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9 Ways to Cut Calories From Your Favorite Holiday Dishes

author image Patricia Bannan, MS, RD
Patricia Bannan, MS, RD, is a freelance writer, frequent guest expert on news shows and author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight." She is passionate about helping people reach their health and wellness goals.

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9 Ways to Cut Calories From Your Favorite Holiday Dishes
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’Tis the season -- for ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, eggnog, cookies and pie. Did someone say cocktails? Yes, those too, please. While research shows the average American gains only one pound over the holidays, the bigger concern is that that pound never seems to come off. So 10 years later, Aunt Betty’s chocolate roulade (among other things) is showing up as 10 extra pounds on the scale. However, that doesn’t mean you need to deprive your way to the New Year or grow into your Santa suit. Making a few small changes in your holiday recipes can allow you to enjoy yourself without unwanted weight gain. “Many holiday dishes are easily made healthier and lower in calories without compromising taste in the least -- sometimes the change can even improve the flavor,” says Ellie Krieger, M.S., RDN, TV personality and best-selling cookbook author. Check out these nine ways to shave calories -- while maintaining the taste -- from your favorite holiday dishes.

1. Add Non-Starchy Vegetables
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Mushrooms, cauliflower, zucchini, carrots and tomatoes are all examples of non-starchy vegetables that can be added to your holiday dishes to significantly cut calories. “Replace part of the meaty, creamy or starchy ingredients with non-starchy vegetables. This can add color, flavor and nutrition while keeping portions the same -- if not larger,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of “The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook.” Due to its texture and versatility, cauliflower is increasingly being used as a healthy substitute in recipes, as in this example: “Prepare ‘mashed potatoes’ with equal parts boiled potatoes and cauliflower. For creaminess, use a lower-calorie plant-based milk, such as unsweetened coconut milk instead of regular milk or cream. Then pump up the flavor with roasted garlic, scallions or flavored salt, such as truffle salt, if you like,” suggests Newgent.

Related: The 10 Best Paleo Holiday Recipes

2. Use Low-Calorie, Flavorful Liquids
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For extra moistness in a savory recipe like stuffing, a low-calorie, flavorful liquid can help cut calories while maintaining flavor. “Consider using low-sodium vegetable broth, carrot or other vegetable juice, unsweetened green tea and/or a splash of apple cider vinegar in place of some butter or oil,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN. As a gravy alternative, Newgent recommends buying a pureed vegetarian soup based on non-starchy vegetables. Store-prepared options include organic cashew carrot ginger soup, organic red pepper and tomato soup and organic creamy butternut squash soup. “Use this as an intriguing and colorful gravy,” says Newgent.

Related: The 10 Best Paleo Holiday Recipes

3. Get Sweet on the Right Sugars Naturally
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Using dried fruits -- such as raisins, apricots or cranberries in baked goods, grapefruit or lime juice in cocktails, or pureed dates or bananas in baked goods -- can help you cut the amount of refined sugar (and therefore calories) needed in holiday fare. “In dishes like sweet potato casserole, for example, you can usually reduce the amount of sugar in the typical recipe by half and use a less-refined sweetener like maple syrup instead of white sugar. This way you get more flavor, the taste of the sweet potato can shine through and you wind up with way fewer calories,” says Ellie Krieger, M.S., RDN.

Related: The 10 Best Paleo Holiday Recipes

4. Sip Smarter
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Holiday beverages like eggnog and apple cider can add a lot of calories to your diet, even if they are nonalcoholic. Spritz up by diluting 50 percent of whatever you are drinking -- wine, juice or a cocktail -- with sparkling water and immediately cut the calories in half. The other side of the coin with alcohol is that not only does it add calories, it also reduces inhibitions and can increase hunger -- making that fourth chocolate-chip cookie impossible to resist. Do yourself and your guests a favor by offering a simple assortment of alcohol choices like wine and beer and avoiding sugary cocktail mixers. Also have sparkling and flat water available, and don’t forget some seasonal juices (cranberry, apple or pomegranate juice) to add a splash of flavor and color.

