Pie, mashed potatoes, cookies, and carved ham – these are just a few of the popular seasonal dishes we tend to consume more of during the holidays. According to Katie Ferraro, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.E., nutrition expert for TOPS Club, Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization, the holidays don’t have to sabotage your healthy meal planning.
“Use parties and family get-togethers as an opportunity to try out new, healthy recipes and incorporate several of the following tips into your upcoming celebrations,” says Ferraro. “Special holiday recipes prepared healthier with simple substitutions can add nutrition and won’t break the calorie bank.”
Mash cauliflower instead of potatoes
One cup of mashed potatoes made with skim milk and no butter has 150 calories, while one cup of mashed cauliflower made with skim milk and no butter has one third of the calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – and tastes nearly identical. For the pickiest eaters, mix half mashed cauliflower, half mashed potato. “Add fresh herbs in place of salt for zesty flavor,” notes Ferraro.
Unsweetened applesauce instead of sugar, oil, or butter
Cut calories in baked goods while providing a hint of sweetness with this substitute. According to the USDA, a cup of sugar contains 775 calories, while a cup of unsweetened applesauce contains only about 100 calories.
Nutrient-rich leafy greens instead of iceberg lettuce
For an added boost of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, consider dark, leafy vegetables like arugula, chicory, kale, mustard greens, or spinach in place of iceberg lettuce for your salad. “Generally, the deeper the color of vegetable, the better the nutrition,” says Ferraro.
Air-cured or other smoked meats instead of bacon
Substitute bacon with lower-fat and higher-protein Canadian bacon, turkey bacon, or prosciutto. According to Ferraro, one slice of bacon has 45 calories, while turkey bacon contains roughly half that amount. These meats are best enjoyed in limited quantities though, as they can still contain significant amounts of sodium.
Finely-chopped prunes instead of butter in dark breads
Swap finely-chopped prunes or baby food prunes for oil, butter, or margarine in quick breads or other dark baked goods, like brownies. Cut calories and fat in half without compromising on sweetness or moisture.
Steam in canned broth instead of sautéing in oil
For a tasty, low-calorie and fat-free alternative to oil sautéing, Ferraro recommends steaming meats and vegetables in a half cup of reduced-sodium canned chicken or beef broth. Steaming vegetables in broth helps retain their nutrients and enhances flavor, as well.
Fresh fruit instead of fruit canned in heavy syrup
Avoid processed foods like fruit canned in heavy syrup and opt for fresh fruit or fruit canned in its own juice or in water. Heavy syrup typically contains water, sugar, and corn syrup – with little nutritional value and lots of additional calories. If your budget is tight, purchase canned produce and then drain and rinse the fruit.
Cacao nibs instead of chocolate chips
Cacao nibs, minimally-processed bits of cocoa beans, are semi-sweet and rich in antioxidants and essential minerals. Their crunchy texture and intense taste are a unique way to add a boost of flavor to holiday treats.