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

All Over But The Leftovers

Thanksgiving TurkeysThanksgiving is tomorrow! Are you ready for it? Here’s a fun post from Cheryle Jones Syracuse that will remind your clients about food safety for leftovers, helping them keep their holiday celebrations safe and festive. Don’t miss the free quiz handout!

It takes hours — days if you count the shopping, planning, and chopping — to cook a Thanksgiving dinner. Then it usually takes less than one hour for the bountiful holiday meal to be eaten.

So, what’s left to do? The guests are watching football and it’s time to clean up (already?). This isn’t the time to forget about food safety. While overindulging can cause an upset stomach, so can eating food that was improperly handled or stored. Don’t get careless with those leftovers!

Here’s a quick quiz to use with your students or clients that can help reinforce some basic Thanksgiving (and year round) leftover practices.

Answer TRUE or FALSE to the following questions…

  1. TRUE or FALSE. Since it cooked for a long time, and you checked the temperature when it was done, and the refrigerator is so full, it’s okay to leave the turkey (and all the other goodies) to sit out for hours after the meal so that people can pick at it and make sandwiches.
  2. TRUE or FALSE. Food should be allowed to cool before you put it in the refrigerator.
  3. TRUE or FALSE. Leftover packs for guests should be refrigerated as soon as possible.
  4. TRUE or FALSE. Leftovers will keep for a week after Thanksgiving.
  5. TRUE or FALSE. A quick “zap” in the microwave is good enough to warm up your leftovers.


  1. FALSE. Just because it’s a holiday and your refrigerator is full does not mean that the “two-hour rule” isn’t in effect. Food should not be allowed to sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Two hours is enough time for bacteria to multiply to the quantity that could cause foodborne illnesses. This is cumulative too. If you leave the leftovers on the dining room table for one hour, then later leave them out on the counter for 30 minutes to make sandwiches, you will only have a half-hour window left.
  2. FALSE. See above for the “two hour rule.” If you have a large amount of hot food, then it’s best to divide it into smaller portions and put them in the refrigerator as soon as possible. Or, better yet, cool the food by putting it in an ice bath or cold water bath before putting it into the refrigerator. On the same note, don’t store the stuffing inside the turkey.
  3. TRUE. It’s wonderful that you’re sharing the leftovers with your guests, but make sure that this food is safe too. Think about the two-hour rule. If they won’t be leaving for several hours, make sure this food is refrigerated. If they’re traveling for more than two hours, make sure that they have a cooler or way to keep the food cold for the trip.
  4. FALSE Leftovers should be eaten within 3 to 4 days. Keep them in the coldest part of your refrigerator (not the garage or the back porch). If you have more leftovers than can be eaten within the recommended leftover time (Monday), then you can freeze them. Frozen turkey, plain, will keep for 4 months at 0 degrees F or below. Turkey covered with broth or gravy will keep for 6 months at the same temperature. Stuffing and gravy will only be good for about a month. These foods will be safe for a longer time, but may become dry, lose flavor, or drop in quality. This goes for that turkey carcass too! If you don’t have time to make soup out of it right away, wrap it carefully and freeze it. Then it will be there to make soup when you have more time.
  5. FALSE Reheat leftovers thoroughly. Merely warming leftover gravy, sauces, and soups will not get them hot enough to kill bacteria. These foods should be simmered or boiled until they’re steamy hot throughout. If you’re using a microwave, cover your food while cooking and then allow standing time for a few minutes so that the temperatures inside can even out. Leftovers should reach at least 165 degrees F.

And there you have it! A quick quiz to help your clients celebrate Thanksgiving safely and happily, leftovers and all.

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

Here’s an easy-to-print PDF copy of the quiz! Enjoy!

Leftovers Quiz

There are tons of holiday resources in the Nutrition Education Store — which will you try first?

Holiday Secrets Cookbook

Holiday Survival: Keep Off the Pounds PowerPoint and Handout Set

Holiday Poster Set

You Want to do What with that Turkey?

Happy Thanksgiving!Nutrition, food safety, and cooking educators are always singing the same song before Thanksgiving. We talk about how to keep that large bird safe, standing on our soap boxes with research-based information about how people can get a foodborne illness from some common practices. But does anyone listen?

