Healthy Holiday Cooking

Families, Food and Fitness December 18, 2009 Print Friendly and PDF

Healthy Holiday Cooking Chat

Healthy and Holiday don't usually find themselves in the same sentence. When the two words do end up juxtaposed, the response is usually a resounding sigh of disgust and disappointment. That doesn't have to be the case, though! Cooking healthy doesn't have to mean food that has virtually no flavor.

Join experts from the Families Food & Fitness CoP to chat about ways to prepare delicious meals that will fuel you for the hectic holiday schedule without weighing you down. Chef Ashley Fondren and Registered Dietician Rosemary Rodibaugh will be on hand to answer your questions about ingredients, cooking techniques, and nutrition.


Families Food and Fitness CoP Healthy Holiday Cooking Chat Thursday, December 17, 2009, 10 AM CST

Food Preparation for Diabetics
oTexas programs “Do Well, Be Well with Diabetes” and “Cooking Well with Diabetes” offer some terrific diabetic-friendly dessert recipes.
oSome diabetic recipes call for Splenda to reduce the sugar amount. Since some people find the flavor of Splenda unpalatable, future diabetic programs could focus on natural ingredients that are lower in carbohydrates and calories as opposed to using artificial sweeteners.

Food Preparation for Low-iodine Diets
oIodized salt is the main food source of iodine. Seafood is also naturally rich in iodine. Dairy products and food grown in iodine rich soil are also sources.

Use of Splenda in Baking
oSplenda performs well in baked items when compared to other artificial sweeteners; however, some people do not like the taste.
oWhen using Splenda in fresh fruit pies, it is not a 1:1 ratio to sugar.
oAny artificial sweetener is much sweeter than sugar so when substituting for sugar you should take that into account. Unless an exact amount of sugar is needed such as baking a cake, you can decrease the amount of Splenda to suit your taste.
oSome prefer not to use non nutritive sweeteners in baking because the properties of sugar are so important to the finished baked product. A suggestion to help control consumption of calories from sugar is to control portion size and frequency of service. One tip was to freeze up to one half to three fourths of the baked item in small portions to be used later. Splenda seems to work better for puddings, cobblers, etc.
oWhen baking with Splenda, consider your audience. Some people find the artificial sweetener to be unpalatable while others like its taste.

Modifying a Recipe to make it Healthier

oWhile the majority of participants believe that recipes modified to make them healthier taste as good as the original, many family members still avoid the “healthy” dishes.
oOne suggestion was rather than modifying an original recipe to make it healthier, look for another similar recipe that someone has tested.
oAnother tip was to not tell your family that you “fixed” the recipe and wait to see if anyone notices a difference, maybe they won’t!

Preparing Good, Flavorful Meals with Less Ingredients
oSeasonings and sauces are a good place to add flavor.
oUsing various cooking techniques (roast, sauté, simmer, broil, and grill) also impart great flavor without adding ingredients. When roasting, broiling, or grilling, simply add some salt and freshly ground black pepper right before cooking to enhance the natural flavors of the food.
oFlavor is also found in fresh fruits and vegetables and seasonings.
oLess is more when cooking is concerned. One participant uses fresh, local (whenever possible) food and cooking with fresh herbs, good quality olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
oAnother tip was to reduce sugar and fat in recipes by ¼ to 1/3 when ratio is not important. These reductions still yield favorable results.
oYou can also mix your own spices at home to avoid the added sodium in premixed spices from the grocery store (some premixed spices contain up to 80% salt).
oYou can also impart flavor to oils and vinegars. Warm olive oil with whole garlic cloves, fresh herbs, or whole spices to infuse the oil. To infuse vinegar, put garlic, fresh herbs, or spices in a container of vinegar and let sit.

