COLLEGE STATION – Because that turkey on the table isn’t the only thing getting stuffed during the holidays, Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Prairie View A&M Cooperative Extension Program personnel have offered some ideas on how to alter some traditional recipes to reduce their fat and calorie content, making for healthier holiday eating.
“The sugar, fat or salt content of almost any holiday recipe can be reduced without a noticeable difference in taste,” said Dr. Mary Bielamowicz, AgriLife Extension nutrition specialist in College Station. “If a recipe calls for a cup of sugar, use two-thirds of a cup,” she said. “If it calls for a half-cup of oil, shortening or other fat, use one-third cup. And if a recipe says to use one-half teaspoon of salt, use one-quarter teaspoon or leave it out entirely.”
Bielamowicz noted the current U.S. Department of Agriculture guideline for the average American is 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily for average Americans, but 1,500 milligrams or less for those with hypertension.
“Since processed foods typically have a higher salt content, people should be vigilant about checking food labels for salt content along with other nutritional data when selecting holiday food items,” she said.
Other healthful recipe ingredient substitutions Bielamowicz suggested included plain, low-fat yogurt or applesauce in lieu of butter or margarine; fat-free, skim or low-fat milk instead of whole milk; and egg whites or an egg substitute for whole eggs.
“You can also use whole-grain or bran flours in recipes calling for all-purpose flour,” she said. “In most instances, you can replace one-quarter to one-half the amount of all-purpose flour you see in holiday recipes with whole wheat flour as a more nutritious alternative.”
Bielamowicz noted that modifying more complicated recipes may not always produce the desired texture, so it’s best to try the new recipe out and do a taste-test before serving it to friends and family.
“However, most changes in flavor or texture are typically not significant and are well worth the trade-off in fat and calories,” she said.
“Low-fat doesn’t always mean low-calorie, so you have to be aware of both in holiday food choices,” said Dr. Connie Sheppard, AgriLife Extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Bexar County.
“Try using reduced or non-fat cheese, milk, cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt or mayonnaise instead of their higher-fat counterparts,” she said. “And try substituting evaporated milk for cream. For mashed potatoes, try using de-fatted broth instead of butter to reduce both fat and calories.”
She said turkey breast provides the lowest fat and highest protein content of any traditional holiday meat, and the healthiest cooking method for turkey or other meats is baking.
“If you’re cooking a turkey, leave the skin on to contain the flavor, but then remove it afterward to reduce the fat content. Baste your turkey in its own juice or use a de-fatted broth, and make the stuffing outside the turkey.”
Sheppard said stuffing cooked inside the turkey absorbs more oil, and getting the bird’s internal temperature high enough to cook the stuffing adequately can lead to overcooking its exterior.
“For vegetables, the healthiest method of cooking is either steaming or roasting using a low-fat margarine or cooking spray,” she said. “For a dish like candied sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, try substituting mashed or baked sweet potatoes with a little brown sugar and butter substitute on top.
“For a green bean casserole, try reduced-fat mushroom or chicken soup or de-fatted broth. Use low-fat or skim milk, and skip the fried onion topping.”
Sheppard said using canola or vegetable oil in the same recommended amount as butter when baking holiday sweets, such as cookies, cakes and pastries can significantly reduce fat and calories.
“The holidays are especially difficult for people with diabetes or who have pre-diabetes since there are usually so many high-sugar and high-calorie items available to eat,” said Grace Guerra-Gonzales, a family and consumer sciences agent for the Cooperative Extension program of Prairie View A&M University. “Moderation through portion control is very important, plus people on restrictive diets can take some of their own food if eating away from home. A good host won’t mind.”
Guerra-Gonzalez also suggested eating a healthful snack such as a piece of fruit or some cheese or other dairy food before going to a holiday event or party to help reduce hunger.
“Don’t overload on appetizers and eat smaller portions of special holiday food you know are high-calorie or have a lot of sugar,” she said. “If there are appetizers or snacks, choose those that will least affect your blood-sugar level. Eat fresh vegetables and fruits if available, and drink water or diet soda instead of high-sugar soft drinks. Limit your alcohol intake and be sure to eat something before or while you’re drinking an alcoholic beverage.”
Bielamowicz, a registered and licensed dietitian, added that whatever people with diabetes select to eat at a holiday meal must fit within the guidelines of their diabetes meal plan that has been provided by a physician and dietitian.
“Look carefully at all the foods being served and know the number of carbohydrates you are allowed at meals and for snacks and select wisely from the menu.”
AgriLife Extension has offices in almost every county in Texas, many with personnel who can provide community education and outreach on nutrition, including healthier eating for people with diabetes and other health issues. They offer free or low-cost nutrition education to youth and adults in a variety of community venues.
Information on other healthful food substitutions can be found in the AgriLife Extension publication “Altering Recipes for Good Health,” which can be downloaded at no cost from