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Recipe rehab for the holidays

URBANA, IL -- Food is as much a part of holiday celebrations and festivities as being with family and friends. For many, the holiday season comes with the challenge of trying to make healthier choices when many foods on the table don't fit in that category, said a University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator.

"Small adjustments to recipes can help you feel better about what you eat and serve to others. Changing just a few ingredients can improve the nutritional value of a recipe without dramatically changing its taste," said Caitlin Huth, who is also a registered dietitian.

When baking, try substituting up to half of the flour with whole wheat flour or up to a quarter of the flour with oat flour in recipes. This will add nutrients, she advised.

"For example, if you have 2 cups of all-purpose flour in your recipe, change this to 1 cup of all-purpose flour and 1 cup of whole wheat flour. To make oat flour, add regular or quick-cooking oatmeal to a food processor and blend until smooth," she said.

Reduce sugar by a quarter to a third of the original amount called for in a recipe, she added.

"For example, if you have 1 cup of sugar, lower this to 2/3 cup or 3/4 cup of sugar. To reduce fat in a baked item, substitute half of the fat in the recipe with a vegetable, such as mashed sweet potatoes, pumpkin puree, or shredded zucchini," she said.

Huth said you can also substitute fruit for fat. She recommended unsweetened applesauce, pureed prunes, or mashed banana.

"Because fruits are naturally high in acid, add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda to the dry ingredients to neutralize the acid. Be aware that the flavor and color may change slightly, depending on the fruit or vegetable.

"Applesauce offers the least amount of change in flavor and color. However, pumpkin and zucchini will change flavor and color," she noted.

With baked foods and casseroles, consider using two egg whites in place of one whole egg to lower calories and cholesterol. This can lower the number of calories from 80 (one whole egg) to 32 (two egg whites). Total fat in the recipe is also lowered; one whole egg contains 5 grams of fat whereas two egg whites have less than half a gram of fat, she said.

"Consider changing the format of your recipes to make them healthier. Turn your apple pie into an apple crisp. By removing the pie crust and replacing it with a crumb topping, you slash calories and fat, but you still have a tasty dessert," she said.

Because casseroles are very dense and high in calories, can you take that chicken and noodle casserole and prepare a creamy chicken noodle soup instead? "With added broth, soups are a great way to fill up without filling out," Huth explained.

If you plan to keep the same format for your recipe, Huth suggests purchasing reduced sodium and reduced fat or fat-free ingredients, such as broth, sour cream, and cheeses. Using ingredients that are lower in sodium and fat will allow the main flavors in your green bean casserole or mashed potatoes to stand out better.

Try any of these changes one at a time, she advised. "Making too many changes at once may produce a less-than-tasty recipe. Of course, you may eat some high-calorie recipes only once or twice a year during the holidays. In that case, rehabbing the recipe may not be worth it, and it will be better just to serve yourself a smaller portion," she said.