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Better Baking this Holiday Season

The holidays don’t have to be an excuse to throw healthful eating habits out with the crumpled gift-wrap. Consider some simple recipe makeovers to keep up the traditions of the holiday season without sacrificing your nutrition goals.

Reduce and Replace

  • Reduce sugar by 1/3 cup in most recipes – especially in puddings and custards. For example, if the recipe calls for one cup, reduce it to 2/3 cup. When reducing sugar in cakes or cookies, the results can lead to a less moist cake or decrease the ability of the baked item to brown. Reducing sugar may not be successful with all cake or cookie recipes.
  • Try replacing half the sugar in your recipe with artificial sweeteners to greatly reduce the carbohydrates. Splenda and Stevia tend to be better for baking, as they don’t lose their sweet flavor in the cooking process, like Equal (aspartame) can. Homemade candies are one exception – those work best with real sugar.

Satisfying Substitutes

  • Shake up your salt intake by increasing your use of spices, herbs, lemon zest or juice, pepper or even vinegar to add flavor with less salt. Salt can often be omitted completely or reduced in half without changing the overall flavor of your dish or baked item.
  • Substitute whole grain flour for ¼ or ½ of refined white flour. For example, if the recipe asks for three cups all purpose white flour, use 1½ cups whole grain flour and 1½ cups white flour. 
  • Substitute low fat cheeses (including cream cheese) in place of the regular cheeses in recipes.
  • Replace sour cream with yogurt or cottage cheese in sauces and dips. Unflavored Greek yogurts work very well for this. 
  • Skim milk may be substituted for whole milk in most recipes. To avoid curdling of the milk when making cream soups use 1% milk and add the milk at the end of cooking and allow to reach desired temp just before serving. Making a very thin white sauce with use of the reduced fat milk may also help avoid the curdling.

Focus on Fats

  • Cookies, frosting, desserts…all these delicious items require some amount of fat, but did you know there is a big difference between butter, stick margarine and tub margarine? Depending on your recipe, choose the healthiest fat possible. Try to avoid fats that are hydrogenated (stick margarine or shortening) or saturated (butter or lard). These can be replaced with a soft tub margarine that doesn’t contain a lot of water, as added water in the fat can impact baked goods. 
  • Fat can often be reduced by one third, especially in gravy, sauces, pudding or quick bread. For example, if a recipe calls for six tablespoons of butter, use four tablespoons. Try replacing the fat in quick breads, bars or cakes with applesauce or another pureed fruit.

 When giving your recipe a makeover, your success will depend on your own personal tastes and standards as well as the type of food. You may decide that the best way to enjoy your favorite foods is to reduce portion sizes or simply eat foods high in sugar, salt, and fat less often. Enjoying holiday food and family traditions is important, so don’t make such great sacrifices that you and your family feel like you are missing out. Just be mindful of portions of high-calorie foods and enjoy every bite.

Keep in mind that there are no great secrets to healthful eating. If healthful eating, nutrition, and lifestyles are practiced throughout the year, holidays will be like any other time. Having regular family meals, serving a variety of healthful foods and snacks, and not using food as a punishment, bribe, or reward are strategies that should be used year-round. Celebrations can be treated simply as a celebration and once it passes, it’s back to normal. Happy baking and enjoy a healthy holiday!

-Deb Studer, registered dietitian and certified diabetic educator

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Kossuth Regional Health Center | 1515 South Phillips Street | Algona, Iowa 50511 | 515-295-2451

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