It’s easy to make excuses on Thanksgiving and lay off nutritious choices when a sweet potato and a chocolate chip pecan pie pop up in front of you. Unfortunately, that’s a somewhat fatalistic and black/white thinking tactic. I think it’s perfectly fine choosing to indulge a little bit and having fun with food.
I also think it’s perfectly fine to say that you’ll still try to get a full plate of nutritious and colorful goodies. If you’re the type of person who goes on crash diets and finds that having a super-indulgent day backfires into negative self-talk and a starvation diet the next day, then using the mentality of “It’s ok, I can indulge because..” might not be for you.
Instead, if you’re preparing the dinner, or contributing to the dinner, make a few savvy substitutions so you can indulge without feeling like you’ve pigged out on copious amounts of butter and sugar.
I stock the pantry with real sugar: brown, white, honey, agave, molasses, maple syrup, and yes, even corn syrup for certain things. When I try to make healthier choices, however, I use a smaller amount than a recipe calls for. Here’s a list of several useful substitutions and ways to reduce the caloric load this holiday season:
- Use applesauce instead of oil in your baked goods. If you’re making things for yourself, it’s not a bad idea to use majority applesauce, with a smaller amount of oil. If you’re baking for others in mind, go half and half or 1/4 applesauce and 3/4 oil. This is great for muffins or dense cakes. Make sure to choose natural, unsweetened applesauce.
- Along the same vein, use pumpkin puree in lieu of butter/oil in recipes. Go half and half, and make sure the flavoring pairs well. If the pumpkin flavor doesn’t go with your recipe, opt for the applesauce, which won’t impart any flavor.
- Reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for by 1/3rd. I found that reducing the sugar usually doesn’t affect the taste or the quality of the baked goods. Yes, it tastes slightly less sweet if you were to do a taste test side by side. Unless you have some evil relatives who decide to make the same exact recipe with full sugar and place it right next to your reduced sugar option, no one will notice. You can add an extra 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla for every 1/2 cup sugar cut out for baked goods to amp up the flavor. I now prefer reduced sugar recipes since full sugar options taste obnoxiously sweet. It’s all about training the palate.
- When sauteing on the stove with oil. Pour the oil on and then rub it in with the paper towel. It creates an even coating while absorbing the excess.
- To make healthier baked goods, substitute a few eggs for ground flax-seed. 1 TBSP of ground flax-seed mixed with 3TBSP water acts as a binding agent similar to 1 egg in baked goods.
- For your starchy sides, mash root vegetables with your run of the mill potatoes. Mix half pureed butternut squash with sweet potato or half pureed parsnips with mashed white potatoes.
- Use whole wheat flour instead of white flour when you’re able, or just cut in half whole wheat with white! You can also do other ratios, just don’t do this for delicate, flaky baked goods like cakes.
- Use evaporated reduced-fat milk for cream in an even swap (cup for cup).
- If your recipe calls for chocolate chips, do half dark chocolate chips and half cocoa nibs.
- Instead of breadcrumbs, use rolled oats.
- Make a hearty, low-calorie soup featuring fall flavors as your starter!
- This is something of a no-brainer: cut down the portion slightly per person! Instead of making dishes with traditional serving sizes, re-adjust for smaller serving sizes since you’ll have plenty of food on the table to choose from. Just keep the veggie dishes amped up.
Point is, it’s easier to stay healthy during the holidays than you think. Don’t act on extremes, especially if you know that extremes trip you up. There’s no need to fool yourself into thinking that you’re OK indulging and you’ll ‘work it off.’ How about, be OK indulging and not having to compensate at all? Just re-prioritize what ‘indulging’ means to you.