Healthy Holiday Chat

Families, Food and Fitness January 03, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF


Healthy Holiday Chat Transcript

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The nutrition and food safety experts of "Families, Food and Fitness" chatted Thursday, November 18 at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on making the upcoming holidays healthy. Topics included healthy holiday cooking, food safety tips, portion size (you don’t have to give up your favorite foods but just eat appropriate portions), physical activity, and how to make your favorite holiday recipes in a reduced-fat and/or low-calorie way including healthier cooking methods and ingredient substitution. If you missed the chat, you can still benefit from the great tips and advice shared by reading the transcript below.

“Families, Food and Fitness” Healthy Holiday Recipes

Hot Cocoa Mix
Fall Apple Crisp
Glazed Sweet Potatoes and Grilled Vegetables
Light Pumpkin Pie
Golden Apple Oatmeal
Sweet Brussels Sprouts and Brussels Sprouts with Pecans and Dried Cranberries
Honey Glazed Carrots

Did you know that the average American can gain almost 10 pounds during the holiday season? Here are some “Holiday Eating Tips” from Dr. Wanda Koszewski:

  • Use a smaller plate at holiday meals and provide smaller plates for guests at holiday parties. Doing so also will help keep portions smaller.
  • Try not to go back for seconds. Watch the gravy, sauce, butter and desserts and make sure to eat bigger portions of healthier items, like vegetables.
  • Lean meats, fresh fruits and fresh vegetables are excellent ways to maintain weight.
  • Use nutrition labels on products to make healthier choices.
  • When preparing food, try to lighten up the recipes with lighter, healthier varieties. Steam vegetables rather than loading them up with sauces and butter.
  • Provide whole grain crackers, nuts, low-fat veggie dip, non-alcoholic beverages and smaller plates if hosting a party.
  • Make the party fun and not food-oriented. Play games or do things outside if it's warm enough.
  • Also, keep exercising most days during the week for at least 30 to 60 minutes. Families can go for a walk after Thanksgiving dinner or go sledding during Christmas break.

Suggested Ways to Modify Recipes

Candied Sweet Potatoes

  • Cook a plain sweet potato in the oven or crock pot. Top the sweet potato with low-calorie spray butter and honey or non-caloric sweetener. Spicy flavors also complement the sweetness of sweet potatoes. Try a low-fat pepper jack cheese or cayenne pepper.
  • Try using cooked, mashed sweet potatoes in bread dough. Although this is not a modified sweet potato recipe, it is a way to increase your family’s vegetable consumption. The sweet potato adds a beautiful color and more flavor and provides a more delicate texture.
  • Try roasting sweet potatoes whole. Once they are firm yet tender, remove the skin and slice them. Place the sweet potato slices on a cookie sheet and spray with nonstick cooking spray and add fresh herbs and onions, then return to the oven.
  • Replace some of the sugar in your sweet potato casserole filling with 100% orange juice.
  • A healthier substitution for brown sugar in Candied Sweet Potatoes could be the Splenda Brown Sugar Blend. However, this product is considerably sweeter than regular brown sugar so you might consider halving the amount.

Pumpkin Pie

  • In pumpkin pie filling, use fat-free evaporated milk to reduce fat.
  • Pumpkin pie is even healthier if one avoids eating the end piece of crust. Some may consider this to be the best part, but it also has a lot of calories!!
  • Try a crust less pumpkin pie. A recipe referred to by several chat participants is the “Impossible Pumpkin Pie” which uses Bisquick Mix. The recipe can be found here.
  • Iowa State University Extension “Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Guiltless Pumpkin Pie” can be found here.
  • You could make bite size pumpkin pies in wonton wrappers baked in mini-muffin pans.
  • Try baking pumpkin pie in a corning ware pie plate without the crust - turns out great and fewer calories.
  • The fruit tart recipe made with wonton skins (they are baked) form “Dining with Diabetes” is fantastic. You can fill the cups with savory items like chicken salad or shrimp with cocktail sauce or yogurt and fruit fillings.
  • Just an FYI, pumpkin is superior to sweet potato in terms of nutritional profile. It has less carbohydrates and more fiber, hence fewer calories per serving!
  • Removing the crust from any type of pie, sweet or savory, is a quick and easy way to remove unnecessary fat and calories.
  • Recently the Kitchen Diva, Angela Shelf Medearis, made a healthy version of chicken pot pie on the “Dr. Oz Show.” The recipe uses sweet potatoes and a low-fat biscuit crust. It would be great for leftovers. Find the recipe here.

