Healthy Holiday Recipes
No need to be a dumbbell this holiday season. These six recipes from a professional chef committed to comfort food makeovers will have your taste buds smiling through the holiday season without forcing you to log extra hours in the gym.
Did you know that every holiday season the average American gains 2–3 pounds—and never loses them? As a foodie of Italian heritage who lost 70 pounds and has kept it off for more than 20 years (in my family, Christmas dinner consisted of an entire homemade lasagna and meatball “course,” followed by the traditional turkey and prime rib “course”), I am acutely aware of how important it is to be able to partake in holiday celebrations without becoming part of this daunting statistic. Whether it’s family pressure to follow tradition, a sheer desire to eat what everyone is eating, the mass number of celebrations you’re faced with, or the stress and hectic schedule the season brings, it becomes harder and harder to avoid the greasy hors d’oeuvres, eggnog and cookies, cookies and more cookies calling your name.
Fear no more! I’ve come to grips with the holidays, even when I don’t have a ton of time to work out. And you can be a voice for your clients to do the same with my strategic makeovers, which ensure that you only feel as if you’re indulging. I’ve spent years carefully reconstructing some of my favorites to cut out unnecessary calories and fat without jeopardizing flavor. I hope that you and your clients enjoy these fit and festive favorites, and that you have the best and healthiest holiday season ever.
Every time we had overnight guests when I was growing up, my mom served a dish called Jenny’s Eggs. It was from a recipe she had gotten from my aunt JoAnne for what was basically a crustless quiche. It had a pound of cheese, at least a stick or two of butter, tons of whole eggs and plenty of ham. It was delicious, but almost lethal. My mom particularly loved to serve it to company because you prepare the dish the night before, then look like the perfect hostess in the morning when your guests wake up to the smell of a delicious casserole and walk into a spotless kitchen. I, of course, loved the concept, especially for the holiday season, a time when we could all use a little extra help with entertaining. But you’d never catch me eating those ingredients these days. So here is my version, aptly renamed Devin’s Eggs.
If you can’t ﬁnd lean ham steak at your grocery store, go to the deli counter and ask them to cut a ¼-inch slice of the leanest (preferably nitrate-free) ham they have. Try for a low-sodium variety, if they have it. Then simply chop 5½ ounces of the ham into cubes.
olive oil cooking spray
1½ C ﬁnely chopped red or yellow onion
1 C ﬁnely chopped red or green bell pepper, or a combination
6 slices whole-wheat bread, cubed(from a light, ﬂuffy loaf, not a dense one; about 70 calories per slice)
5 oz (about 2 C) ﬁnely shredded Cabot’s 75% Light Cheddar cheese, or your favorite low-fat Cheddar
5½ oz (about 1¼ C) 98% lean ham steak, cut into ¼-inch cubes(preferably nitrate-free)
2½ C egg substitute
¼ C fat-free milk
2 t dry mustard
½ t black pepper
⅛ t salt
Lightly mist a medium nonstick skillet with olive oil spray and place it over medium heat. Put in the onion and bell pepper. Cook until the veggies are tender and the excess liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, lightly mist an 11-by-7-inch ovenproof glass or ceramic baking dish with the cooking spray. Spread half of the bread evenly in the dish to form a layer. Then evenly layer half of the cheese, followed by half of the onion mixture, then half of the ham. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, making sure they are evenly distributed all the way to the edges of the dish and not mounded in the center. Set aside.
Combine the egg substitute, milk, mustard, black pepper and salt in a large measuring cup or medium bowl. Whisk until thoroughly mixed. Pour the egg mixture over the bread, cheese, veggies and ham. Use a fork to very gently press the ingredients into the liquid without mashing them. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit.
Remove the plastic wrap and bake for 40–45 minutes, until the egg is set in the center. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5–10 minutes. Cut the casserole into six pieces and serve immediately. Makes six servings.
Per serving: 209 calories; 23 g protein; 22 g carbohydrates; 4 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 18 mg cholesterol; 3 g ﬁber; 740 mg sodium.
Traditional version: 456 calories; 22 g protein; 30 g carbohydrates; 27 g fat; 15 g saturated fat; 178 mg cholesterol; ﬁber n/a; 824 mg sodium.
You save 247 calories; 23 g fat; 14 g saturated fat.
Recipe from The Most Decadent Diet Ever! by Devin Alexander (Broadway 2008).
