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Merry Makeovers: Healthy Holiday Foods

No matter what traditional treats are on your table, keep your feasting healthy with these buff buffet strategies.

Healthy Holiday Foods: Latino

Families in Latin American countries traditionally gather on Christmas Eve to share ponche (eggnog-like drink) and a meal. But the fun starts long before the holiday, as relatives get together on weekends to help make the festivities' tamales. Think of it as a merry assembly line: One person makes the masa or ground corn dough, another prepares the pork, and still another is in charge of putting the right amount of masa in the corn husk, adding the pork and chile, and at the end, closing the corn husk just the right way.

Traditional treat: Depending on where it is made, ponche, the Latino-style eggnog, may contain less sugar and be free of heavy cream, unlike its American classic counterpart. The tradition is to add rum and/or fruit. Some versions are made with whole milk and condensed milk, others with only evaporated milk. And Puerto Rico's version of ponche contains cream of coconut and is called "coquito."

Leaner eat: Buy a lower-fat version and skip the alcohol to save calories per cup of eggnog, says Malena Perdomo, RD, a dietitian in the Prevention Department of Kaiser Permanente Colorado and Latino nutrition spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). Or make it yourself the way Latinos do (that way you can use fewer egg yolks and more egg whites). And if the recipe calls for heavy cream or evaporated milk, reach for fat-free evaporated milk instead.

Traditional treat: Lechón asado (roasted suckling pig) is a traditional dish for families from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Venezuela. Everyone pitches in, digging a pit in the backyard, lining it with banana leaves, placing the pig in the pit, and covering it. A fire is built and the pig is roasted -- slathered in oil, of course.

Leaner eat: Roast a pork loin in the oven by removing the skin, draining the fat, and adding broth, fruit, or bitter orange or orange juice instead of oil to keep it moist.

Traditional treat: A classic Mexican dish popular throughout Latin America, tamales are made of chopped pork and crushed peppers, highly seasoned, wrapped in cornhusks, spread with a dough made of dried corn and lard, and steamed. This recipe has many versions.

Leaner eat: Rather than using lard or shortening, make the tamales with a healthier vegetable oil, such as olive or canola. You can also save fat and calories by making them vegetarian with a Mexican cheese or Monterey Jack and adding a green chile (jalapeño or Anaheim, for example) for an extra kick.

Healthy Holiday Foods: Jewish

Jewish families celebrate Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights. The holiday commemorates the 165 B.C. miracle of the oil, when a small jar that held only enough oil to keep the Jerusalem temple lights burning for one day lasted a full eight days. Jews remember this by eating foods that are fried, dipped, or made with oil, says Laura Frankel, executive chef of Wolfgang Puck's kosher café in Chicago and author of Jewish Cooking for All Seasons: Fresh, Flavorful Kosher Recipes for Holidays and Every Day.

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