TTU nutrition professor offers six tips for healthy holdiday eating

‘Tis the season for holiday fudge, fruitcakes, candy canes and gingerbread — but don’t indulge in Aunt Edna’s homemade fruitcake just yet!

Cathy Cunningham, professor of food, nutrition and dietetics at Tennessee Tech University, offers six tips to help keep holiday eating healthy.

• First, get in a routine of meal planning.

"It’s important to plan what you eat because planning helps you eat healthier," she said. "Unfortunately, many people spend more time planning what clothes they’re going to put on their bodies than what foods they’re going to put into them."

• Savor the tastes and textures of different foods.

"Indulging in special foods is part of the holiday spirit, but while some cultures tend to indulge in fruits and whole grains, the American culture tends to indulge in alcohol, chocolate and other high-calorie, sugary and fatty foods," Cunningham said.

Even people who find it impossible to resist those tempting treats, however, are usually satisfied by smaller portions when they simply chew and sip more slowly.

• Savor your relationships with family and friends.

"Think with your mind instead of your mouth about the memories behind your favorite holiday treats," she said. "If Aunt Edna bakes her favorite holiday fruitcake again, for example, forego a second helping in favor of recalling cherished memories about Aunt Edna instead."

• Bring fruits or vegetables to holiday potluck dinners.

• Eat healthier before indulgent holiday meals.

People who plan to attend a holiday party with a lavish buffet should cut back on calories and focus on healthy eating in the days prior to the event, Cunningham said.

"Focus on the meals you can control, and bank the calories you can cut from those meals when you know you’ll be attending an event that offers only a limited variety of healthy foods," she said.

• Adjust holiday recipes to be lower in fat and calories.

"It’s foolish to have the variety of low-fat, low-calorie foods available now and not use it," Cunningham said. "In fact, one of the easiest ways to make holiday foods healthier is to use the light versions of salad dressing, cream cheese or sour cream in recipes that call for those ingredients."

Not all low-fat, low-calorie foods retain their taste and texture when cooked — for example, cheese and butter.

"But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for the higher fat, higher calorie versions of those foods," she said. "In recipes calling for cheese, for example, you can still usually substitute half of it with the low-fat version."

One of Cunningham’s favorite recipes is for holiday banana bread she adjusted to cut its fat content by half while increasing its content of fiber, folic acid, calcium and iron. It is as follows:

2 c. sugar
1/2 c. margarine, softened
3 egg whites or egg substitute and 1 egg
5 bananas, mashed
1/2 c. prune puree or prune baby food
1/2 c. finely shredded carrots
1 small can crushed pineapple, drained
2 t. soda
3 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. nuts and 1/4 c. Grape Nuts cereal
pinch of salt
1 c. chopped candied cherries (optional)
1/2 c. golden raisins

Cream sugar and margarine, then add eggs. Continue mixing and add bananas, carrots and crushed pineapple. Add dry ingredients and mix. Bake in two loaf pans (9x5x3) in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 55 minutes to an hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted an inch in the center of the loaf. The loaf begins to pull away from the sides of the pan when done. The bread freezes after cooling completely and ships well. Yield: 20 slices.

The original banana bread recipe called for a cup of margarine, a cup of chopped pecans and three whole eggs but no raisins, prune puree, carrots or pineapple. Each slice contained 255 calories, 14 grams of fat, 1.3 grams of fiber, 38 mcg. of folic acid, 13 milligrams of calcium and 1 milligram of iron.

The adjusted recipe contains 263 calories per slice but only 7 grams of fat. Each slice also has 2.3 grams of fiber, 41 mcg. of folic acid, 74 milligrams of calcium and 4.2 milligrams of iron.

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