Website and Cookbook Resources
oEating Well – (also has a tool that will makeover a recipe make it healthier
oCooking Light -
oAmerican Diabetes Association -
oAmerican Heart Association -
oFamilies Food & Fitness CoP -

Adding Health to your Holiday Table
oSupplement your holiday table with lots of fruits and vegetables to encourage healthier eating.
oPerhaps the holidays aren’t the best time to experiment with new ingredients, but try cooking with shallots, fresh parsley, white wine, and citrus zest with greens and other vegetables when sautéing as a low-calorie flavor booster. oAdding fresh rosemary and balsamic vinegar to roasted vegetables is a wonderful, healthy side dish.
oIf fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to come by or expensive, don’t forget about using frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. Be sure the canned fruits are packed in their own juices or water and rinse canned vegetables with water to reduce the sodium content.
oFor a great spread for whole grain bread, opt for roasted garlic rather than butter or margarine. Roast whole heads of garlic in aluminum foil at 375 for 30 minutes. The clove will pop out of the skin and the garlic develops a mellower flavor and is spreadable!
oIn certain regions of the country, this is a great time to use fresh herbs like thyme, sage, rosemary, and even lavender.
oOne participant found a quality alcohol-free wine for cooking a sauce. When combined with olive oil, garlic, sage, salt and pepper, the ravioli sauce was wonderful.

Cooking with Lavender
oHow do you cook with lavender other than in desserts?
oLavender is an ingredient in a spice blend called herbs de Provence. Other herbs are rosemary and parsley. Different recipes may add to this basic mixture. This seasoning compliments chicken, lamb, and fish although less is needed on fish.
oOn lamb, you can combine the herbs de Provence with Dijon mustard as a rub, then grill the lamb. Lamb is also a healthy protein source.
oThe research is growing supporting the health benefits of herbs and spices.

Roasting Vegetables/Seasonal Produce
oTo roast vegetables, spray with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic granules, tiny dehydrated bits of garlic, rather than garlic salt.
oSeasonal produce that is great for your holiday feast includes squash, sweet potato, pumpkin, mushrooms, pears, figs, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, winter citrus, broccoli, and potatoes.

Margarine versus Butter
oSome people prefer butter because it is more natural. Butter should be used sparingly.
oSince butter has cholesterol, some prefer trans-fat free margarine. oSpray butter is also a good alternative.
oBe cautious when purchasing bottles of spray butter. Some bottles have 900 calories and 10 grams of fat in the entire bottle, so the spray butter is not completely “free”.
oThere are spray butters with zero calories and fat. This brand comes in a blue (saltier) and yellow (sweeter) bottle. They have 10 calories but no fat.

Healthy Appetizer Suggestions besides Raw Vegetables and Dip
oHummus and grilled pita triangles. Roasted red pepper or toasted pine nuts adds huge flavor to hummus.
oBruschetta, one participant is adding a thin slice of cheddar to her bruschetta.
oYou can also make bean dips similar to hummus using different like black beans, etc.
oGuacamole, the avocado has a lot of good health qualities.
oGrilled or roasted vegetable kebabs present vegetables in a whole new dimension. oBabaghanoush and tabbouleh contribute veggies and whole grains.
oBabaghanoush is similar to hummus but with eggplant (try roasting your eggplant to give the dish more flavor) and tahini (toasted sesame seed paste) added.
oSkin, marinate, and grill chicken wings. These are much healthier than fried wings and guys still love them because they are grilled. Serve them with grilled squash or pineapple for a lot of food at a relatively low cost.
oFresh fruit is also a great appetizer, especially for the kids.
oBaked tortilla chips and salsa. Also try mixing black beans into your salsa.
oWhen preparing appetizers, or any food this season, be sure to vary colors and textures to enhance the complete experience of the dish.
oQuinoa is also great to make a cold salad or stuff into celery.
oAlso, consider making smaller versions of “regular” foods like shot glasses of a roasted vegetable soup.
oCous cous is another great grain to use in salads and alongside kebabs.
oTry a salad on a stick- on a skewer put a piece of lettuce, a grape tomato, chunk of cheese, and drizzle with vinaigrette and lightly salt and pepper.