Frozen Grapes Champagne Flute
Let’s face it. Even if we are committed to being healthy, we want to have fun and celebrate the holidays. The key to maintaining weight loss is creating ways to participate without feeling as if you’re sacrificing. This drink allows you to do just that. The grapes come in handy to keep your drink cold, and they provide an incentive to sip slowly and keep some champagne in your glass, since they soak up the champagne’s flavor and become a fun treat themselves.
12 frozen seedless grapes (any variety)
⅓ C chilled Prosecco or Champagne
1 cocktail stick
Add the grapes to a ¾-cup (6-ounce) champagne flute. Top with Prosecco or Champagne. Serve immediately. Use the cocktail stick to spear any grapes that remain in the bottom of the glass. Makes one serving.
Per serving: 94 calories; trace protein; 12 g carbohydrates (9 g sugar); trace fat; trace saturated fat; 0 mg cholesterol; < 1 g fiber; 1 mg sodium.
Spanakopita Bites (Greek Spinach Feta Bites)
Spanakopita Bites are among my all-time favorite cocktail party appetizers, and they’re always the hit of any gathering. But traditional ones tend to be extremely high in sodium, fat and calories. My version is clearly a major improvement . . . yet it tastes just as amazing!
2 whole green onions, trimmed and cut into thirds
2 medium garlic cloves
1½ C loosely packed flat leaf parsley leaves
12 oz bag frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
2 oz (about ½ cup) crumbled light feta cheese
1 egg white
⅛ t salt
pinch ground nutmeg
20 all-natural, whole-wheat, mini filo shells*
Preheat the oven to 450° F. Place the filo shells side by side on a small baking sheet.
Add the onions, garlic and parsley to a food processor fitted with a chopping blade. Process until they are very finely chopped, stopping to scrape down the bowl if needed. Transfer the mixture to a medium mixing bowl and set aside.
Place the spinach in a fine strainer and squeeze as much moisture from it as possible. Then transfer the spinach to a clean, lint-free dish towel and squeeze until all the water is gone (if moisture remains, the filling will not be rich). Add it to the onion mixture along with the feta, egg white, salt and nutmeg. Mix the filling until well combined. Divide the mixture among the shells, forming it into tight balls and placing them so they are neatly mounded over and lightly packed in the shells. Bake them about 8–10 minutes or until the shells are a light golden brown and the filling is hot through. Serve immediately. Makes four servings.
Per serving (five bites): 143 calories; 8 g protein; 18 g carbohydrates (2 g sugar); 3 g fat; < 1 g saturated fat; 3 mg cholesterol; 2 g fiber; 443 mg sodium.
Traditional version (for a small piece, at times): 282 calories; 7 g protein; 16 g carbohydrates; 21 g fat; 11 g saturated fat; 79 mg cholesterol; 1 g fiber; 499 mg sodium.
* Look for these shells in the freezer section of your grocery store. The package we used did not say “whole wheat” on the front. So check the ingredient list of all brands at your grocery store to find a whole-wheat option.
Reprinted from The Biggest Loser Flavors of the World Cookbook by Devin Alexander (Rodale 2011). Permission granted by Rodale.
Grilled Turkey Cutlets With Honey Mustard Sauce
I love making turkey cutlets during the holidays, especially when I’m in a hurry, because they generally require very little trimming and cook exceptionally quickly. Whether you pan-fry them or grill them, as I have done here, they take only a couple of minutes per side. After basic preparation, I like to add a simple sauce. I could have thrown together a salsa suggestion here, but I wanted to be a bit more creative with this one. And what will welcome the holiday season better than a nice blend of cranberries and sweet mustard?
¼ C canned cranberry sauce with whole cranberries
1 T plus 1 t honey mustard
1 t extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb trimmed boneless, skinless turkey cutlets
sea salt and pepper to taste
Preheat a grill over high heat.
In a small bowl, mix the cranberry sauce and mustard until well combined. Cover the bowl with a paper towel and microwave on high in 15-second intervals until the mixture is hot and begins to thin slightly, about 30 seconds total. Stir again to combine.
Rub the oil and then salt and pepper evenly over both sides of each cutlet. Grill the cutlets about 1 minute per side, or until no longer pink in the center. Transfer them to a large plate or platter and top evenly with the sauce. Serve immediately. Makes four servings.
