COLLEGE STATION – The holidays are a time for fun, family and lots of food. And Texas AgriLife Extension Service experts have suggestions on how to alter recipes and make better food choices 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 omit the salt entirely.”
Another way to make holiday recipes more healthful is to substitute whole-grain or bran flours for recipes calling for all-purpose flour, Bielamowicz 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,” she said. “Or you can substitute oat bran or oatmeal for one-fourth of the all-purpose flour used.”
Modifying more complicated recipes may not always produce the texture or flavor you want, Bielamowicz warned. So try out the new recipe before serving it to friends and family.
“Most changes in flavor or texture are typically not too significant and are well worth the tradeoff of a much healthier dish with less fat and fewer calories,” she said.
“Holiday meals don’t have to be high in fat or calories to be tasty,” said Dr. Connie Sheppard, AgriLife Extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Bexar County. “But low in fat doesn’t always mean low in calories, so you have to consider both.”
Reduced or non-fat cheese, milk, cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt or mayonnaise can be substituted for higher-fat counterparts, she said. And evaporated milk can be used as a substitute for cream.
Sheppard also suggested steaming or roasting vegetables and using low-fat margarine or sprays on them instead of butter.
“You can also substitute defatted broth for butter in mashed potato recipes to reduce both fat and calorie content,” she said.
Turkey, especially turkey breast, provides the lowest fat and highest protein content of any traditional holiday meat, and the healthiest cooking method is baking, she said.
“If you’re cooking a turkey, leave the skin on to contain the flavor, but remove it after cooking to reduce fat,” Sheppard said. “And try basting it in its own juice or use a defatted broth instead of butter. And make the stuffing outside the turkey.”
Putting stuffing inside a turkey allows it to absorb more oil, she said, and getting the internal temperature of the bird high enough to cook the dressing thoroughly often leads to overcooking the outside.
To make a lower-fat dressing, use defatted broth instead of butter and either a turkey or chicken sausage if a meat ingredient is desired, Sheppard said.
“For vegetable dishes like candied sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, try substituting mashed or baked sweet potatoes with a little brown sugar and butter substitute,” Sheppard said. “For a green bean casserole, try reduced-fat mushroom or chicken soup or defatted broth. Use low-fat or skim milk, and leave off the fried onion topping.”
When baking holiday sweets, such as cookies, cakes and pastries, try using the same amount of canola or vegetable oil as the amount of butter called for in the recipe, she said.
“You can use applesauce in cakes and cookies to cut down on fat and use less sugar or a sugar substitute instead of table sugar,” said Rita Avendano, AgriLife Extension assistant for the Better Living for Texans program. “And you can use yogurt in place of eggs in cakes and pies to reduce fat and eliminate cholesterol.”
There also are healthier choices for those who prefer more typically Southwestern holiday fare, Sheppard added.
“For holiday barbecue fans, smoked or barbecued turkey and chicken are low-fat, high-protein alternatives, but you need to skip or go very easy on the barbecue sauce,” she said.
“For those who prefer barbecue beef for the holidays, recent research shows that brisket has a healthier fatty acid composition than other cuts of beef,” said Dr. Stephen Smith, a Texas AgriLife Research meat scientist at Texas A&M’s department of animal science.
Beef brisket contains ‘depots’ or tiny reservoirs of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, he said. Fat from the brisket of corn-fed steers contains nearly 50 percent oleic acid, and that increases the longer cattle are fed a corn-based diet.
“But while brisket has a better fatty acid composition, it still has about the same calorie content as other cuts of beef,” he said.
Tamales, another traditional Southwestern holiday favorite, can be made with lower-fat ingredients and still retain their flavor, said Adelita Munoz, AgriLife Extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Hidalgo County.
“Combine healthy vegetables with the meat filling,” she said. “These could include carrots, peas, celery or others. Use canola oil instead of shortening and lard, and use more filling than masa. And you can use non-fat refried beans as a tamale filling.”
AgriLife Extension offices, which have locations in almost every Texas county, typically have information on ways to prepare more healthful foods, including foods for people with diabetes or other health problems. Many of these offices can set up food demonstrations for small groups at community centers, churches, schools or other public venues.
The AgriLife publication “Altering Recipes for Good Health” can be downloaded free at http://fcs.tamu.edu/food_and_nutrition/pdf/alteringrecipes.pdf .