Common responses include “this is how I’ve always done it” and “no one’s died, yet.” Facing that kind of attitude, it’s hard to encourage change.

So, I’ve decided to turn the tables. Here’s a fun quiz that addresses some of the common mistakes people make when cooking a large meal at home. Perhaps if you make people laugh at their mistakes, then give them some practical answers about why they should respect food safety rules, they might change their attitude and practices.

Believe it or not, these are questions and responses from real people that I’ve heard over the many years I’ve been teaching food safety. I couldn’t make this stuff up!

Pick the best answer to each question.

1. The turkey in your freezer has been there since last Thanksgiving. What should you do with it?

a. Throw it out!
b. Feed it to your in-laws.
c. Go ahead and use it on Thanksgiving.
d. Leave it in there and buy another one for Thanksgiving.

2. Your turkey is frozen solid. How do you thaw it?

a. Put it in the dryer with lots of towels.
b. Run it through a cycle in the dishwasher.
c. Put in a cooler in the garage.
d. Find a spot in the refrigerator.

3. It’s the day before Thanksgiving and your turkey is still frozen. What can you do?

a. Cancel the holiday dinner.
b. Let the turkey sit in the laundry tub overnight.
c. Cook the frozen turkey.
d. Put the turkey under running water for 10 hours.

4. Your family loves stuffing/dressing that’s baked inside the turkey. You know that isn’t recommended, but you’re going to do it anyway. What’s the best way to proceed?

a. Mix and prepare the stuffing just before you put into the turkey. Stuff it lightly just before it goes into the oven and use a thermometer to make sure it reaches 165 degrees before serving.
b. Since they like it so much, put as much stuffing into the turkey as you can fit, just before you put it in the oven. You might need to lace it closed with twine to hold all that stuffing inside.
c. Stuff the turkey the night before and have it ready to go into the oven in the morning.
d. Get the stuffing ready to go the day before and stuff the turkey in the morning, this will help you get it in the oven quickly.

5. The turkey’s been in the oven for several hours. How do you know if it’s done?

a. The pop-up thermometer has popped. It’s done.
b. A thermometer reads at least 165 degrees F in several spots on the bird.
c. You calculated the time vs. pounds on the instructions, that time has come and gone and it’s brown all over. It’s done.
d. The juices are running clear and the drumstick wiggles.


  1. C. A turkey that has been kept solidly frozen for an entire year will be safe to eat. The quality may be lower than a turkey kept in the freezer for a shorter time. One suggestion is to prepare it for a family meal before Thanksgiving. This will give you a recent turkey-cooking experience, so cooking on the big day won’t be so intimidating. Actually, answers B and D could also be correct, since there would be no reason not to invite your in-laws to your practice dinner or the holiday. You really could save the older turkey for after the holiday, but the longer it sits in the freezer, the lower the quality will be.
  2. D. Thawing the turkey in the refrigerator is the safest method. It takes one day for each four to five pounds of turkey to thaw. The other answers don’t keep the outside of the bird cold enough while the inside is still frozen. Also, it’s really best to use home appliances for their originally-designated purposes. Some of those ideas are just yucky!
  3. C. Turkeys can be cooked directly from the freezer; the cooking time may be as much as 50% more than a thawed turkey. There also won’t be an opportunity to stuff it. Instead, you could bake your stuffing in a casserole dish. Now what about those giblets in the bag? Check the turkey throughout the cooking process, and when it has defrosted enough, you can carefully remove the giblet bags with tongs. You could also thaw a turkey by submerging it in cold tap water. The water should be changed every 30 minutes, and this method will take 10-12 hours for a 20-pound turkey. It also requites lots of water. The turkey should be cooked immediately after thawing. Oh, and if you purchased a pre-stuffed turkey, then it should always be cooked directly from its frozen state.
  4. A. The ingredients can be prepared the day before, but keep the wet and dry ingredients separate. Make sure that the wet ingredients (chopped vegetables, broth, and cooked meats) are safely stored in the refrigerator. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together just before filling the turkey cavity, and even then, only fill it loosely. Cook the turkey immediately after stuffing it. Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
  5. B. The only way that you can be absolutely sure that the turkey is done is to use a thermometer. The minimum temperature to which a turkey should be cooked is 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Check the internal temperature at several locations, including the thigh and the thickest part of the breast. Pop-up timers may pop too early because of fat pooling at the tip, so always use another thermometer to double check. The National Turkey Federation recommends cooking turkey to a higher temperature than the minimum. While 165 degrees F is the minimum safe temperature, they say that people like the quality more (and it will be easier to carve and slice) if it’s cooked to a higher temperature. They frequently suggest 180 degrees F instead.