Per serving (about 3½ oz of turkey plus about ½ T sauce): 167 calories; 28 g protein; 9 g carbohydrates; 2 g fat; trace saturated fat; 45 mg cholesterol; trace fiber; 146 mg sodium.Recipe from I Can’t Believe It’s Not Fattening by Devin Alexander(Broadway 2010).
Good-Enough-for-Thanksgiving Sausage-Cranberry Stuffing
Around Thanksgiving time, I tend to get inundated with letters asking if I have a recipe for low-carb stufﬁng. My response is always the same: My idea of low-carb stufﬁng is eating plenty of turkey; plenty of salad, coleslaw or other healthy, low-carb sides; and just a little bit of stufﬁng made with real bread. Here, I lower the carbs even further by adding a generous amount of homemade sausage, and I help you fill up by using whole-wheat bread instead of white. Just be sure to pick a ﬂuffy whole-wheat bread, not a grainy one.
Though this stufﬁng is amazing when made according to the recipe, I do actually put it in the turkey on Thanksgiving. When it’s baked in the turkey, I truly believe it is better than any stufﬁng I’ve ever had. In fact, I’m so convinced, I served it to one of the producers of Seinfeld and his family when he hired me to cook his Thanksgiving dinner for the ﬁrst time in my early days of catering. He tipped me more than I’d ever been tipped before, and his family kept raving.
Note that I recommend lower-sodium (or reduced- sodium) chicken broth, not low-sodium. If you use truly low-sodium broth, this dish is not worth making.
The stufﬁng can be made up to 1 day in advance. If you’re putting it in a turkey, do not stuff the turkey until just before you are ready to cook it.
butter-ﬂavored cooking spray
12 slices whole-wheat bread (about 70 calories per slice)
olive oil cooking spray
1 lb lean chicken or turkey sweet Italian sausage, uncooked and unshaped
1½ C ﬁnely chopped sweet onion
1 C ﬁnely chopped celery
1 T minced fresh garlic
½ C dried cranberries
1 T ﬁnely chopped fresh sage
1¼–1½ C fat-free lower-sodium (not low-sodium) chicken broth, divided
2 T light butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Lightly mist a 2½- to 3-quart ovenproof ceramic or glass casserole dish with butter-ﬂavored cooking spray.
Place the slices of bread side by side in a single layer (they should not overlap) on a large nonstick baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 14–16 minutes per side, until the slices are dry (not at all soft in the center), but not more than very lightly browned.
Meanwhile, place a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, lightly mist it with olive oil cooking spray and put in the sausage mixture. Cook, breaking the sausage into bite-sized chunks, until no longer pink, 3–5 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a large mixing bowl.
Turn the heat to medium, respray the pan and put in the onions. Cook for 5 minutes, and then add the celery and garlic. Continue cooking until the celery is bright green and starts to soften slightly, 7–10 minutes. Add the celery mixture to the sausage.
Increase the oven temperature to 350°F.
When the bread is cooled enough to touch, cut each slice into nine squares.
Add the bread, cranberries and sage to the sausage mixture and stir until well combined. Drizzle 1 cup broth slowly over the top and stir it in until the liquid is absorbed. Slowly drizzle the butter over the top and stir that in.
Transfer the stufﬁng to the prepared casserole dish. Drizzle the remaining ¼ cup broth for a drier stufﬁng or ½ cup for a moister stufﬁng over the top. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake for another 10–15 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and the stufﬁng is hot throughout. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Makes about 7 cups and serves 10.
Per serving (heaping ⅔ cup): 205 calories; 15 g protein; 29 g carbohydrates; 4 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 32 mg cholesterol; 4 g ﬁber; 538 mg sodium.
Traditional version: 514 calories; 16 g protein; 27 g carbohydrates; 38 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 56 mg cholesterol; 2 g ﬁber; 924 mg sodium.
You save 309 calories; 34 g fat; 7 g saturated fat.Recipe from The Most Decadent Diet Ever! by Devin Alexander(Broadway 2008).
