetable casseroles, such as candied sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, try substituting baked sweet potatoes with a little brown sugar and butter substitute. For a green bean casserole, replace the full-fat mushroom soup with reduced-fat mush room soup or chicken soup or a defatted broth. In addition, use low-fat or skim milk instead of whole milk — and skip the fried onion topping.

–Try using reduced or non-fat cheese, milk, cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt or mayonnaise instead of their higher-fat counterparts. Evaporated milk can also be used instead of cream.

–When cooking vegetables, try steaming or roasting them, using a low-fat margarine or cooking spray. And when making mashed potatoes, replace butter with defatted broth — which will cut fat and calories from the final product.

–What to do for your main course? If you love turkey, you’re in luck. Turkey breast provides the lowest fat and highest protein content of any traditional holiday meat — and the healthiest way to cook turkey (or other meats) is baking.

“If you’re 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 de-fatted broth, and make the stuffing outside the turkey,” Sheppard said.

–Don’t stuff your turkey because the stuffing cooked inside the turkey absorbs more oil and many cooks have to overcook the turkey just to get the stuffing up to the required temperature.

–Substitute canola or vegetable oil in the same recommended amount for butter when baking holiday sweets such as cookies, cakes and pastries.

–Prefer barbecue during the holidays? Try brisket — which has a healthier fatty-acid composition than other cuts of beef, according to Dr. Stephen Smith, meat scientist in Texas A&M’s department of animal science.

Even though beef brisket contains tiny reservoirs of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, it still has about the same calorie content as other cuts of beef so your waistline doesn’t get much help from the change.

–Can’t part with your holiday barbecue or smoker? Try a smoked or barbecued turkey or chicken. “These are lower-fat, high-protein alternatives,” said Nelda Lebya Speller of the extension agency’s food and nutrition education program. “And you may want to also skip or go easy on the barbecue sauce since many of them have a high sugar content.”

Information on other healthful food substitutions can be downloaded at no cost from .

Linda Shrieves can be reached at or 407-420-5433.


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