Healthy Holiday Eats

By Catherine Miller

As spirits rise during the holiday season, so can glucose and cholesterol levels. With so many gatherings throughout the month being snack-centric, it’s difficult to watch our nutritional intake. But a little pre-planning can go a long way to keeping the scale in check.

Yes, it’s time to socialize, and festive food and drink make the season more fun. Taking time at home to eat a salad or protein-packed small meal before your get-together can mean fewer calories consumed at the party. Once there, head toward the veggies and away from the fat-saturated dips and sugar-based goodies.

Offer to bring a dish and lean toward lean foods — that way you know there will be something healthy at the table. You don’t have to go as basic as a veggie tray (although if you do, there are plenty of ways to turn red and green pepper strips, tomatoes and cukes into an adorable tree shape).

Think outside the box — literally. Most boxed crackers are loaded with sodium and fats. Wander your produce aisle for inspiration. Try slices of cucumber topped with hummus and sliced tomatoes for a finger sized snack. Missing your dips? Try a layered bean dip using fat-free refried beans mixed with cumin and cayenne pepper, layered with tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and fat-free sour cream. You nix most of the calories and fat of the ground meat-based versions of this party favorite. Cut your favorite soft taco shells into strips and pop in the oven for ten minutes to make your own dippers. You’ll never miss the sodium laden bagged chips.

Sweets. No, we won’t ask you to give them up. After all, what is the holidays without holiday treats? But a little planning can keep your treats as good for you as they taste.

Kathleen Cunningham, owner of KupKates Bakery, has found numerous ways to “lighten up” her baking when her clients ask her to.

“Many times I minimize the amount of sugar a recipe calls for,” says Cunningham, who has been in the baking business for nearly a decade, “While you can’t change the ratio of most dry ingredients, you can alter the sugar amount with little change to the texture and taste.”

Another suggestion is to replace the sugar with unsweetened applesauce, allowing the natural sweetness of the apples to reinvent your baked goods into wholesome goodness. Simply swap even amounts of applesauce with the sugar. You may need to limit any liquid that you are adding to the recipe.

When you really want to limit your holiday snacks, simply make them smaller.

“I believe in portion control,” Cunningham says. “At KupKates you won’t find an oversized cupcake or muffin. You will find a perfect sized cupcake, beautifully decorated.”

Consider bringing muffins to a party as an alternative to cupcakes. Many recipes are made without sugar, using molasses or honey as a sweetener. Cunningham uses Bob’s Red Mill wheat bran along with a recipe that is printed right on the bag – altering it just a bit to make it her own, and adding local blueberries for a touch of homegrown flavor.

Pastry hearts are an easy alternative to cookies. There is no sugar in the dough and the icing can be colored in bright festive colors – or simply dust with cinnamon for an elegant delight. My mother’s go-to healthy dessert was angel food cake topped with fresh strawberries. Sliced strawberries can be mixed with a bit of water and honey for fresh natural flavor. Wherever you end up this holiday season – just a bit of planning is all you need to keep your holidays healthy and your bathroom scale in check.