Make holiday cooking healthier with tips from TOPS

December 12, 2012

Pie, mashed potatoes, cookies and carved ham - these are just a few of the popular seasonal dishes consumed more during the holidays. According to Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE, nutrition expert for TOPS Club Inc. - Take Off Pounds Sensibly - a nonprofit weight-loss support organization, the holidays don’t have to sabotage healthy meal planning.

“Use parties and family get-togethers as an opportunity to try out new, healthy recipes and incorporate several of the following tips into your upcoming celebrations,” says Ferraro. “Special holiday recipes prepared healthier with simple substitutions can add nutrition and won’t break the calorie bank.”

Here are a few tips:

Mash cauliflower instead of potatoes.  One cup of mashed potatoes made with skim milk and no butter has 150 calories, while one cup of mashed cauliflower made with skim milk and no butter has one third of the calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it tastes nearly identical. For the pickiest eaters, mix half mashed cauliflower, half mashed potato. “Add fresh herbs in place of salt for zesty flavor,” notes Ferraro.

Use unsweetened applesauce.  Cut calories in baked goods while providing a hint of sweetness with this substitute. According to the USDA, a cup of sugar contains 775 calories, while a cup of unsweetened applesauce contains only about 100 calories.

Use leafy greens instead of iceberg lettuce.  For an added boost of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, consider dark, leafy vegetables like arugula, chicory, kale, mustard greens or spinach in place of iceberg lettuce for your salad. “Generally, the deeper the color of vegetable, the better the nutrition,” says Ferraro.

Substitute bacon with lower-fat and higher-protein Canadian bacon, turkey bacon or prosciutto. According to Ferraro, one slice of bacon has 45 calories, while turkey bacon contains roughly half that amount. These meats are best enjoyed in limited quantities, though, as they can still contain significant amounts of sodium.

Substitute prunes for butter in dark breads. Cut calories and fat in half without compromising on sweetness or moisture.

For a tasty, low-calorie and fat-free alternative to oil sautéing, Ferraro recommends steaming meats and vegetables in a half cup of reduced-sodium canned chicken or beef broth. Steaming vegetables in broth helps retain their nutrients and enhances flavor, as well.

Avoid processed foods like fruit canned in heavy syrup and opt for fresh fruit or fruit canned in its own juice or in water.

Cacao nibs, minimally processed bits of cocoa beans, are semi-sweet and rich in antioxidants and essential minerals. Their crunchy texture and intense taste are a unique way to add a boost of flavor to holiday treats.

TOPS Club Inc. is the original weight-loss support and wellness education organization. Founded more than 64 years ago, TOPS is the only nonprofit, noncommercial weight-loss organization of its kind.

Visitors are welcome to attend their first TOPS meeting free of charge. Membership is affordable at just $28 per year in the U.S. and $32 per year in Canada, plus nominal chapter fees. To find a local chapter, go to or call 800-932-8677.