Food at heart of holiday season, but be smart | Food

The holidays are here! It’s that great time of the year to celebrate with family, friends and colleagues enjoying traditional festivities, including delicious foods that are traditionally made with saturated fats, sugars and sodium. Throughout the season, we are seen cramming plates with holiday food, heavy on the starch and light on the veggies.

Traditional holiday foods are not known for their low calories or healthy ingredients. How you eat and drink on one or two days of the year won’t derail your plans for maintaining a healthy weight — as long as you don’t dive into weeks of overindulgence.

At the same time, there’s no need to deny yourself what you await all year: pecan pie, a delicious plate of turkey and dressing, green bean casserole. Go ahead and have one or two of your favorites, but resist making it a daily habit. Multiple meals with multiple days of excess can be taxing on your health and your waistline.

If you’ve been trying to lose weight during the holidays, consider scaling back on those ambitions. Possibly shift your goal to just not gaining any weight this time of year. When the tinsel and lights are back in storage, you can go back to making plans for trimming down.

Just a couple of swaps to make to be more healthy:

•  Replace bread crumbs with rolled oats.

•  Replace butter, margarine or shortening in baked goods with applesauce or prune puree for half of the butter, shortening or oil.

•  Replace sour cream, full fat, with reduced-fat sour cream or fat-free, plain Greek yogurt.

• Replace sugar with half the sugar in the recipe and add cinnamon, vanilla or nutmeg for sweetness.

•  Replace butter to sauté with a healthy oil instead — olive, canola or avocado oil are good choices.

•  Replace mashed potatoes with half the amount of potatoes mixed with cooked cauliflower.

•  Replace mayo on sandwiches and wraps with avocado.

•  At meals, manage portion sizes. Use a small plate and scan buffet lines to make sensible selections before filling the plate.

•  As you eat, be mindful. Eat slowly to enjoy your food and be aware of hunger and fullness cues. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to send signals of fullness. Use this time to connect with family at meal times.

•  Stay hydrated with water. Enjoy a glass of water before a meal and you’ll find yourself eating less at that buffet.

Try converting your traditional starch-filled holiday plate into a plate that’s filled with at least half veggies — all different colors of veggies, ideally. Think lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, green beans. Then devote a quarter of your plate, at most, to meat, with another quarter to carbohydrates (potatoes, pasta, rice).

First fill up on low-calorie foods, such as vegetables, salads and broth-based soups, before moving on to the foods with a higher-calorie count, such as stuffing, casseroles and desserts. Try these lower-calorie versions of some of the most popular sides and dips.

Creamy Mashed Cauliflower 

16 ounces frozen cauliflower (or 1 head fresh, chopped)

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons nonfat plain yogurt

1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth or milk

2 tablespoons parmesan cheese (optional)

Seasoning to taste: 1 teaspoon dried parsley, herb seasoning blend such as Mrs. Dash

Salt and pepper

Prepare and cook the cauliflower until tender (or a fork can be inserted). Add the cooked cauliflower, raw minced garlic and 1-2 tablespoons broth (or milk) to a food processor or a bowl.

Use a food processor, or hand mixer or potato masher, to blend ingredients until smooth. Add broth as necessary to make it creamy. Stir in plain yogurt and seasoning to taste. Turn into a medium serving bowl and serve hot. (Serves 4-6)

Spinach Roasted

Red Pepper Dip

½ cup shredded part skim mozzarella cheese

½ cup plain low-fat or fat-free yogurt

½ cup light mayonnaise dressing or salad dressing

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1 cup loosely packed fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped

3/4 cup bottled roasted red sweet peppers, drained and chopped

¼ cup thinly sliced green onions

3 red and/or yellow sweet peppers, seeded and cut into strips, or desired dipper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together mozzarella cheese, yogurt, mayonnaise dressing, 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese, the flour, and the Dijon mustard. Stir in the spinach, roasted red peppers, and 2 tablespoons of the green onions. Spread the cheese vegetable mixture evenly into a 1-quart ovenproof shallow dish or a 9-inch pie plate. 

Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese. Bake the dip, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges are bubbly and the mixture is heated through. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons green onions. 

Serve with red and/or yellow sweet pepper strips. Makes 2¼ cups

Parmesan Asparagus

2 pounds asparagus rinsed and trimmed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup grated parmesan

1/4 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon paprika 

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place asparagus into a large baking dish and drizzle olive oil evenly over asparagus. Roast asparagus for 15-20 minutes until tender. While asparagus is roasting, combine panko bread crumbs, paprika, onion powder, and Parmesan cheese. 

Remove asparagus from oven and lightly sprinkle with seasoned bread crumb mixture. Return to oven for 5 more minutes, or until bread crumbs begin to lightly brown. Remove from oven and serve.

Roasted Rosemary 

Sweet Potatoes 

3 lbs.(6 cups) sweet potatoes peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1/4 cup olive oil

4 sprigs rosemary, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 red onion, sliced

Preheat saute pan to medium heat on the stove top. Combine sweet potatoes and olive oil in the pan and saute until potatoes are bright and tender. 

Add Rosemary to the pan and continue stirring. Add garlic and onion, and cook until soft and aromatic.


White Chocolate Cookies

2 large overripe bananas

1 cup oats

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mash bananas. Use a masher for mashed potatoes if you have one on hand, but a regular fork does the trick as well. Mix in oats and chia seeds. Note: If you’re not an avid lover of chia seeds, reduce the amount to 1 tablespoon.

Form your “cookie dough” into small, consistently sized balls and space them out evenly on a baking sheet. Flatten them a bit as you add the white chocolate and cranberries on top. Use as many or as few as you’d like. Put them in the oven for 10 minutes, let them cool and harden and enjoy.

Most of all enjoy the company: Family, friends, laughter, gratitude, and the joy of being together are at the heart of the holiday season.

MICHELE ATKINS is the director for the Henry County Extension Service. Her email address is [email protected].

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