Let's face it, the holidays aren't necessarily the best time to think about your waistline. Office parties, home entertaining, and eat-on-the-run schedules can wreak havoc with your weight. But there are plenty of things you can do to hold the line – especially when planning your holiday menu.
"Admittedly, the holidays are not the best time to try an entirely different approach to cherished family recipes," says Regan Jones, Registered Dietitian and Cabot Creamery Cooperative's National Nutrition Communications Manager. "But you can certainly make improvements. The easiest thing you can do is switch to reduced-fat dairy products in traditional family favorites. I use light cheddar in all of my casseroles and nobody can tell the difference. It tastes and cooks like regular cheddar - but with half the fat and more protein. The protein is key in making dishes that are satisfying and keep folks feeling fuller longer - and not going back to the buffet for seconds!
"I also replace some of the butter, sour cream and whipping cream called for in holiday recipes with Greek-style yogurt," Jones continued. "It has a rich taste, with more protein and fewer calories.
Jones says "party grazing" can be detrimental to your diet, so she offers up effective tips to minimize the extra pounds people to tend to gain during the holidays.
• Think "strategic placement" at holiday parties. While others may worry about locating themselves near the life of the party, try to locate yourself away from the chips and dip, especially if a meal is to be served.
• Don't "drink away" all your good efforts. No matter how good your strategy is for choosing healthier foods during the holidays, imbibing can be your calorie downfall. The best solution is to alternate your beverages with a glass of water or club soda. You'll stay better hydrated, plus keep calories in check.
Holiday Cheddar Wreath (12 Servings)
2 (11-ounce) tubes refrigerated French loaf dough
About 3 bunches fresh rosemary
1 package fresh bay leaves
3 (8-ounce) bars assorted flavors cheddar, cut into cubes
Red and yellow grape tomatoes
1. Form two tubes of dough into single ring, pinching ends together firmly. Bake according to package directions (but not slashing tops).
2. Once bread ring has cooled, cut angled trough in top with serrated knife, then pull out more bread to make trough deeper. Place ring on serving plate.
3. Break or snip rosemary into short lengths. Poke holes in side of bread ring with wooden skewer and insert rosemary sprigs, shorter on top and longer beneath. Tuck bay leaves into rosemary. Place platter in plastic bag and refrigerate until ready to serve.
4. Fill ring with cheddar cubes and tuck in grape tomatoes.
Festive Cheddar Tree
5 (8-ounce) bars sharp cheddar (various flavors if desired)
Fresh thyme sprigs
Grape cherry tomatoes or olives
1. Cut each bar of cheddar into 1-inch cubes.
2. On large platter or cutting board, arrange cubes in rows to form tree shape, using different flavor for each row and separating flavors with thyme sprigs and rows of tomatoes or olives.
3. For star on top, peel skin from mushroom; press star pattern into mushroom with point of knife.
Healthy Hash Brown Casserole (6 Servings)
4 Russet potatoes, about 2 pounds total, peeled and cut in half
1 medium white onion, peeled and cut in half
8 ounces sharp light cheddar or sharp extra light cheddar, grated (about 2 cups), divided
1 cup 2% plain Greek-style yogurt or plain Greek-style yogurt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat 9-inch square or similar baking dish with cooking spray.
2. In food processor fitted with grater blade, grate potatoes and one onion half; transfer to large bowl.
3. With hand grater, grate remaining onion half directly over bowl, scraping all juice and onion from inside grater into bowl.
4. Add 1 cup of cheese and yogurt, black pepper, red pepper and salt; stir until potatoes are coated. Spread mixture in prepared baking dish and top with remaining cheese.
5. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until golden.
Tip: If desired, you can thicken the potato mixture with a roux for a creamier result. Melt 2 tablespoons butter, then stir in 2 tablespoons flour; gradually whisk in 1/2 cup milk. Cook until thickened and add to potato mixture, then bake as directed.
(Recipe courtesy of Aimee Fortney, Not the Perfect Cook.)
Pumpkin Pie (8 Servings)
3 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can 100% pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup 2% plain Greek-style yogurt or plain Greek-style yogurt
2 small (5-ounce) cans evaporated milk
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 unbaked 9-inch deep-dish pie shell
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. In medium bowl, whisk eggs until frothy. Add pumpkin and flour and whisk together well. (Alternatively, combine all three in blender or processor.)
3. Add yogurt, evaporated milk, sugar, vanilla, spices and salt and whisk again. Pour pumpkin mixture into pie shell. Bake for 15 minutes.
4. Reduce temperature to 350°F and bake pie for 35 to 40 minutes longer or until pie is no longer wobbly in center. Let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.