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Favorite holiday dishes, healthier

Posted October 31, 2014

Thanksgiving is coming. If you groan at the prospect of a calorie-heavy, nutrient-scarce meal, there's good news in sight. You can take family recipes for your favorite holiday foods and swap them out for healthier, lighter, and (dare we say?) tastier versions. Use a little imagination and a lot of love to create celebratory fare that even the staunchest traditionalists will enjoy. Best of all, you'll leave the table pleasantly satisfied, not stuffed. Here are some guidelines for healthy-ing up popular festive dishes.

Turkey. Help yourself to a portion of guilt-free turkey breast. White meat offers plenty of protein and folic acid, as well as B vitamins, potassium and zinc. It's impractical to skin before roasting if you're cooking a whole bird (the meat would turn out incredibly dry). However, you have the option to trim your own serving to lower the saturated fat content. Or rub a skinless turkey tenderloin with olive oil, pour a cup of reduced-sodium broth over, and bake.

Gravy. Sorry, old school gravy made with greasy pan drippings and mucho salt has got to go. Instead moisten the meat with chicken broth … or try a zingy mango salsa for moisture plus an unexpected pop of flavor.

Stuffing. There's stuffing, and then there's stuffing. Make sure yours is the kind that doesn't make you feel -- and look -- stuffed. Replacing tried 'n' true white bread with whole grain slices or cornbread is a no-brainer. Mix in plenty of nutrient-rich celery, parsley, and chopped mushrooms. Skip the butter in favor of broth, but this time make it vegetable-based. Bake the stuffing outside the bird for food safety, lower salt, and a side that doubles as a vegetarian entree.

Sweet Potatoes. Not being big marshmallow fans, we fail to understand their appeal as a casserole topper. What's the point? Sweet potatoes are already … well … sweet. Just bake and serve and you're good to go. If you must gussy them up, mash the pulp, add a little orange juice, and heap in a pretty bowl. Garnish with a few toasted almonds or pecans.

Mashed Potatoes. Potatoes are often thought of as a diet-busting food, but the real culprits are the butter and cream that adorn them. For improved health-friendliness, whip your spuds and incorporate some of the water you just cooked them in. Season with garlic powder plus minced fresh or dried herbs; dill works particularly well. Drizzle with olive oil.

Latkes. Luscious latkes usually contain a zillion calories. Try baking instead of frying, or experiment with nouveau, nutrition-packed ingredients like grated beets, zucchini, or celery root.

Cranberries. In and of themselves, cranberries are very well behaved, with remarkable antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, traditional cooks drown these brilliant red beauties in a torrent of sugar. You can do better. Temper the tang by simmering cranberries with mild apples or pears, and you can slash the amount of sweetening you'd normally use in your sauce. This should go over especially well when you have a crowd of guests gathered under your Portland roof in food-geeky Oregon, which also happens to be a major cranberry-producing state.

Green Bean Casserole. Green beans -- aren't they a vegetable? Well, yes and no. When they come out of a can and are coated with concentrated cream soup, green beans morph into a rather frightening were-veggie. Tame the beast with garlic, together with luscious Greek yogurt or reduced-fat sour cream.

Pie. Mmm ... pie, loaded with a kajillion calories per piece. Lower the calorie count without lessening the "mmm," by making your pastry with whole wheat, spelt or rice flour and oil rather than lard. Dumping either the top or bottom crust will lower carbs and fat. Fill with additive-free prepared pumpkin puree (or put on your grown-up chef's pants and concoct your own), made creamier with silken tofu and sweetened sparingly. If fruit pie's your thing, shun canned fillings. Buy or grow organic berries or apples (sweet varieties like Gala rather than sour ol' Granny Smiths mean you'll need less sugar), for a depth of flavor that will sate you quicker.

Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.

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