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strawberry cloudsThe holidays are a time when we gather with friends and family to celebrate—usually around the dinner table. The purpose is to enjoy ourselves, but often we tend to eat more than we typically would.

Recently, the Calorie Control Council estimated that the average American could consume as many as 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving Day. That's the equivalent of more than 2 1/4 times the average daily calorie intake and almost 3 1/2 times the fat. The typical holiday dinner can be loaded with 45 percent of calories from fat. In fact, the average person may consume enough fat at a holiday meal to equal three sticks of butter.

Those extra calories can be avoided with a few savvy ingredient swaps in some of your favorite recipes. Try these tips to lighten up your holiday favorites without sacrificing flavor.


Boost the flavor: In order to cook a juicy bird, keep the skin on when cooking. However, most of the saturated fat is found in the skin, so remove it before eating.

Lower the fat:

  • Roast the turkey on a rack so the fat drips away from the bird.
  • If you're debating light vs. dark meat, both have a similar amount of calories as long as they're eaten without the skin. But if you want to reduce the fat, light meat is your best bet. One serving of light meat, approximately 3 cooked ounces, has 125 calories and 2 grams of fat. Dark meat, on the other hand, has about 20 more calories and 3 more grams of fat per serving than light meat.

Some of your guests might be vegetarian. Consider these hearty plant- and dairy-based options:

  • Use ingredients with protein including eggs, low fat dairy (cheese, Greek yogurt, milk), nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes.
  • Make a quinoa- or rice-based dish.
  • Stuff an acorn or other winter squash with rice or quinoa and vegetables.
  • Serve a gratin or casserole. Usually these dishes are made with heavy cream and lots of cheese. Substitute low-fat dairy, including Greek yogurt and cheese instead.



There's nothing wrong with regular (white) potatoes, nutrition-wise; they're good sources of vitamin C and potassium. However, typical mashed potato recipes have added heavy cream and butter.

  • Boost the flavor: Leave the skin on your potatoes, then mash to add texture and nutrition. Also, add some zest to your potatoes with herbs, spices, and veggies. Chives, basil, onion, and garlic really add a zesty kick. Or, add a pinch of strongly flavored cheese such as Parmesan.
  • Lower the fat: There are several routes to take to lower those calories and keep your potatoes moist. Try using less butter, or a light margarine. Instead of cream, you can also use low-fat milk, low-fat sour cream, or low-fat plain Greek yogurt. Low-sodium broth also adds flavor without added fat.
  • Lower the carbs: Some family members may be diabetic or watching their carbohydrate intake. Lighten up your mashed potato dish by swapping up to half of the potatoes in your recipe with steamed cauliflower. Just be sure to drain your cauliflower well and pat dry with paper towels to remove as much liquid as possible so your mash doesn't become too watery.

Sweet potato casserole is usually a decadent dish made with sugar, butter, and marshmallows. Use these tips for a tasty lighter version.

  • Boost the flavor: Add spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Add texture: Add a crumble topping made with oats and nuts such as pecans or walnuts.
  • Lower the fat: Use less butter and add evaporated skim milk instead.
  • Use less sugar: Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet, so you don’t have to go overboard on the sugar. Save the marshmallows for another dessert.

With ingredients like canned cream soup and French-fried onions, green bean casserole adds fat and sodium to your holiday meal. Use these tips for a lighter version.

  • Boost the flavor: Start with fresh green beans. Add fresh herbs such as thyme, sautéed onions, and garlic for extra flavor.
  • Add texture: Finish with toasted panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) for crunch.
  • Lower the fat and sodium: Instead of cream of mushroom soup, make a cream sauce with flour and low-fat milk. Add sautéed mushrooms for extra flavor. Instead of fried onion rings, use slivered almonds and a layer of sweet caramelized onions for flavor.

Boxed stuffing is filled with sodium and a long list of artificial preservatives. It’s also typically made with butter. Try these tips instead:

  • Add texture: Add nuts and dried fruit.
  • Lower the fat: Instead of bacon or sausage, make your stuffing without meat or use turkey bacon or sausage instead.
  • Go with the whole grain: Instead of the boxed stuffing, use whole-wheat bread cubes. Or, switch up your stuffing by using wild rice, brown rice, or quinoa.
  • Make it gluten free: If you have gluten-free guests, start with a gluten-free base such as gluten-free bread or a gluten-free whole grain such as quinoa, wild rice, or brown rice.



Try these simple modifications to this holiday favorite:

  • Boost the flavor: Add spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla to enhance sweetness and flavor.
  • Lower the fat: Instead of cream, use canned, evaporated nonfat milk. For the crust, use crushed gingersnaps, or consider a pie without the crust.
  • Use less sugar: Start with canned pumpkin puree, not the pumpkin pie mix with added sugar. Use half the amount of sugar in the recipe.



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