Here are a few tips from dietician Reagan Jones for cutting calories and transforming your favorite dishes:
• Serve meals on smaller plates to trick your mind into thinking you’re getting more.
• When baking, replace oil with pureed fruit.
• Dilute sweet drinks with sugar-free versions or water.
• Add shredded veggies to a recipe for a nutrient boost.
Maintaining a healthy diet doesn’t have to mean giving up delicious food — especially around the holidays. Making simple changes in food-preparation and serving methods can mean the difference between slipping into old jeans and asking Santa for a new pair.
With tailgating season upon us and Thanksgiving right around the corner, registered dietician and former National Dairy Council spokesperson Reagan Jones thinks that coming up with “skinny versions” of classic recipes is easier and healthier than bypassing some of the season’s tastiest offerings.
Jones, who recently conducted cooking demonstrations and nutrition lectures in Hinesville, owns a nutrition communications consulting firm and runs two websites — focused on healthy eating and living — that draw viewers from all over the world.
Jones said there is a reason people crave comfort foods. Combining carbohydrates and protein sets up a chemical reaction in the body that is easily recognizable, causing a rush of serotonin in the brain that elicits calm, mellow feelings.
“People need to know that you can get that same feeling and mood boost with healthier food without having an overloaded plate or calorie overload,” she said. “The South leads the nation in obesity.”
Jones’ goal is to funnel information through channels that allow her to reach a lot of people at one time — before the onset of diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure and cholesterol, which are tied to obesity and often stem from poor eating habits. She said she wants to food lovers that they don’t have to give up the dishes they love.
“You can make small changes and a few ingredient substitutions to make any dish healthier,” she said.
Hashbrown casserole is a traditional favorite in the South. It has a great taste but is loaded with calories, Jones said. To make it “skinny,” she suggests substituting Greek-style yogurt for sour cream and using reduced-fat cheese. Sour cream is mostly just cream and fat from milk whereas Greek-style yogurt contains more of the milk’s protein, according to the dietician. The yogurt also word work as a substitution for butter in many recipes.
“If you can shave off 100 calories a day — which is less than what is in a can of Coke — in a year, you would have lost 10 pounds,” she said. “It’s not about making huge changes but very small ones that will trim calories off every dish.”
Greek-style yogurt is just one of many easy substitutions health-conscious cooks can try. Applesauce, bananas and canned pumpkin can take the place of oil in baked goods. Pureed fruits have so much natural moisture that they keep baked goods moist, especially canned pumpkin.
“It’s really a mindset where you have to say that your health is this important,” Jones said. “And also, one of the best ways to keep your appetite in check is to keep protein-rich foods on your plate because people need to have high-quality protein like lean meats and low-fat dairy foods at their meals.”
Other ways to make favorite dishes healthier include switching to leaner meats or adding shredded vegetables for a nutrient boost. Eating smaller portion sizes and serving meals on smaller plates also can help.
Beverages often contain a lot of empty calories, and Jones encourages diners to opt for unsweetened varieties or at least dilute sweet drinks with sugar-free versions or water. She said taste buds must be trained to scale back on sugar.
“You have to choose your battles and limit yourself,” she said. “I think the sugar consumption in this country leads to obesity because we, in this country, have an intense sweet tooth where we think everything should be over-the-top sweet.”
Many fall favorites and comfort foods already are surprisingly healthy, such as homemade vegetable or chicken-noodle soup. Baked sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie can even be healthy if the cook goes light on marshmallows, sugar and heavy whipping cream, Jones said.
Even meatloaf isn’t a bad choice if it’s made with lean meat, such as ground round or ground sirloin, and served with vegetables.
“We need to make healthy eating the norm,” she said. “We need ample vitamin and minerals in our meals and not empty calories.”
For more information on healthy recipes and tips to makeover your favorite dishes, go to HealthyAperture.com, TheProfessionalPalate.com or CabotCheese.coop.