VA dietitian offers tips to retain great taste without adding to your waist during the holidays

The holiday season is here again and with it comes an abundance of social occasions, family parties and office potlucks. We’re surrounded by food at every turn – and not just any food – decadent desserts, appetizers and main dishes that only come around once a year. These limited-edition foods should be enjoyed, but eating extravagantly for 1 to 2 months can strain a healthy lifestyle.

As a registered dietitian at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida, I suggest to Veterans I work with that they have a holiday game plan so they can enjoy their favorites without the weight gain. You could follow these guidelines  from the VA’s MOVE weight management program for navigating restaurants and potlucks. Here’s some other strategy for eating at events:

  • Assess all options: Browse all the food before putting anything on your plate.
  • Fill up on veggies: Pile half of your plate with vegetables, usually from a salad or veggie tray.
  • Prioritize: Decide on the top three foods you wish to indulge in and take a small portion of each.

And let’s not forget the family recipes. We are committed to preparing these every year during the holidays, regardless of calorie-content. Most recipes have some wiggle room you can take advantage of to reduce the amount of fat, sugar, and calories without sacrificing the taste or integrity of the dish.

If the Recipe Calls for: Try This Instead:
Whole milk Skim, 1% milk, 2% milk
Cream Whole milk or half & half
Butter, Margarine, Shortening, Lard Use 25% less than the recipe calls for; or try a half butter/half canola oil
Mayonnaise Light or low-fat mayonnaise; nonfat, plain Greek yogurt
Sour Cream Nonfat, plain Greek yogurt; low-fat sour cream
Cream Cheese Light cream cheese; Neufchatel cheese
Cheese Reduced-fat cheeses; choose a sharper variety and use 25% less
1 Egg 2 Egg whites; 1/4 cup egg substitute; ¼ cup silken tofu
Fat/oil for greasing pan Cooking spray
1 Ounce baking chocolate 3 Tbsp. cocoa powder plus 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
Ground Beef 90/10 Ground beef or less; Ground skinless turkey/chicken
Ground meat (meatloaf/meatballs) Replace 25-50% of meat with shredded zucchini & carrots
Sausage Lean ground beef; chicken or turkey sausage
Bacon Low-fat turkey bacon, lean ham, Canadian bacon
Regular Broth or Bouillon “Unsalted” broth or bouillon
Bread crumbs/crushed crackers Whole wheat bread crumbs; wheat bran; ground oatmeal
Oil in baked goods Applesauce; fruit purees such as prunes or bananas
Gravy Chill, then skim off the fat that rises to the top
Salt Try garlic & onion powder to add flavor to a savory dish; Use ¼ of the salt the recipe calls for and add more to taste

If you have questions about making a recipe healthier or developing a holiday game plan, your dietitian is ready to help! Just ask your primary care provider or Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) for a referral today. Happy Holidays!


melanya kushla Melanya Kushla is a registered dietitian/nutritionist specializing in wellness and outpatient nutrition at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida. She manages the Healthy Teaching Kitchen program, provides outpatient nutrition counseling, and is a contributor to the MOVE! weight management program. In her leisure time, Melanya enjoys costuming, cooking, creative and performing arts, weight training and competing in combative sports tournaments.

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Published on Nov. 21, 2016

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