You don’t have to wait until Jan. 1 to start thinking about losing the extra pounds that have crept onto your scale. Even though the holiday season is known as the least diet-friendly time of the year, we have some sneaky ways to lighten up your Christmas feasting. Best yet, your diet-rebellious holiday guests won’t have a clue they are eating fewer calories and less sugar, fat and sodium.
Slim, trim turkey tips
Turkey is inherently a healthy choice for Christmas dinner, as long as you don’t slather butter underneath the turkey skin and then add insult to injury by eating the skin. A healthy and even more delicious alternative is to make a thick paste of fresh and dried herbs, spices and olive oil to rub underneath the skin against the flesh of the turkey before roasting. Add even more flavor by shoving a few orange and onion wedges underneath the skin, too. Then skip the skin when it’s time to eat – the turkey meat will have plenty of flavor.
Lighten up pasta dishes
If pasta is your Christmas centerpiece dish, chock it full of vegetables, leafy greens, fresh herbs and lean proteins like shellfish and other seafood. For example, toss pasta with smoked salmon and a generous amount of peas and fresh basil. If you can get away with it, swap in whole grain pasta for regular pasta to add more fiber to your feast. Further, your pasta doesn’t have to swim in creamy sauces – lightly coat pasta and scatter with freshly shaved Parmesan, which will lend creaminess and more flavor.
Get stuffed with meats
A big hunk of beef, leg of lamb or jumbo chicken breast is way too much protein, calories and fat for your body to comfortably digest in a sitting, but you can stretch your protein dollars while making these stately meats healthier by stuffing them with vegetables, herbs and whole grains. Select butterflied meats or cut chicken and pork chops into smaller pieces and pound out to even thickness, and then fill with a saute of plant-based ingredients, roll up the meat, and roast in the oven. Not only are stuffed meats healthier, but they are also uber impressive at the table.
Skinnier stews and soups
Serving a hearty stew or soup for Christmas? Opt for broth-based recipes as opposed to cream-based chowders. Substitute half of the meats with beans and add more vegetables, such as winter squash, carrots and leafy greens to bulk up recipes while cutting down the calories and fat.
Healthier mashed potatoes
Instead of adding a pint of cream and dumping a stick of butter into your mashed potatoes, substitute half of the butter with buttermilk and simultaneously cut back on the cream. Add fresh herbs and roasted garlic to your potatoes to give them flavor for nearly zero calories.
Go with whole grains
Add more fiber to your baked goods by substituting half of the white flour in recipes with whole wheat flour. You can even try swapping white flour out for white whole wheat flour, which results in a lighter texture compared to regular whole wheat flour. Consider grain-based side dishes, such as quinoa, polenta, wild rice or whole wheat couscous. If stuffing is on the menu, use whole grain bread instead of white bread.
In most recipes, you can substitute low-fat dairy for whole milk dairy products. For recipes like lasagna and enchiladas, simply use two-thirds to three-fourths of the cheese called for in the ingredients list (do you really need a thick blanket of cheese on top or do you want to be able to taste the cheese and the ingredients underneath?).
Shake less salt
Salt is a must-have in the kitchen because it adds flavor and can augment the flavor of other ingredients. However, you don’t usually need as much salt as a recipe calls for. Go with the rule: Start conservatively and salt to taste. In addition, use low-sodium versions of canned goods, such as broth and diced tomatoes, and be sure to rinse the high-sodium liquid from canned beans before you use them.
Serve a green salad
Toss a gourmet mix of salad greens with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, marinated artichoke hearts, red onions and shaved Parmesan to give guests a low-calorie side dish that is also packed with bold flavors. Only lightly drain the sun-dried tomatoes and marinated artichoke hearts and you won’t even need a dressing.
Portion control is king
If you are a holiday guest and have no control over the way the Christmas meal is prepared, simply watch your portions. Before you start piling food on your plate, survey the buffet, decide which foods you really want to eat, and then dole out modest portion sizes. Then make sure you eat slowly and savor every single bite so by the end of your first plate, you’re fully satisfied and have no need to go back for seconds or thirds.