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Holiday Eating…low-calorie appetizers

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, literally. Every year it comes around the same time…yet we seem to be surprised and unprepared. The plan was to get into better shape and lose a few pounds before the holiday season…right? It’s not just about one particular day or meal… it’s the whole season, which is full of goodies and leftovers. Combine that with less than optimal weather for a majority of the U.S. (discouraging outdoor exercise) and the result is weight gain. Average holiday weight gain is 5 to 10 lbs. It’s no myth! It takes 3,500 calories beyond what your body requires for weight maintenance to gain 1 lb. That might sound like a lot but it’s not…Did you know that a full holiday meal, with appetizers, cocktails, a loaded main plate and dessert can weigh in at over 3,500 calories? Grab a couple of ounces of cheese and a handful of butter crackers and you’re taking in roughly 300 calories. Add two heavy-handed Scotch cocktails and 1/2 cup mixed nuts and you’re looking at up to 800 calories … and you haven’t sat down for that big meal yet. It might be a little late to change the whole meal or put in a special request with your favorite aunt … but you can be proactive. Bring or make low-calorie appetizers and swap out a cocktail for sparkling water with a fruit wedge. You’ll end up taking in fewer calories overall.

Appetizers – Low-calorie suggestions

Remember, appetizers are small ‘bites’ of food that are meant to tide you over until your meal. Of course, you can skip them altogether but you don’t have to do so. Weight-friendly options include, of course, raw veggies/fruits with light dip but will that entice a crowd? Keep in mind that the key to calorie control is portion control. If the flavors are bold and satisfying, you’ll be happy with less. How about grilled shrimp or scallop and cherry tomato skewers or grilled or roasted shiitake mushrooms with a soy dipping sauce? Buy a ready-made soy dipping sauce or create your own with a base of 2 parts (1/2 cup) low-sodium soy sauce to one part (1/4 cup) rice wine vinegar, minced garlic cloves and diced scallions (to your taste), a couple teaspoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. This easy option offers tons of flavor but fewer than 100 calories per serving. Staying with the seafood theme…thin slices of smoked salmon on a platter topped with diced onion and capers…paired with wheat or rye crackers is healthy and low in calories.

A great crunch alternative to puff pastry is using layers of phyllo dough. It’s easier to work with than you think. You can set the sheets into mini muffin cups and fill them with everything from fruit compote to soft cheeses. Another idea is to whip up a light tasty filling for hollowed out sweet bell peppers made from light cream cheese, onion and chives. If you buy it ‘commercially prepared,’ this type of spread offers about 40 calories per tbsp. but you’ll get a huge burst of color and flavor in one little serving. Remember, they are appetizers…keep the calories ‘mini-sized.’

Dinner Shortcuts

Q: Do you have quick prep meal suggestions for dinner?

A: Luckily, you don’t have to cook elaborate meals to eat healthfully. There are solutions out there for busy families. You’re right to be concerned about all of the processed quick and frozen meals out there on the market. Many of them are not made with healthful ingredients and contain preservatives and additives. Organic, all natural frozen meals such as Kashi™ and Amy’s Organics™ are healthful and tasty options, but can be expensive. Times are busy with work, after school activities and more so think simple and basic.

“Stock your cupboard, refrigerator and freezer with healthful, versatile staples that can be used in simple recipes and take advantage of short cut or partially prepared foods offered by your local supermarket.”

Some examples include: Sweet and russet baking potatoes, whole wheat tortillas, eggs, quick cooking rice, rotisserie chicken (cooked), cubed stew meat, canned light tuna or chicken in water, bagged frozen veggies, shredded carrots/cabbage, bagged lettuce, reduced-fat, shredded cheese, jarred pasta sauces and salsas, seasonings & seasoning packets (taco and Italian).

Rich Chocolate Mousse make-over

Rich chocolate mousse is an ideal holiday dessert – especially for company when you are looking to impress. Conventional recipes, made with heavy whipping cream as a base, in addition to semi-sweet chocolate, egg yolks, butter and sugar puts you at about 330 calories and 25 g of fat (mostly saturated) per serving.

Simple swaps – instead of heavy whipping cream, try silken tofu (puree well in a food processor until smooth and creamy). Use half high quality, extra-dark (bittersweet) chocolate and half cocoa (combine and melted in a double boiler) to mix into the pureed silken tofu (along with superfine sugar). Vanilla extract and a tbsp of brandy (or espresso powder if you don’t want the alcohol), enhances flavor further. The result? This simple trade-offs do not sacrifice flavor or texture but, per serving (same size), you are looking at about 250 calories and 10 g of fat – a big difference – even with a spoonful of real whipping cream on top.