Cooking With a Light Touch and Keeping Holiday Foods Safe

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

When cooking your holiday meal, here are some tips on making the dishes healthier


·    Reduce the Fat – You can reduce the fat in most recipes without changing the quality of the end result, by 1/4 to 1/3.  You can also replace some of the fat in baked goods by replacing 1/2 of the fat with applesauce or other fruit purees.

·    You can also reduce the sugar by 1/4 to 1/3 and increase the sweet spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, or vanilla.

·    If the sugar or fat is in the recipe just for flavoring, you can decrease them to match your tastes.

·    Use non-stick baking pans, non-stick cooking sprays or paper muffin liners when baking.

·    Substitute whole grain flour for 1/4 to 13 of the flour.

·    Decrease the salt by 1/2 as well and you decrease the sodium in the dish.

·    Use recipes that call for liquid oil instead of solid fat and use the healthier oils like olive and canola oils.

·    Another way to decrease the calories from these dishes is to decrease the portion.  When you just don’t want to mess with a family recipe, decreasing the portion by 1/4 to 1/3 will also decrease the fat, sugar and other ingredients that increase our risk for weight gain and sodium during the holidays.

·    Even though we need to eat more vegetables, the holidays can bring those dishes which are “Death to our Vegetables”, like creamy casseroles.  Try to make sure you have some plain veggies at the meals for those who want to do without all the extra calories.


It is also important to keep foods safe during the holidays.  Here are tips to make sure that your holiday guest just go home with a satisfied belly and not a upset one.


·    Cook foods to proper temperatures.  Cooking foods to proper temperatures can destroy harmful bacteria.  Follow these guidelines to be sure that your food has reached a safe internal temperature. Turkey and chicken, whole – 165°F; Stuffing – 165°F; Egg dishes – 160°F; Fresh Hams -160°F; Leftovers and casseroles –  165°F.  Purchase a food thermometer so that you can be sure your food is safe!

·    Store leftovers promptly.  Leftovers should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.  Store them in the refrigerator within two hours after cooking.  Be sure to wrap them well or store in covered containers.  Use leftovers within 3 days or freeze them.  Harmful bacteria can grow even in the refrigerator.  If you are not sure if something is safe to eat, throw it out!.  If you are going to freeze leftover turkey, do so as soon after cooking as possible.  The longer you leave it in the refrigerator before freezing, the poorer the quality will be when you eat it later.

·    Prepare a Healthy Buffet.  Prepare a number of smaller platters and dishes ahead of time.  Avoid keeping perishable foods over two hours in the “danger zone” of 40°F to 140°F because this is a leading cause of foodborne illness.  Hold hot foods at 140°F or higher and cold foods at 40°F or lower until serving time.  At events where food is set out for guests, avoid adding fresh foods to foods that have been out longer.  Serve smaller bowls of food and put out fresh food bowls as needed.  For added safety, put foods on ice or over a heat source to keep them out of the temperature “danger zone”.

·    Refrigerate That Pumpkin Pie.  A pumpkin pie is a form of custard, and like custard, must be kept in the refrigerator.  The same is true for other foods which contain eggs, milk or have a high moisture content. Bacteria love to grow in these types of foods.

For more tips on making the Holidays Healthy as well as fun, join the Holiday Challenge to Maintain Not Gain call our office.