Healthy Mashed Potatoes that are Creamy and Taste Good
oAdd roasted garlic and fat-free evaporated milk.
oUse chicken stock to boil potatoes and add some while mashing.
oUse non fat dry milk with the water the potatoes were cooked in. The non fat dry milk also adds calcium to your diet.
oTry using Yukon gold potatoes. They are not dry or gluey. Also heat up 1% milk and a little butter to add to the potatoes then add some mozzarella cheese for a smooth consistency.
oYou can also top your potatoes with the favorable spray butter rather than putting butter into your potatoes.
oMashed cauliflower also resembles mashed potatoes in taste and texture. It also makes a great addition to mashed potatoes. When mixing cauliflower in with your mashed potatoes use a 3:1 ratio, mashed potatoes to steamed cauliflower.
oWhen mashing potatoes, don’t forget to leave the skins on for added fiber.
oAlternates to mashed potatoes include roasted fingerling potatoes. Toss them in olive oil with minced rosemary, some salt, and lots of ground pepper. You can also cube Russet potatoes and roast them with salt, pepper, and Tony Chachere’s for some spice.
oCan mashed potatoes with mozzarella be frozen? Frozen mashed potatoes tend to become mealy. You can use up leftover mashed potatoes in breads or rolls. You can also add more cheese to your mashed potatoes and shape them into 2 inch patties and freeze them. When you are ready to cook them, dredge them in egg and bread crumbs and bake for a new side dish. The patties shouldn’t be frozen more than a couple of weeks.
oTo avoid having leftover mashed potatoes (and the temptation to eat seconds) cook one medium size potato per person.

Breads made with Pureed Vegetables
oFor baked goods such as pumpkin bread, cut back on the fat by using less oil and more pumpkin. Also try using honey rather than sugar but reduce the honey by half since it is sweeter than sugar and be sure to adjust the other liquids in the recipe to account for the liquidity of the honey.
oYou can also substitute some of the oil with applesauce or other pureed fruits.
oOne participant makes the following yeast rolls with pureed squash or pumpkin. They are a beautiful golden color and taste great. The kneading is also good therapy.
oWhen adding pureed vegetables to bread recipes, mix the vegetable in with the wet ingredients then incorporate the dry.

"Golden Pumpkin Rolls"
Mix together:
1 cup cooked mashed pumpkin (my mother used Butternut Squash from the garden, I always use canned pumpkin)
1 1/2 ounce yeast ( I think that's one package, I use yeast in bulk and it's 1 tablespoon)
dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water
2/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
add 2 cups flour and mix well
1 teaspoon salt
Add 1 cup warm milk and 3 1/2 - 4 cups flour.
Knead about 10 minutes. Let rise 1 hour.
Form into rolls - let rise till double, about 1/2 hour (I always make crescent rolls, so did my mother but you could shape however you like)
Bake 350 - 375 degree oven until golden brown 15 - 20 minutes.

I just mix it the way I do any yeast bread.
From Lucile Bassett, Indiana
On the back of my recipe I have clipped a similar recipe from the newspaper that used cooked sweet potatoes instead....interesting, would be fun to try!

Healthy Gravy
oYou can make healthier gravy by using fat-free low sodium chicken broth and thicken by mixing cornstarch with some of the cold broth and stirring it into the boiling broth, “poor man’s gravy”.
oAlso, to remove extra fat from gravies, refrigerate the gravy and skim off the layer of fat that forms on the top before reheating.
oYou can also make healthy sauces by simply reducing broths. The flavor is concentrated when you cook out the water.
oIf you don’t want the extra work, canned or jarred gravies are low fat or you can get fat-free versions.

Salad Ideas
oOne participant served a spinach salad with pears, walnuts, and a sweet lemon poppy seed dressing at a Christmas party. She wanted suggestions for other salads.
oAdd roasted fruits and vegetables to your salad to contribute a new flavor profile from the traditional raw fruits and veggies.
oDried cranberries are a good addition to spinach salads.
oMandarin oranges and mandarin orange salad dressings are also great fresh tasting ingredients in the winter season.
oIn salads, experiment with different types of greens – spinach, kale, red lettuce, spring mixes, endive, the color, flavor and texture will really enhance your salad.
oTry using almonds, cut up apple with the skin on, raisins, crumbles of feta or blue cheese, and cut up bits of broccoli and cauliflower. You can mix and match to suit your taste and vary your salads from day to day.

