If your picture-perfect holiday meal is a hearty, creamy stroganoff and a side of mushroom soup-fortified green bean casserole, and a "healthful" plate looks like a few pieces of curly kale sprinkled lightly with lemon juice and olive oil, think again. Here's how to make your fall and winter holidays hearty and healthful.
*Transform Your Favorite Recipes
Consider your options before you go grocery shopping to keep the flavor and cut the fat. Let's start with that stroganoff. The typical main ingredients are beef, onions, mushrooms, noodles, sour cream, Dijon mustard and butter. Replace beef with cubed chicken, half the sour cream with plain low-fat yogurt, and the butter with olive oil.
Dairy substitutions will work in other creamy dishes, and you may find it's possible to replace all the sour cream with a whole or two percent yogurt and not miss it if you add just a little extra salt, Beau Monde seasoning or few aromatic herbs.
Transform fat-filled, sodium-laden green bean casserole by sauteeing fresh or frozen petite whole green beans with diced bell peppers and onions. If that's too far away from the real deal, toast a few canned French fried onions for a garnish. For the time-honored cornbread casserole, make the same substitution for sour cream, omit the cheese, and add an extra egg or two to stretch the dish with extra protein.
*Make It Festive
Everyone says it because it's true: you eat with your eyes first. For your party, use nice dishes, arrange your table attractively and create a visual feast with color, shape and tantalizing aromas, no matter the dishes! A beautiful presentation with enough time to enjoy it will make even carrot sticks and low-fat herb dip enjoyable.
"Bypass the chips and other fried pound-packers and help yourself to a small handful of nuts, reduced-fat cheese and fresh fruit, or chilled shrimp," WebMD paraphrases Dr. Arthur Agatston as saying. "Or serve a hummus dip with a holiday-themed veggie platter: red or green pepper, zucchini and jicama strips."
Pay special attention to your food garnishes, colorful nonalcoholic beverages, and table accessories such as candles, napkins and flowers. These will all create the festive feeling of a joyful, satisfying meal together.
*Portions, Themed Parties and New Traditions
It's normal to feel protective of our favorite holiday flavors and fragrances. So aim for balance. Keep the most special foods that would be missed if omitted, such as a favorite fudge recipe, eggnog or pecan pie; cut down on the portion size of those things, and reduce the fats, salt and sugar elsewhere.
Serve fish. Countless elegant, delicious dishes are built around fish and shellfish. It's quick and easy to saute shrimp with snow peas and thinly sliced green onions in a thin coating of grapeseed oil and add a light wine or lemon sauce before serving. Or serve a succulent 6-ounce piece of marinated salmon for a main course that is beautiful and flavorful. Start with a separate salad course to stretch out the meal and allow time for guests to start feeling full, serve the main course with ample vegetables and half a sweet potato drizzled with a little maple syrup or date sugar to round out the meal.
Create a gathering with an international theme, and make it a potluck -- Anyone in your group traveling abroad next year? Are you interested in a foreign country just because it sounds interesting? Design a representative menu of that cuisine at your holiday event. To make it even more economical and fun, buy one set of the needed specialty ingredients to shared among your guests, then invite each household to choose one of the courses to prepare for the party. The recipe selection will be your job, so find healthful options and no one will notice much, if any, difference. Add regional music and serve! If your international holiday party is a great success, you may have found a new tradition.
Many websites focus on nutritious and festive dining, complete with recipes. In addition, bookstore shelves feature seasonal magazines with such beautiful pictures that readers want to ditch their old ways for the whole year, not just the holidays, and hop on the whole/fresh-foods bandwagon.