Published on 11/06/08

Holiday meal tips: Lose extra fat, salt, sugar

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Traditional holiday meals with plenty of vegetables put Georgians a step ahead of their neighbors to the north. Vegetables free of extras like butter, breadcrumbs and heavy creams could help Georgians stay healthy, says a University of Georgia expert.

“Vegetables, if they’re good, are already sweet,” said Connie Crawley, a UGA Cooperative Extension nutrition and health specialist. “(Southerners) usually cook them to death or throw grease or sugar on them. The best thing to do is just cook them until they’re just done, tender, but not limp.”

Visit local farmer’s markets for the freshest varieties of vegetables. In-season winter varieties include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pumpkins, beets, greens, cauliflower and winter squash like butternut, acorn and spaghetti.

Calorie-laden culprits don’t just come in the form of vegetables. Most dishes on holiday tables are loaded with extra fat, salt and sugar.

“Turkey is one of the healthier meats if you don’t fry it or baste it to death,” Crawley said. A serving of roasted turkey has about 200 calories, more if fried. Gravy adds 50 calories per tablespoon.

A serving of a breadcrumb-topped casserole has 200-plus calories; one roll, 110 calories; a pat of butter, 45 calories; sweet potato casserole, 300 calories; and pumpkin pie, 200 calories. A dollop of whipped cream on top of that pie can add an extra 100 calories.

“One of the worst side dishes is stuffing,” she said. “There are so many calories in a small amount. A fourth-cup of dressing is equal to a whole slice of bread. We eat a lot more and with gravy.”

A typical holiday meal can add up to 1,000 calories. That’s without piling the food high. For a woman, 1,000 calories can be half or more of her daily calories, Crawley said.

To keep calorie counts low, use the smallest plate available and leave space around each food item. Pile food no higher than the thickness of a hand – laid flat, not propped on its side. And wait at least 15 minutes after the meal before choosing a dessert.

Crawley offers the following tips for keeping the holidays lean and tasty:

• Buy fresh turkey, and cook it in a cooking bag. It’ll be moist and brown without extra fat and sodium. Substitute pork tenderloin or fresh ham for cured ham brined with salt. Check the label to ensure the pork tenderloin isn’t brined.

• Make cornbread for dressing with stone-ground cornmeal and whole-wheat flour.

• In casseroles, substitute reduced-fat, low-sodium condensed soups for regular canned soups. Use reduced-fat margarine, low-cholesterol egg substitute, reduced-fat cheese and evaporated skim milk. For topping, use whole wheat bread crumbs or low-sodium crackers.

• For sweet potato casserole, substitute artificial sweetener for half the sugar or cut the sugar by a third. Use light margarine instead of butter or regular margarine.

• In congealed salads, use sugar-free gelatin, fresh or canned fruit in its own juice and reduced-fat cream cheese.

• Season cooked vegetables with a little olive oil and a few shakes from a commercial spice-herb mixture.

• Serve whole-wheat rolls or bread. Accompany them with reduced-sugar fruit spread or a little olive oil.

• Offer one or two desserts. Make one a lower-fat, lower-calorie dessert like regular angel food cake with warm fruit compote, baked apples filled with pecans or banana pudding made with sugar-free vanilla pudding, light whipped cream and reduced-fat vanilla wafers. Have a basket of seasonal fruits on hand as an alternative.

“With more variety, people eat more,” Crawley said. “You don’t have to have two kinds of potatoes, multiple vegetable casseroles or four kinds of desserts. A low-calorie dish with high-calorie ones gives people choices.”

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.