If you thought the last remnants of the holiday festivities were sitting on the curb waiting for the trash pickup, maybe you haven't stepped on the scales yet.
Most people gain an average of five pounds over the holidays from Thanksgiving to New Year's, says Connie Crawley, a food, nutrition and health specialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.
"If you're like most people, you probably gave in to your sweet tooth or those luscious traditional meals over the holidays," Crawley says. "Now it's time to remind yourself about cutting down on the fat and sodium."
You don't have to go on a starvation diet to get results, she says. Just using some basic cooking principles can help you shed some of your holiday baggage. Here are some ideas:
* Use low-fat cooking methods. Roasting, baking, braising or stewing, poaching, grilling, broiling, steaming, sauteing, stir frying and microwaving all can be low-fat cooking methods, depending on how much fat you add or remove before and during cooking.
* Chill cooked meats and poultry drippings and broths in the refrigerator and remove the layer of fat on top. This stock can be used as a base for soups, to flavor vegetables and to make gravies. Make gravy without fat by blending a tablespoon of cornstarch with a cup of room-temperature broth. Simmer until thickened.
* Buy only the leanest beef, pork and poultry. Ground meat can be fatty. Ground turkey is leaner but still fattier than regular turkey. Grind your own meat and poultry if you have a food processor or meat grinder. It will be leaner than any commercial meat and often cheaper.
* Lean meat and poultry will be moister if it is cooked in foil or in steamed cabbage or lettuce leaves.
* Cut fat and cholesterol in meat and poultry dishes by adding more vegetables, pasta and fruit. You can also add more vegetables to bread stuffings.
To cut down on sodium in your cooking, try these ideas:
* Eliminate or at least cut the salt in half in most recipes. Becoming accustomed to food with less sodium usually takes two to four weeks.
* Use herbs and spices, lemon juice and wine to enhance the flavor of food. Use no more than one-fourth teaspoon of dried herb or spice or three-fourths teaspoon of a fresh herb initially in a recipe that serves four. Keep lemon and wine amounts to less than two tablespoons. Many commercial herb and spice blends are excellent.
* Most yeast breads can be made without salt. Rising time will be half as long as usual. Quick breads need no added salt and can be made with low- sodium baking powder if necessary.
* Add a small amount of lemon to the water to cook pasta, and no salt will be needed.
* When shopping for canned goods, if low-sodium versions aren't available, rinse salted ones with water in a colander. This will help reduce the sodium. Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables without salt are better to use.
Your county Extension agent can give you more ideas about cooking healthy meals with lower salt and fat.