Healthful Holiday Substitutions

It’s totally possible to have healthful and fun holiday celebrations.

Just don’t eat everything in sight.

CookiesI know this seems like a no-brainer, but the holidays are all about balance. Overindulgence is the actual pitfall.

What got me thinking about this? Well, I’ve seen several Facebook posts this past week about cookie baking. Two different friends posted photos of their families baking together.

While you may expect me to say “Bah Humbug” to these events, I actually think they’re wonderful. What a great way to spend time together, and what a delightful holiday tradition!

I’m also not going to say “don’t eat those cookies, they aren’t good for you.”

Okay. I admit that that thought did go through my mind, but I’m trying to be realistic.  You can’t give up all your favorites. I’ve seen several articles already recommending that you go ahead and eat some cookies or other holiday treats — just do so in moderation. Feeling like a martyr about food tends to backfire.

Now I’m not suggesting that you make every food “free” or  “no calorie,” but go ahead and have a little bit of your holiday favorites.

And what about the rest of the holiday foods? Well, that’s where substitution comes in.

There are plenty of ways to replace particular ingredients in order to make holiday treats more healthful. With these substitutions, I promise, no one will know the difference. In some cases it’s not even what you’re taking out but what you’re putting in that counts.

Let’s look at an example. A couple of weekends ago, we had some friends over for brunch. The featured item was waffles. These weren’t just any old waffles from a mix, and they were definitely not freezer waffles. Instead, these were yeasted waffles that needed time to rise. You have to wake up early to get them going before your guests get up. The recipe calls for eggs, milk, sugar, flour, yeast, and lots of butter.

I did not destroy these waffles. I did not replace every ingredient. Instead, I made a few slight tweaks. I used skim milk instead of whole milk, and I substituted part whole grain flour for some regular white flour. These waffles were so good that they didn’t need butter or syrup. Instead I topped mine with fresh fruit.

Here’s another example. I recently made stuffing using slightly different ingredients. I began with whole grain bread instead of white bread. Then, instead of the eggs and butter from my mom’s traditional recipe, I tried adding leftover mashed pumpkin.

The stuffing was amazing. The changes I made increased the fiber content of each serving, added a vegetable to the mix, and boosted the flavor too. Who would have guessed that I could make such great changes to a previously fat-loaded family favorite without a single complaint?

Looking for more modifications? Try these…

Replace heavy cream with fat-free half-and-half or evaporated skim milk.

Replace a portion of white flour with 100% whole wheat flour. White whole wheat flour, by King Arthur, has the best results and can almost be replaced 100%.

In most recipes, you can slightly reduce the amount of sugar. Compensate with an extra dash of sweet flavorings like vanilla extract or cinnamon. These give a hint of sweetness without the calories.

Use fewer chocolate chips or substitute dried fruits or nuts instead.

Did you know that two large egg whites can replace one whole egg?

Combine 1/4 cup Greek yogurt with ½ cup butter to replace 1 cup of butter in a recipe.

What else am I up to in our holiday kitchen? Well actually, our family requested a really non-traditional holiday food this year for Christmas. They want low-country  “Shrimp and Grits.”

I’m exploring ways to make this dish a little lighter. Right now I’m planning to use broth instead of butter, more onions, and maybe some celery.  I think I’ll add more seasonings for flavor and use a little less bacon. Of course, there will still be shrimp and it will still be served on stone-ground grits.

There are lots of tips out there for ways to modify recipes, make changes, and eat healthfully, even during the holidays. Be mindful. Just don’t eat everything in sight.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Be the One

I’m sure you’ve noticed that healthful options are rather limited at most pot luck meals. These events tend to bring out the fat, sugar, sodium, and calorie-laden foods from everyone’s recipe boxes.

Shared Meal My husband and I were recently invited to such a party and he asked “will there be anything there I can eat?” (If you’ve been following my posts, then you know that my husband had a heart attack a year ago and is trying very hard to maintain a heart-healthy diet and lose some weight).

I was glad he asked. It shows that he’s thinking ahead.

Planning is always one of the suggestions offered to folks who are trying to maintain a special diet at social events. When in doubt, take something that you know you can eat.

With this thought in mind — and the holiday party season approaching quickly — I asked the participants in my heart-healthy cooking class what they would take to a pot luck party. Here are their ideas…

  • Chocolate angel food cake (no egg yolk and no frosting)
  • Apple squares (made with fresh apples, using apple sauce to replace any fat)
  • Quinoa salad with fresh spinach and a lemon dressing
  • Fresh greens tossed with strawberries, almonds, and homemade vinaigrette
  • Baked spinach balls
  • Baked tortilla chips with homemade salsa
  • Low-salt potato chips*
  • Swedish meatballs made with ground chicken and low-sodium gravy
  • Slices of Honeycrisp apples

I added a few suggestions of my own as well:

  • Veggie sticks and hummus
  • Dried fruit and nuts
  • Fresh fruit with a yogurt dip

I think my class members get it. They understand the need to be the ones to bring the healthful stuff. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have reservations and concerns. I heard comments like  “we’ve done this before and no one ate the healthy foods,” “no one else will eat it,” and “I’ll end up taking it home.”

That’s okay. In fact, it may actually be a bonus. Take it home and you’ll have something for tomorrow. At least you were the one that took something healthful. Yes, I know it’s hard to eat apple slices when there’s a gooey dessert available. But eating a few apple slices means that you’ll be more full and have less room when you slice yourself a bit of that gooey dessert.

Start a trend. Be the one.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Want to encourage your clients to be the one? Here are 10 great (and free!) recipes for healthful pot luck options…

And, as always, there’s more right here in the Nutrition Education Store. Here are some great holiday survival materials…

Holiday Secrets: Healthy Holiday Recipes

Holiday Challenge: Strategies to Help People Stay on Track During the Holidays

Poster: Holiday Survival Tips

*I have a little problem with this response, since there is still a lot of fat in this product. At least she was thinking about the sodium!