Tips for making your holiday meals healthier

Keep holiday meals healthy by cutting unnecessary sugars, fats, and calories.

A spread of holiday meals.
Photo: Unsplash/Jed Owen.

It’s the holiday season, and planning is underway for good times filled with friends, family and foods. It seems that every advertisement in stores, in magazines and on social media all refer to some form of holiday eating. We often give in to the festivities and overindulge in good-tasting food, but these foods may not be the healthiest for us. As we prepare food for family and friends, there are ways to make favorite holiday recipes healthier and still taste great.

Reduce the amount of fat and sugar when baking without losing the flavor.

Cutting the fat and sugars in half in a recipe is an easy way to cut added calories.

  • Use half the butter and replace it with unsweetened applesauce, mashed bananas or even prune purée.
  • Reduce the amount of sugar by one-third to one-half. Add rich-tasting spices to bolster flavor, such as cinnamon, cloves or allspice. You can even use extracts such as almond, vanilla or wintergreen.
  • Cut the amount of cheese in a recipe by half. If your recipe calls for one cup of cheese, ½ cup would be sufficient, and you will be able to better taste the flavors of the other ingredients.
Make healthy substitutions that will boost the fiber content
  • Use whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta.
  • Use brown rice instead of white rice.
  • Use whole-grain bread and rolls.
Leave out ingredients.
  • Leave out mayonnaise, butter or jelly in a recipe.
  • Leave out excessive amounts of frosting, nuts and chips when baking.
Choose a different technique of preparation, such as broiling, grilling or steaming.

These methods can capture the flavor of your delicious foods without adding calories:

  • Instead of frying, try broiling fish, meat and even vegetables.
  • Try a fruit juice or vinegar if a recipe says to baste with oil.
  • Use non-stick pans to eliminate oil when cooking.
Pay attention to your portion size.
  • If the recipe is still very high in fat and sugars, reduce the portion size you eat.
  • When reducing portion size, add healthy choices to help fill you up. Filling half of your plate with fruits or vegetables is a great place to start.

Eating well can be difficult over the holiday season, but finding ways to enjoy your favorite family meals is possible by making mindful choices. No matter how much you indulge over the holidays, remember it is never too late to get back on track with your healthy habits. Contact Michigan State University Extension in your area to learn more about healthy holiday makeovers.

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