Lighten Up Your Holiday Recipes

Cooking healthy includes choosing healthy fats and limiting the amount of salt and sugar we use. But when it's the holidays and you're standing in the kitchen with a favourite family recipe loaded with butter and salt, your intentions to eat healthy are as easily tossed away as gift paper. Your table overflows with a variety of sweet treats, salty snacks, and high fat sauces—and everyone loves them. The food is delicious, and making the healthy choice might seem impossible.

Eating well over the holidays doesn't mean discarding your favourite recipe. With a few changes and some experimenting, a minor makeover can make your classic recipes a healthier choice and a tasty choice for everyone.

Boost flavour without added salt

  • Mix roasted garlic cloves into your mashed potatoes for added richness and flavour.
  • Add fresh and dried spices during cooking or fresh chopped herbs at the end of cooking for a burst of freshness and flavour. Try:
    • dill or chives with potatoes;
    • thyme, sage or cilantro (use fresh) with chicken or turkey;
    • rosemary or sage with meat or potatoes;
    • parsley with veggies, salad or eggs; or
    • oregano with roasted vegetables.
  • Where a recipe calls for stock, choose low sodium broths instead.

Change the fats

  • Use olive oil-based vinaigrettes instead of creamy dressings.
  • Use soft non-hydrogenated margarine instead of butter, lard, shortening or hard margarine.
  • Moisten stuffing with low sodium broth and bake it in a casserole dish instead of inside the turkey or chicken. The bird will cook faster and the stuffing won't soak up the fatty drippings from inside the turkey or chicken.
  • Try mashing potatoes with cottage cheese or plain yogurt instead of butter.
  • Make lower fat gravy. Follow the steps below:
    1. While the bird roasts, use a baster to drain off drippings. Put drippings into a heat-proof glass container that is sitting in a larger pot of cold water. The fat will float to the top and the juice will settle to the bottom as it cools. Remove the top layer of fat.
    2. Add broth or vegetable cooking water to the dripping juice if you need more gravy. Thicken with flour or cornstarch.
    3. Season with garlic, minced herbs, and pepper.
  • Replace up to half of the fat in a baking recipe with mashed fruit.
    • Unsweetened applesauce, mashed banana, grated zucchini or carrot, and pureed pumpkin, squash or sweet potato work well in cookies, carrot cake and banana bread.
  • Use vegetable oil instead of melted butter in baked goods.
  • Use skim, 1% or evaporated skim milk in place of whole milk.
  • Use milk, low-fat evaporated milk or low-fat sour cream in place of cream.

Increase fibre and cut the sugar

  • Cut out one-quarter to one-third of the sugar in cookies, cakes and quick breads. It can often be removed without being replaced by something else.
  • Add flavour by using:
    • extracts like vanilla, almond, or maple; or
    • spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
  • Add in chopped nuts or dried fruit for some of the chocolate chips in a recipe.
  • Try using ¼ cup of ground flaxseed in place of ¼ of the white flour in baking.

For more information on healthy eating during the holidays, visit the Healthy Families BC blog which includes great tips for better baking.

Happy Holidays!

Last Reviewed: November 2014

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