Dieting around the holidays can be a real bummer. So what if you didn't have to? Cheer up, and get ready to party with your favorite holiday recipes. With a few simple substitutions, you can be drinking eggnog and enjoying a warm apple crisp while you watch the Yule log on TV -- without worrying about calories.
Try using skim milk and a little bit of fat-free half-and-half instead the heavy cream usually found in eggnog. Instead of whole eggs, use a low-calorie and low-cholesterol egg substitute and artificial sweeter. Add a little vanilla flavoring and optional rum or brandy, and you've got a delicious drink that will warm you up for just a fraction of the calories.
Instead of a two-crust, highly sweetened apple pie, try making an apple compote using raisins or cranberries for extra sweetness and low-calorie margarine for the filling. Be sure to include your favorite seasonings like cinnamon and nutmeg. Layer the apple mixture into a pie pan lightly greased with margarine. Use oatmeal, crushed almonds, cinnamon, a couple of teaspoons of brown sugar, and 2 to 3 tablespoons of low-fat margarine for the topping. Mix the dry ingredients together, and cut in the margarine before spooning over the apples. Bake and serve a delicious -- and leaner -- apple pie substitute.
Using your favorite holiday recipe collection, use substitutes with low-calorie ingredients and then cook or bake as usual. Instead of whole milk or cream in recipes, try using skim milk with a touch of olive oil or plain yogurt to reduce calories. There are many tasty sugar substitutes, or if you really need to sweeten with sugar, reduce the amount by half (or more).
Use leaner cuts of meat in your main entrees. For instance, use beef tenderloin instead of prime rib or skinless white meat turkey instead of dark meat with skin. This will reduce the total number of calories per dish. If you want to serve seafood, go for broiled instead of fried, and replace dishes with creamy, heavy and calorie-laden sauces with simple lemon "butter" (low-fat margarine) and seasonings.
Offer healthy appetizers. Eliminate pigs in a blanket and fatty ranch dressing dips, and instead offer vegetable crudite platters with ground crabmeat, tuna or chicken dip (made with a touch of low-fat mayo). Prepare a large tossed salad with spinach leaves, slivered almonds, diced carrots, tomatoes and peppers, and serve it with a healthy, homemade salad dressing of vinegar, herbs and a healthy oil. Serve sides like string bean almondine with a light sauce, mashed potatoes made with skim milk (or even water) and low-fat margarine, and fresh cranberries boiled in diluted orange juice and seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg and fresh grated orange rind. No one at your table will suspect they are eating healthy and low-calorie holiday foods.
If you aren't the one doing the cooking, it's still easy to choose low-calorie and low-fat options. Select two servings of vegetables instead of a starch. If you are eating a baked potato, forego the sour cream topping. If you are eating in a restaurant, ask for the gravy to be put on the side instead of poured over your dish. This way, you can dip for the flavor without drowning your meal in excess calories. Order a tossed salad, again with the dressing on the side, or a low-calorie broth-based soup before your entree is served and you will feel full sooner. And if you really want that scrumptious dessert, use portion control; Offer to split it with another diner at your table or have half of it boxed to bring home.
Concentrate on high-protein and low-carbohydrate foods this holiday season to reduce the calories that could haunt you long after the festivities are over. Choose lean meats and fish, fruit, vegetables, unsweetened drinks like seltzer and snacks of beans, nuts and seeds. Overindulgence can make you feel sluggish, but it's important to remember that an occasional cheat won't destroy your diet. With a table full of nutritious options, you can stick to your health goals and still enjoy your favorite holiday dessert.