Tried and True Holiday Recipes
oCheryl’s late mother in law’s Fresh Cranberry Salad is eagerly awaited. Below is the recipe:



2 cups ground fresh cranberries
1 cup Splenda
1 package red flavored sugar free gelatin
Juice of two oranges (1/2 cup)
1 medium apple, chopped
½ cup nuts


1. Pour Splenda over cranberries and let stand at room temperature for several hours.

2. Add water to juice to make 1 1/3 cups liquid. Heat liquid until very hot. Place gelatin in medium bowl and stir in hot liquid.

3. Chill mixture until thickened, but not set

4. Add cranberries, apple and nuts to chilled gelatin mixture, mix well and chill until set. Serve as a relish or side dish with turkey, chicken or pork.

Yield: 8 servings

Nutrition information

Serving Size: ½ cup

Calories 81
Protein 4g
Carbohydrates 7g
Fat 5g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 8mg
Fiber 2g

oAshley’s mother’s Sweet Potato Casserole with butter and sugar in the sweet potato filling and brown sugar, pecans, and butter on top!
oRick’s family enjoys Butternut Squash Soup. The recipe is available at
oJaime’s mother makes a cranberry bread in the bread machine with dried cranberries that all the grands and great grands look for first.

Rich, Healthy Eggnog Recipe
oTry adding fat free half and half to cooked eggnog.
oThe Holiday Recipes section of the Families Food and Fitness website has a recipe for a low-cal Eggnog made with pasteurized eggs:,_Guilt-free_Desserts,_Recipes_for_Giving,_and_Creative_Ways_to_Use_Leftover_Turkey
oYou can try beating the egg white separately to make it more special…but you still may want to add cream for it to be great!
oHorizon has a low fat eggnog that is pretty good.
oCheryl says, “Enough about fat-free eggnog! I want the real thing. It only comes around once a year and I limit my total intake, but what I do drink I want to be rich, creamy and made by a commercial dairy!”

Vegetarian Holiday Entrees
oIf your vegetarian eats fish or eggs, try a fish entrée.
oFish cooked en papillote is a lovely way to cook fish flavorfully and healthfully and is also a fun way to serve fish. Cut a large piece of parchment paper in the shape of a heart. Place one serving of fish in the middle of the parchment. You can put it on top of cooked grains and aromatics and top the fish with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh herbs, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Fold one side of the heart over onto the other and crimp the edges so no air can get into the parchment pocket. Bake at 350 for 15 – 30 minutes (depending on the type of fish and the thickness). At the table, cut into the parchment paper. The steam will carry the aroma of the fish, lemon, and herbs up to the nose of your guest.
oThe Vegetarian Resource Group has recipes on their website:
oA lot of European countries serve salmon or other large fish as the main dish of their Christmas feast. If you’re able to spend some time looking up the traditions of various countries, you may find that a country your ancestor is from may have use fish as a meal centerpiece. If so, it would be a great reason to include it at your holiday table so your entire family can enjoy it and the vegetarian will not fill left out.

Serving Suggestions for Lobster/Crab Legs
oRather than serving shellfish with drawn butter, try making a pistou. A pistou is an olive oil – basil based sauce from the south of France. Below is the Food and Wine recipe for a Classic Pistou:
oRather than using basil, try parsley and lemon to compliment the shellfish. You should avoid strong flavors like roasted garlic or basil.
oTry putting scallops on a sprig of thyme and roast/grill them.

Ways to Keep the Family Moving Between Meals
oMaking a snowman together, going skating or skiing.
oFamily walks after dinner.
oNature walks.
oDoing the mound of dishes together!
oA Wii or Navix game.
o“Guitar Hero” or “Rock Band”, not only do they bring the family together but tey burn a decent amount of calories, especially singing.
oDancing or Twister!
oFamily card games like “spoons”
oActing out scenes from your favorite movies.
oThe game “Cranium”.

Thank you all for you contributions to the chat! Have a Happy, Happy Holiday!!!

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.