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Festive, Not Fattening

Tastes Good, Too

WebMD Feature

It's five hours until her holiday dinner is to be served, and Evelyn Tribole's gargantuan kitchen is already cluttered and humming. Every pot and pan she owns is out, sharing space on the countertops with enough food to feed an army. Wearing a cobalt blue apron, she's ready to work her magic.

By 3 p.m., if this holiday dinner is typical, she will serve the 30 guests she routinely expects, and the meal will look like many of those traditionally served in any other home. But Tribole has a secret: Her fare is festive but not overly fattening.

A longtime dietitian and cookbook author, Tribole has learned to make holiday dinners with a fraction of the fat and calories of many holiday menus, without ruining the taste or making her guests feel deprived. In fact, according to her, most have been unaware of her culinary sleight of hand. She says she can't recall any scrunching their noses and asking, "Is this one of those low-fat dishes?"

If you've had guests skeptical of eating holiday food that's been "healthified" (read: ruined), there may be hope. Most cooks try too hard to eliminate calories from holiday dinners, Tribole says. "They try to get out all the fat." That's not the goal, she says. The key is modifying with moderation -- and maintaining the perspective that holiday meals should be special.

To learn more, WebMD asked Tribole and two other dietitians to tell us more about their holiday menu strategies.

The Tribole Plan

Stick with your favorite holiday dishes, Tribole suggests, but change one fattening ingredient to reduce fat and calories. "If you change one ingredient and don't like the result, you'll know what the problem is," says Tribole, MS, RD. For instance, if she makes quiche, she may substitute evaporated skim milk for cream.

She cautions not to go overboard, however. While substituting low-fat ingredients can work, resorting to nonfat foods can spoil the taste of a dish. "I will use light butter instead of regular," she says, to top off dishes and at the table. For a fruit mold, she often uses sugar-free gelatin. "You can't tell," she promises. "I use light cream cheese instead of regular, but I never use fat-free cream cheese alone. It's too blah. I might mix fat-free with light cream cheese for a dessert."

For twice-baked potatoes, she uses nonfat milk, light butter, and light cheese (never fat-free cheese, she says). For more healthful gravy, she uses nonfat milk and skims the fat off the meat juices with a fat separator. She uses cornstarch instead of flour and butter to thicken the gravy. And for her vegetable side dish of asparagus, she drizzles some olive oil over it. "My goal is not to end up with zero fat."

But, again, knowing when to leave well enough alone is important. Certain ingredients, she says, should remain. "I don't mess with chocolate," she says. "I'd never use carob instead of chocolate."

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