Healthy cooking during the holidays

The holidays are quickly approaching and there are so many great family recipes to share. Unfortunately, that cookie recipe from great-great-great-grandma that calls for one and a half cups of butter may not align with your weight loss meal plan.

Healthy CookingIt’s OK to splurge on occasion – but only within reason.

Healthy cooking is possible during the holidays. Below, Kim Meeuwsen, registered dietitian/nutritionist with the Mary Free Bed Weight Management Program, offers ingredient swap ideas to help turn decades-old recipes into new, healthier dishes.

Baking Swaps:

  • Unsweetened applesauce for sugar — Replacing applesauce for sugar can add sweetness without the extra calories. One cup of applesauce is about 100 calories, versus 770 calories for the same amount of sugar. These can be swapped one to one, but you may want to slightly reduce other liquid in the recipe to account for the liquid in applesauce.
  • Vanilla extract for sugar — Another easy way to reduce sugar is to simply cut the amount called for in half and add vanilla extract for the extra flavoring. If a recipe calls for one cup of sugar, cut it down to half a cup and add one teaspoon of vanilla extract.
  • Mashed banana or applesauce for oil/butter — Reduce fat content without sacrificing texture by using mashed banana for oil or butter, cup for cup. If choosing to use applesauce, we recommend first trying to cut the oil/butter in half and using applesauce as the other half as it can occasionally affect texture of some baked products. If you don’t mind the swap, try using applesauce for the full amount in the next batch.

Smarter Carbs:

  • Brown rice or quinoa for white rice — Cooked cup for cup, quinoa provides more than 3 times the fiber and about half the calories of white rice. While brown and white rice are almost the same amount of calories, like quinoa, brown rice also provides more fiber than white rice. For another quinoa alternative, try the Quinoa Holiday Dressing recipe below in place of traditional turkey stuffing.
  • Thinly-sliced zucchini or spaghetti squash for pasta — Get more veggies by replacing high-carb pasta in some dishes. Thinly slice zucchini using a mandoline slicer or vegetable peeler and bake or sauté to use in place of lasagna noodles. Spaghetti squash in place of spaghetti noodles means a lower-calorie, lower-carb meal.
  • Whole wheat pasta, bread or flour for regular pasta, white bread or refined flour — These simple swaps not only increase fiber, but also add vitamin E, major B vitamins, antioxidants and protein. If the recipe is for a baked good, use 7/8 cup of whole wheat flour for every one cup of white.
  • Grated steamed cauliflower for rice, or mashed cauliflower for mashed potatoes — For a fraction of the calories, grated steamed cauliflower has surprisingly similar taste and texture to white rice. Looking for a lower-carb and lower-calorie version of mashed potatoes for this year’s Thanksgiving feast? Try mashing steamed cauliflower and add spices or herbs to taste (recipe below).

Other Helpful Tips:

  • Cut the cholesterol and add protein by using two egg whites instead of one whole egg
  • Replace sour cream or mayo with Greek yogurt
  • Use an olive oil spray instead of pouring straight from the bottle
  • Reduce calories and saturated fat simply by using ground turkey instead of ground beef
  • Try using water or low-sodium vegetable broth to sauté or stir-fry your vegetables instead of oil
  • Omit salt in most baked recipes unless bread or pastry. In that case, cut in half.

Mashed Cauliflower


  • 1 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • ¼ cup skim milk or unsweetened nondairy milk
  • 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • ground black pepper to taste


  1. Boil a large pot of water, enough to cover cauliflower. Add cauliflower and cook until tender, about 10 minutes and drain.
  2. Warm olive oil over medium-low heat in a separate sauté pan. Add garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds or until golden and fragrant. Remove from heat.
  3. For a smooth cauliflower mash, use an immersion hand blender or food processor to puree. While mixing, slowly add in milk until desired consistency achieved. Mix in pepper and minced garlic with olive oil. Serve immediately.

Yields 4, ¾-cup servings providing, 50 calories, 3g carbohydrates, 1g fiber and 1g protein


Quinoa Holiday Stuffing


  • 1 cup pre-rinsed quinoa
  • 1 ¾ cup chicken broth, low-fat and low-sodium (optional vegetable broth)
  • 8 cups lightly toasted bread, cut into bite size cubes*
  • 1 Tbsp. poultry seasoning
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 4 Tbsp. butter, melted*
  • 2 cups finely-diced celery
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 2 to 4 cups chicken broth, low-fat and low-sodium (optional vegetable broth)


  1. In a medium saucepan, add quinoa and broth, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to a simmer. Cook quinoa until most liquid has been absorbed (about 12 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Cut toast into small, bite-sized pieces. Combine toast pieces, quinoa, pepper and poultry seasoning in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°.
  4. In a large skillet, add butter and saute celery and onion on medium-low heat until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Pour over cubed toast mixture. Add 2 cups broth and stir to combine. Add additional broth for more moist dressing.
  5. Lightly mist a large casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and add prepared quinoa mixture. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then remove covering and bake uncovered for additional 10 minutes or until desired color has been reached.

Yields 10 servings providing 171 calories, 26g carbohydrates, 1g fiber and 4g protein.

*May reduce calorie content by using low-calorie bread and half the butter.

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