Related: 9 Holiday Drinks Under 200 Calories

5. Roast or Grill
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A simple, low-calorie cooking style, roasting or grilling meat, seafood, fruits and vegetables is a wonderful way to bring out the natural sweetness and flavor in foods. Roasted sweet potatoes with cinnamon or fresh herbs and a little butter can be a delicious substitute for traditional calorie-laden casseroles. Roasted pork chops with roasted mushrooms makes for a tasty, lower-calorie substitute for a traditional pork chop dish slathered in a mushroom cream sauce. For dessert, cut calories by opting for grilled or baked apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon and a drizzle of honey instead of traditional apple pie.

Related: 10 New Healthy Holiday Side Dishes

6. Extract the Calories, Not the Flavor
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Extracts and spices offer a lot of flavor with very little to no calories, which make them ideal for lightening up holiday dishes. “Make smart use of pure vanilla, coconut, chocolate and almond extracts in sweet and select savory dishes. They provide virtually zero calories while replacing or enhancing more caloric ingredients. Cut sugar by up to 25 percent, such as by using three-fourths of a cup of sugar instead of one cup. Then add the essence of extra sweetness by using a little additional flavor extract, such as a quarter of a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, plus a pinch of a “sweet” spice, such as cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN.

Related: 10 New Healthy Holiday Side Dishes

7. Lighten Up Desserts
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Even if you eat reasonably sized portions of healthy foods throughout the holidays, the jars of candy and tables of desserts can put your good intentions over the edge. Rather than large pieces of calorie-laden treats, focus on smaller portions with a lighter twist. For example, instead of chocolate cake, go for chocolate-dipped strawberries. If you want pie, choose or make a healthier pie using nonfat evaporated milk and seasonal fruit. Greek yogurt is a healthy (and tasty) substitute for oil, butter and cream cheese in baked goods. For example, when making a cheesecake, simply substitute one cup of Greek yogurt for one cup of cream cheese -- you’ll save loads of fat and calories, but still keep the creamy and delicious taste. For best results, allow the yogurt to reach room temperature before using in recipes.

Related: 10 Desserts That Won't Derail Your Diet

8. Use Foods That Are Naturally Lower in Fat
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Rather than using artificial ingredients and processed foods that deem themselves low in fat, substitute with foods that are naturally lower in fat. Applesauce and nonfat plain yogurt are good fat substitutes in most recipes. To maximize flavor and texture, swap out no more than half the amount of the fat listed in the recipe. For example, if a recipe calls for a half-cup of butter, substitute a quarter-cup of applesauce in place of half the butter and shave 400 calories off the recipe. Also, mashed ripe banana works well as a fat substitute in banana bread, carrot cake or muffins, and prune puree works especially well in chocolate, carrot or spice cakes.

Related: 10 Desserts That Won't Derail Your Diet

9. Build in Portion Control
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Of course, regardless of what you eat, how much you eat will make or break your best eating intentions. “One of the easiest ways to cut calories from favorite holiday dishes and still satisfy your craving is to simply take a smaller portion and savor every bite,” says Ellie Krieger, M.S., RDN. Ways to make it easier on yourself to not overdo it when large portions and second helpings are all too common include using smaller plates and bowls, putting your fork down between bites and drinking water before and after your meals. Knowing what a healthy portion size is (for example, when it comes to meat, poultry and fish, a serving size is the size of the palm of your hand) and pre-portioning foods can also help. “Serve casseroles or other rich sides in individual ramekins. This simply helps keep serving size (and calories) in check. But it seems extra special since everyone gets their own,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN.

Related: The 12 Most Unhealthy Holiday Dishes and Drinks to Avoid - See more at: http://www.livestrong.com/slideshow/1009102-unhealthy-holiday-dishes-avoid/#sthash.3KlzLmEl.dpuf

What Do YOU Think?
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Do you cook in ways to cut calories from your favorite holiday dishes? Would you try any of the suggestions in this article? Leave a comment below and let us know. Share your experience on how certain foods or lifestyle changes have helped you lose weight -- maybe your knowledge will help others.

Related: The 12 Most Unhealthy Holiday Dishes and Drinks to Avoid - See more at: http://www.livestrong.com/slideshow/1009102-unhealthy-holiday-dishes-avoid/#sthash.3KlzLmEl.dpuf

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