Holiday Cookies

  • Any suggestions for low-fat Peanut Butter Cookies? I have used applesauce but it takes away from the peanut flavor.
  • Since peanut butter is a naturally high fat ingredient, try making smaller peanut butter cookies to encourage smaller portions.
  • Try low-fat peanut butter. (Notice in the chart below, as fat content goes down, sodium and sugar content goes up and fiber content goes down.)
  • Try a natural peanut butter.
  • The following contain 2% or less fully hydrogenated oil: Simply Jif, Jif Omega-3, Reduced Fat Jif, and Jif Regular. Jif Natural is the only Jif peanut butter that does not contain fully hydrogenated oil.

Nutritional Comparison of Peanut Butters (Jif Brand)
Nutrition Information from Jif Website.

TYPE (Serving Size=2 Tbsp.) Calories Calories from Fat Total Fat Saturated Fat Sodium Total Carbohydrate Protein
Jif Natural 190 130 16 g 3 g 80 mg 8 g (2g fiber; 3g sugar) 7 g
Jif Regular 190 130 16 g 3 g 150 mg 7 g (2g fiber; 3g sugar) 7 g
Jif Reduced Fat 190 110 12 g 2.5 g 250 mg 15 g (1g fiber; 4g sugar) 8 g
Jif with Omega-3 190 140 16 g (5g polyunsat; 8g monounsat) 2.5 g 160 mg 8 g (2g fiber; 3g sugar) 7 g
Simply Jif 190 130 16 g 3 g 65 mg 6 g (2g fiber; 2g sugar) 8 g

  • Peanut Butter-Oat Bran Cookie recipe. Find the recipe: Hodgsonmill Website.
  • Dr. Georgia Jones, food specialist at the University of Nebraska, has a blog called “Discovering Foods.” She will be posting 12 healthy holiday cookies in December. All of her recipes are taste tested and approved by the UNL foodies before they are posted. Read Dr. Jones' blog, "Discovering Foods" here.

Green Bean Casserole

  • Use canned green beans with no added salt or frozen green beans. Use the Healthy Request cream of mushroom soup mixed with some non-fat milk. For the onions on top, sauté onions in a non-stick skillet with cooking spray and put them on top instead of French-fried onions.

Mashed Potatoes

  • Who doesn't love Mashed Potatoes for the holidays? Mashed potatoes can be another caloric pitfall, so season them with pepper and herbs and use low-fat butter, fat-free half-and-half or reduced-fat sour cream.
  • Season with onion powder instead of salt. It gives the mashed potatoes a great flavor without the added sodium - also keep the skins on the mashed potatoes for added fiber!
  • To increase the calcium content, use nonfat plain yogurt in your mashed potatoes.
  • You could also use plain Greek Yogurt because it makes the potatoes taste and feel creamy. Yogurt contributes a richer flavor and nice mouth feel.
  • Greek yogurt is also tasty in potato salad rather than mayonnaise.
  • What makes Greek yogurt so different? Greek yogurt is lower in sugar and higher in protein and probiotics than traditional yogurt. It is also much thicker.
  • To create your own Greek-style yogurt to eliminate the higher cost, simply put plain, nonfat yogurt into a strainer lined with a paper towel or coffee filter. Refrigerate and the whey will drain out in a few hours leaving behind Greek-style yogurt consistency. Be sure to save the whey to use in another food preparation requiring liquid such as a soup.


  • Cook stuffing outside the bird so it doesn’t absorb the fat drippings. Instead of adding sausage or nuts, use a recipe with raisins or other dried fruit. Replace some or all of the butter with fat-free chicken broth.

Cheese Recipes

  • For holiday cheese recipes, there are some very nice low fat cheeses. Cabot makes some very nice tasting cheeses that are low fat.
  • If Cabot cheese is not available in your grocery store, you can order online here.
  • Laughing Cow cheese wedges are available in the west and are very tasty, flavorful low calorie choices.

Egg Nog

  • Try different versions of egg nog: traditional egg nog is usually made with egg yolk and thick cream. Google low fat egg nog and you will find lots of low fat egg nog recipes. If you buy commercial egg nog, you will be delighted to find low-fat or fat-free egg nog out there.
  • Families, Food and Fitness Low-Calorie Egg Nog

Apple Crisp Recipe

  • The Apple Crisp recipe is a healthy alternative to traditional Apple Pie. This recipe features a crust-less variation loaded with Granny Smith apples, raisins, and 100% apple juice. The topping is made of whole wheat flour, old-fashioned rolled oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, and only ¼ cup brown sugar and ¾ tablespoon butter. The recipe makes six servings and each serving has 96 calories and only 2 grams of fat (1 gram is saturated fat). Traditional apple pie has approximately 411 calories and 19.4 grams of fat (4.7 grams saturated fat). Traditional Apple Pie Nutritional Analysis from Calorie Count Website.