Pumped-Up Pumpkin Pie Bites
These delicious little bites are real crowd-pleasers and are the perfect size for individual servings at a buffet table (instead of asking your guests to cut their own wedge of pie).
butter-flavored cooking spray
¾ C whole-grain, crunchy, high-fiber, low-sugar cereal (I used Kashi 7 Whole Grain Nuggets)
2 T 100% pure maple syrup
¼ t ground cinnamon
8 large egg whites
1 can (15 oz) solid pumpkin purée
¾ C agave nectar
2 T whole-wheat pastry flour
2½ t vanilla extract
1¼ t pumpkin pie spice
½ t baking powder
¼ t salt
⅔ C “Cut the Crap” Whipped Topping, optional (see recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly mist an 11-by-7-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with spray.
Add the cereal to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a chopping blade. Process it for 15–20 seconds, or until the cereal is crushed. Transfer it to a small mixing bowl and add the maple syrup and cinnamon. Mix them until well combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Gently press down on the cereal mixture, spreading it evenly across the bottom of the baking dish. Bake for 7–9 minutes, or until slightly browned. Set aside.
Meanwhile, add the egg whites to a large mixing bowl. Using a sturdy whisk, lightly beat them until they bubble very slightly. Still using the whisk, stir in the pumpkin, agave and flour until well combined. Stir in the vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and salt, and continue mixing until well combined. Pour the filling over the baked crust. Using a rubber spatula, spread it into an even layer.
Bake for 40–45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry (a few crumbs are okay). Transfer the dish to a wire cooking rack, allowing it to cool to room temperature. Carefully cut 32 pumpkin “bites” (by making 3 cuts along the width of the pan and 7 cuts along its length, creating 4 x 8 bites). Just before serving, top each bite with 1 teaspoon whipped topping, if desired. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Makes 16 servings.
Per serving (two bites): 94 calories; 3 g protein; 21 g carbohydrates (15 g sugar); trace fat; trace saturated fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 2 g fiber; 102 mg sodium.
“Cut the Crap” Whipped Topping
It’s important to use this topping within about 1 day or to freeze any excess. After a day in the refrigerator, it begins to separate. In the freezer, it will stay as made for weeks and never get hard, so it’s great for topping anything as the cravings hit.
Though you may be tempted to use a double boiler for this recipe, unless you have a very large double boiler insert I would highly recommend using a saucepan and a large metal or heavy-duty glass mixing bowl that sits on top of the pan (and isn’t too much larger than the pan). For maximum results, you need a large bowl so that a lot of air whips into the egg whites, creating volume. I’ve found that most double boiler inserts aren’t quite big enough to allow that.
Please note that every time I have made this, it yields a different amount of whipped topping, ranging from as few as 6 cups to as many as 8½ cups. I’ve noticed that even slight variations in the size or temperature of the egg whites, the type of beaters I use, the size of the bowl, etc., make a difference. Here I’ve calculated the nutritional information based on the recipe making only 6 cups, to give you a good sense of what you’re consuming, “worst-case scenario.” If the recipe makes more, as it likely will, the topping will have even fewer calories per tablespoon.
¾ C light agave nectar
3 large egg whites, room temperature
½ t cream of tartar
Add water to a medium saucepan until it is about one-fourth full. Bring the water to a boil over high heat.
Off the heat, combine the agave, egg whites and cream of tartar in a large metal or heavy-duty glass mixing bowl (that will fit onto the top of your saucepan). Beat on medium-high with an electric mixer fitted with beaters until well blended. Place the bowl over the pot of boiling water. (For safety, be sure to wear an oven mitt while holding the bowl over the heat, as it will get very hot). Beat for about 7 minutes, occasionally running the beaters around the sides of the bowl to scrape any of the mixture, until stiff peaks form. Remove the bowl from the water and continue beating for 5–7 minutes more, rotating the bowl and scraping down the sides with the beaters as you do, or until the mixture is thick and very fluffy, with very stiff peaks. Makes 6 cups.
Per serving (1 tablespoon): 8 calories; trace protein; 2 grams (g) carbohydrates (2 g sugar); 0 g fat; 0 g saturated fat; 0 milligrams (mg) cholesterol; 0 g fiber; 2 mg sodium.Reprinted from The Biggest Loser Dessert Cookbook by Devin Alexander(Rodale 2010). Permission granted by Rodale.
Devin Alexander is a celebrity chef, New York Times best-selling author, restauranteur, weight loss coach and regular magazine contributor. She's kept off 70 pounds for 20 years and is passionate about helping others get fit through her Devinly makeovers. When she's not working, she can be found on the beach, playing beach tennis in Hermosa Beach California. contact her at www.devinalexander.com.