Healthy Holiday Dishes 

Before you try cooking healthy for the holidays, you might want to start cooking healthier. That means reducing — not eliminating — ingredients that give our favorite foods their flavor.

Whether you’re cooking for Thanksgiving or Christmas, it’s easy to serve healthier versions of favorites. You don’t have to sacrifice flavor when you reduce the excess fat, sodium, cholesterol and sugar from traditional side dishes and desserts. Fat, salt and sugar add much of the flavor we love in our favorite foods, so plan on leaving some throughout the meal. Reducing your dependency on them for flavor, however, is easy — just kick things up a notch with a few other seasonings, spices and ingredients to help you make healthier, great-tasting dishes.

thanksgiving

Believe it or not . . .

Turkey

Cooking a whole turkey is time consuming and certain parts of the bird add unnecessary fat to your meal. If your family or guests won’t mind skipping drumsticks and other dark meat, consider roasting a breast only. You can find these in your grocery store, either in the freezer section or cold cuts section, depending on how large a breast you need. Removing the skin, or buying a skinless breast, reduces fat and cholesterol even more. To keep it moist, bake your breast with a cheesecloth or aluminum foil on top to keep moisture in. Even if you baste it with a bit of butter to keep it moist, you’ll still serve much healthier meat than if you use a whole turkey, baked with the skin on. Look for an organic turkey to avoid preservatives, hormones, food colorings and other additives.

Consider replacing the skin with a dry rub of your favorite seasonings to seal in flavor. Another option is to baste the turkey with a citrus glaze, made from a combination of ingredients like orange or pineapple juice and soy or teriyaki sauce. If sodium is a concern for you, look for reduced-sodium brands. Think about marinating the breast overnight in your sauce, if you want the flavor deeper into your meat.

Ham

Serving a lean ham lets you offer a traditional main course with less fat and cholesterol than turkey – if you choose the right ham. Don’t be fooled by “low-fat” labels; this often includes the amount of water weight in the calculation. Read the nutrition labels looking for a low percentage of calories from fat. Choose organic ham, or look for one with the least amount of hormones, preservatives, food coloring and additives. Bake with cloves pressed into the top of the ham and baste with a pineapple or orange sauce you make, or place orange or pineapple slices on top.

Potatoes

White potatoes aren’t as unhealthy as you might think. Part of the problem with serving these low-fat, cholesterol-free complex carbohydrates is that they’re often prepared and served with butter, cheese, sour cream and bacon. Start by baking or microwaving your potatoes with the skins on (boiling them results in vitamins and minerals being poured down the drain). Dice the potatoes, then mash them by hand, adding low-fat and fat-free ingredients like a butter substitute, skim milk, garlic, black pepper, vegetable stock and herbs. Leaving the skins adds more flavor, nutrition and fiber.

Sweet potatoes are an even healthier alternative to traditional white potatoes. If you buy canned sweet potatoes, remove the liquid in the can but don’t throw it away. After you mash the potatoes, add the reserved liquid a bit at a time if you want them smoother. If you mash your potatoes with all of the water from the can, they might turn out very soupy. A touch of fat-free brown sugar or cinnamon and a few raisins add sweetness, if you want these for a dessert or sweet, instead of savory, side.

Stuffing

Buy a loaf of organic whole grain bread and dry as much as you’ll need for the base of your stuffing mix. Instead of using butter or chicken stock to moisten the dried bread, use water or vegetable stock and a variety of your favorite seasonings. Add diced apple, walnuts or almonds, raisins, celery or onions. Your seasonings might include rosemary, sage, thyme, bay leaf, parsley, tarragon, oregano or marjoram.

Gravy

Don’t worry about skipping gravy because of the fat and cholesterol. You can use a fat separator to remove most of the fat. You can buy a cheap plastic separator at the grocery store – it looks like a measuring cup with a spout. After you finish baking your turkey breast, pour your drippings into a bowl, then pour enough into the fat separator to fill it. Wait until the fat rises to the top, then pour out the fat, leaving the rest of the drippings into the cup. You might want to leave some of the fat for flavor.

Put the drippings into a pan and turn heat them on medium heat until they start to bubble. Put a tablespoon of cornstarch into a ½ cup of cold water and mix thoroughly. Slowly stir this mixture into the drippings, adding a tablespoon or two at a time, then waiting 30 seconds to see how much this thickens the gravy. Add your favorite seasonings for flavor.

You won’t get a large amount of fat drippings if you bake a lean turkey breast, so consider roasting your bird on top of a bed of vegetables, which will add drippings and flavor as they caramelize and roast. Use carrots, celery, green and red pepper, tomatoes, mushrooms and onions. Consider pureeing the vegetables to add to your gravy.

Green Beans

Skip the cheese and canned mushroom soup and let your guests taste fresh, flavorful steamed green beans, which don’t need to be covered up. Add some slivered almonds or sesame seeds or sprinkle some low-fat Parmesan cheese on them. Another option is to toss them in some light oil with soy sauce or ginger.

Baked Beans

Beans are high in fiber and a good source of low-fat protein. Add flavor to low-fat or vegetarian baked beans with just a touch of brown sugar, some dry mustard for a little kick and a bit of ketchup. You can prepare these quickly in the microwave or bake them with your turkey or ham.

Dinner Rolls

Serve whole grain, organic dinner rolls you heat and serve, or offer other breads made with no trans fats (found in many commercial baked goods) or refined flour. Use a butter substitute with no trans fats – they’re easy to find by looking at nutrition labels.

Cranberry Relish

Cranberries can be bitter, so cooks often add lots of sugar to make them sweeter. Experiment with orange juice, crushed almonds or walnuts, finely diced celery or carrots or some low-fat sour cream. You might still need to add some sugar, but don’t worry, it’s the holidays. You don’t have to eliminate all of sugar, fat or sodium from your meal if you greatly reduce these ingredients throughout your dishes.

Tarragon Mac and Cheese

The “bad” ingredients in mac and cheese include cream, butter, cheese, egg yolk and whole milk. You can still make a tasty mac and cheese kids and adults will love with healthy substitutes. Start with a whole grain elbow macaroni instead of pasta made from refined wheat flour. After you’ve cooked it, stir in a cheese sauce made with a butter substitute, flour, low-fat cheese and skim milk. Melt the butter substitute in a pan and stir in flour a tablespoon at a time to create a blonde roux. Add skim milk, then your cheese. Melt the mixture, then add tarragon to taste. The tarragon will help create a robust, sumptuous flavor. If you want more flavor, try salt, pepper or nutmeg, adding only a little at a time. Add halved cherry tomatoes for some acid and sweetness. Sprinkle lightly with breadcrumbs and bake.

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