Healthy Star Ingredients

  • Each of our favorite holiday dishes begin with a very healthy main ingredient: Candied Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin Pie, and Green Bean Casserole. The added fat and sugar cause the recipe to become unhealthy! Try concentrating on the star ingredient...rather than Green Been Casserole, sauté green beans with almonds and fresh pepper, or bake pumpkins with an oat and cranberry filling.
  • Try roasting vegetables like beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips with a little healthy oil and herbs. They are beautiful, easy, and taste good.
  • This time of year, seasonal fruits and vegetables should be the centerpiece of your meals: nuts, fresh herbs, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, apples, pears, cranberries, and citrus...all of these ingredients have really great flavors on their own, they don't need a lot of sugar or fat to make them taste good...they're also beautiful as decorations!

Cooking with Herbs and Spices

  • Families, Food and Fitness offers an interactive Herb and Spice Guide. This interactive tool features pictures of herbs and spices, a flavor profile, and examples of foods that work well with the spices/herbs. You can find it at Interactive Spice Guide.
  • If you have never experimented with fresh herbs, try it! Some chat participants find that fresh herbs offer a more subtle and palatable flavor than the dried version. Great cool season herbs include sage, thyme, and rosemary.

Enjoying Proper Portion Sizes

  • For those people who are trying to watch their caloric intake, the holidays can be difficult. This can really be the time to stress taking small portions. Don't deprive yourself, just take a little less or better yet, the three bite rule. Just a taste.

Flavor-boosting Cooking Techniques

  • It's amazing how cooking techniques can take a ho-hum vegetable and elevate it to new heights! What are your favorite flavor-boosting cooking techniques? I love to roast or steam with flavorful aromatics like onion, garlic, citrus, and fresh herbs!
  • Roasting is a great cooking technique that brings out the natural flavor and sweetness of vegetables.

Health Risks Associated with Consumption of Artificial Sweeteners

  • So far there are no clinical trials that have demonstrated that artificial sweeteners are dangerous. Like all foods, it is about moderation.
  • I have some clients who are convinced that Splenda causes seizures. Any resources I can refer to when answering them?
  • There is some testimonial research in the lay literature but in scientific peer reviewed research there has been no link to Splenda and seizures. Splenda is sugar with an extra OH group on it. Metabolically it would not make sense that this could cause a seizure.

"Families, Food and Fitness" Recipe Database

  • The ITS department at Mississippi State University is developing a searchable recipe database for Families, Food and Fitness! Users will be able to create an account and save their favorite recipes. Recipes will be searchable based on title, ingredient, season, meal type, kid-friendly, etc. We expect to have it released before Christmas!
  • Wow, that will be a great resource, much like Betty Crocker but without the ads pushing products.
  • That's what we're going for! The recipes are submitted from CoP members at land-grant universities across the country!

Food Safety

  • Food Safety Websites
  1. USDA "Beef...from Farm to Table"
  2. USDA "Ham and Food Safety"
  3. USDA "Lamb...from Farm to Table"
  4. USDA "Food Safety of Turkey...from Farm to Table"
  5. Mississippi State University Extension Service "What is the proper temperature for your refrigerator?"
  6. Mississippi State University Extension Service "How long can leftovers be left out of the refrigerator?"

  • All leftovers should be put back in the refrigerator within 2 hours. You can even set a timer to help you remember.
  • Holiday meals often become a time to graze. By setting specific times to eat and then putting the food away, not only do you keep food safe, you also reduce the risk of overeating!
  • How long can dairy products (milk, sour cream, etc.) be left out? Is it also 2 hours? It is recommended you do not leave them out for more than two hours but I would not recommend it. Dairy products can sour and change their flavor if left sitting out too long. I try to not let dairy products sit out for more than 30 minutes.
  • Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey. A whole turkey is safe cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F throughout the bird. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast
  • For those of us who live in the North, many people think it is okay to use the garage for Thanksgiving leftovers, but it is not always cold enough to be safe.
  • Use leftover turkey and stuffing within 3-4 days or freeze these foods. Reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165 °F or until hot and steaming. THIS IS AN IMPORTANT POINT!! SOME FAMILIES KEEP THE TURKEY FOR A WEEK OR SO!!
  • Encourage families to freeze what they cannot eat, and they can enjoy it at another time in the winter!!
  • Purchase ice and fill an ice chest to handle the refrigerator overflow. Drinks and things that take space go in the ice chest leaving room for turkey and more expensive perishable foods to go in the refrigerator.
  • Oftentimes, families enjoy multiple Thanksgiving meals...Do yourself a favor and freeze the leftover turkey so you can use it in new ways such as Turkey Enchiladas or grind it for Turkey burgers! Or, even better, set aside time the day after Thanksgiving to prepare dishes with your leftover turkey (Turkey Noodle Soup or Turkey Pot Pie) and freeze. During the busy holiday season, you will have a healthy, homemade dinner option ready to go. No fast food drive-thrus for you and your family!
  • Here is a link for creative recipes using leftover turkey, Holiday Recipes.

Online Resources for Healthy Holiday Recipes

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