The holiday season often means preparing rich, traditional dishes like creamy green bean casseroles, macaroni and cheese and a whole menagerie of gooey, sweet desserts.
Some cooks may feel that they will have a family mutiny on their hands if they start cutting salt, fat or sugar from their traditional family recipes with options that have less salt, fat or sugar, but University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Nutrition and Health Specialist Connie Crawley believes you don’t have to sacrifice tradition for healthy food.
“Many traditional holiday dishes can be modified to cut back on the fat, sugar and sodium. Often if you do this one recipe at a time and do it gradually over several holidays, your family will never know you made the changes unless you tell them,” Crawley said.
Here are some ways to reduce the amount of sodium, fat and sugar hiding in traditional recipes without affecting the flavor or feel of the dish.
Cutting sodium without compromising taste
Sweet desserts don’t always need sugar
Cut the fat where you can
Try out the recipes before the big day
Using sugar substitutes or cutting the fat from recipes doesn’t always work the way a cook wants. Sometimes sugar, salt and fat are in recipe because they contribute to the texture, color or volume of a recipe, and the dish will not work without them. If you’re amending a recipe for the first time — especially for baked goods and desserts — it’s worthwhile to whip up a trial batch before the big day.
Other ways to be healthy
If you don’t want to change your recipes, there are still ways to make the holidays a little healthier. Crawley advocates keeping serving dishes off the dining table to prevent people from automatically filling their plates with second helpings.
She also suggests offering a bowl of fresh fruit as one dessert option for people looking to avoid an after-dinner sugar crash.
Also, hosts might want to look beyond the kitchen to make the festivities healthier. Why not organize a family walk, outdoor game or dance party after the meal to help guests burn off all that turkey and dressing.
“Doing something active together can build richer holiday memories for your family and friends, than just vegging out in front of the T.V. watching football games,” Crawley said.
The holidays are traditionally a time to splurge, but choosing carefully where to splurge and then embracing healthy habits can give you more energy to celebrate and will make your holiday parties more fun.
(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)