I hope you and your clients have as much fun with this quiz as I had writing it. Have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving!

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

Here’s a free PDF handout of the quiz, just for you!

Thanksgiving Quiz

There are lots of other holiday resources in the Nutrition Education Store! Which ones will make your life easier?

Holiday Health Challenge Toolkit

Holiday MyPlate Poster

Holiday Train Game

Stuffing or Dressing? And What About Food Safety?

What does your family call it? Dressing or stuffing?

No matter what you call it, people are passionate about it at Thanksgiving. Stuffing can be very personal, and everyone seems to have a favorite way to make it. The options are many. Chestnuts or oysters? Cornbread or white bread? Giblets or not? Sausage with sage or chorizo?

I’m not going to debate the ingredients. Those are personal decisions and family traditions. Instead, I want to talk food safety.

Stuffing? Or Dressing?

Most food safety folks agree that, for optimal safety and uniform doneness, stuffing should not be cooked inside the bird. The primary reason for this recommendation is that the stuffing is a great place for bacteria to grow. Think about it. Stuffing is wet and warm, and it goes into the deepest part of the turkey, the spot that will take the longest to heat.

Sometimes the turkey meat is cooked before the stuffing reaches the recommended minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. When this happens, there are two options:

  1. Keep cooking the bird and get overcooked meat (this is the recommended alternative).
  2. Eat underdone stuffing (which could be risky).

If you’re cooking stuffing inside the bird, make sure that that stuffing comes to a safe temperature. I’m sorry for the indelicacy, but think about what was in the bird’s cavity before you put the stuffing there.

Holiday Plate

Now if you MUST put the stuffing in the bird, there are a few tips that you can try in order to get the stuffing fully cooked while keeping the meat moist and juicy.

  • If you’re using ingredients like oysters, giblets, or sausage in your stuffing, be sure to cook them completely before mixing them with the bread and vegetables. They can still be hot when added to the stuffing and placed inside the turkey, which will help speed the heating time of the stuffing itself.
  • Stuff the turkey loosely. This tasty goodness needs room to expand. If you have extra stuffing that won’t fit in the bird, cook it in a separate casserole dish or freeze it immediately. Don’t keep raw stuffing in the refrigerator.
  • If you purchased a frozen, pre-stuffed turkey, be sure to follow the instructions on the package.
  • Don’t stuff a turkey that you’re going to cook in a fryer. The oil needs to be able to flow inside the bird to allow for quick and even cooking.
  • When testing for doneness, put a thermometer into the deepest part of the stuffing. Yes, this goes for stuffing in a casserole dish too. Make sure that the stuffing reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit before you take it out of the oven.
  • After dinner, get all of the stuffing out of the turkey and served as soon as possible. If there are leftovers, refrigerate them within 2 hours of their coming out of the oven.
  • When reheating leftover stuffing (is there really ever any leftover stuffing?), use your thermometer again and make sure that the reheated stuffing reaches 165 degrees F. Don’t guess or simply eyeball it. Stuffing is a great place for food-borne illness causing bacteria to multiply and the risk is not worth it.
  • Use leftover stuffing within 2 days.

Cooking the Stuffing

Oh and one more stuffing tip. To save time on Thanksgiving morning, you can gather the stuffing’s wet and dry ingredients the day before you need to cook. Chop the vegetables and combine all the wet ingredients in one bowl. Combine all the dry ingredients in another, then store the bowls safely and mix their contents together just before you stuff the bird. Be sure to keep all the perishable items in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them. This includes the chopped vegetables.

Whether you call it dressing or stuffing, it’s how you take care of it that’s important. Have a food safe holiday!

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

Want to spread the word about Thanksgiving food safety? Get your very own copy of this free handout today!

Thanksgiving Food Safety

The Nutrition Education Store is chock-full of holiday and food safety resources too. Here’s a quick preview of a few of our favorites…

Food Safety Temperature Guide Poster

Food Safety PowerPoint Show and Handout Set

Food Safety Bookmark Set

Food Safety Poster

Sweet Potato Quiz

They’re orange and you eat them with lots of marshmallows at Thanksgiving.

What else do you know about one of the worlds most nutritious vegetables? Take this sweet potato quiz to find out.

Sweet Potato DishTrue or False?

  1. A sweet potato can be eaten raw.
  2. A sweet potato and a yam are the same thing.
  3. Sweet potatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator.
  4. Sweet potatoes are more nutritious than white potatoes.
  5. Sweet potatoes have four times the recommended daily intake for beta-carotene.
  6. Sweet potatoes have more vitamin C than an orange.
  7. Sweet potatoes are high in calories.
  8. Sweet potatoes are just a different kind of white potato.
  9. Sweet potato flesh is always yellow or orange.
  10. Sweet potatoes can only be eaten for dinner.

Answers and Fun Facts:

1. TRUE. While it is a non-traditional way to eat this vegetable, sweet potatoes can be eaten raw. Cut them into strips and eat them like carrot sticks or grate a sweet potato into slaws or salads. To avoid browning, rinse the cut sweet potatoes in cold water before serving.

2. FALSE. If you are being botanically correct, the sweet, moist, orange-colored vegetable that is often thought of as a yam is the United States is actually a sweet potato. A true yam is a starchy edible tuber that is imported from Africa and the Caribbean. It is completely different in taste and texture from a sweet potato. Did you know that the USDA requires that those orange-colored sweet potatoes (that most folks think are yams) be labeled sweet potatoes?

3. TRUE. Avoid storing sweet potatoes in the refrigerator. Cold temperatures will produce a hard center and a bitter unpleasant taste. The best storage for sweet potatoes is in a cool, dry, well-ventilated container. No, a plastic bag is not a good storage option. For long-term storage, keep sweet potatoes at 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. If a sweet potato is kept at above 60 degrees, then it will begin to shrink and sprout. Once you’ve cut or cooked your sweet potatoes, then they should be refrigerated.

4. TRUE. While sweet potatoes and white potatoes are similar in terms of carbohydrates, sweet potatoes are higher in fiber and vitamin A than regular potatoes are. Sweet potatoes also beat the white potato in vitamin C and potassium levels. Overall sweet potatoes are the nutritional winner.

5. TRUE. Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta carotene, which is the precursor to vitamin A. Sweet potatoes have more beta-carotene than carrots! If you eat your sweet potato with just a little fat, like a bit of butter, then you will maximize your body’s absorption of this fat-soluble vitamin.

6. FALSE. While a medium sweet potato is a good source of vitamin C (with 30% of the recommended daily value), one orange doubles that with 80% of your daily value of vitamin C. If you want to go over the top with vitamin C, then whirl cooked mashed sweet potato, orange juice, vanilla yogurt, and a little vanilla extract in the blender for a sweet potato smoothie.

7. FALSE. A medium sweet potato (2 inches by 5 inches) contains only about 100 calories. It’s frequently the brown sugar and marshmallows added to sweet potatoes that bring that calorie count up. Looking for lower calorie flavors that go well with sweet potatoes? Try orange, pineapple, apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg. There are some great recipe ideas over in the Food and Health recipe archives.

8. FALSE. Sweet potatoes are edible roots and white potatoes are tubers. Sweet potatoes are a member of the morning glory family and their flowers look very similar. Sweet potatoes are native to the United States.

9. FALSE. Depending upon the variety, sweet potatoes can be orange, yellow, red, white, or even purple.

10. FALSE. Why get stuck in a sweet potato rut? Use cooked mashed sweet potatoes in pancakes or in place of mashed pumpkin in muffins, pies, or breads.

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

Here’s a PDF of the sweet potato quiz, with all that great information in one free handout! Get your copy today!

Sweet Potato Quiz

Looking for more ways to make nutrition education fun? Try these resources!

12 Lessons Wellness Weight Loss

12 Lessons Wellness Weight Loss

Fruit and Vegetable Poster Set

MyPlate Bingo Game

Fruit and Vegetable Wellness Challenge Kit