Substitution Resolutions: Health Literacy and the Holidays

Dr. Maribeth Buie
Dr. Maribeth Buie

Season’s Greetings, or Season’s Eating?  This time of year is renowned for excess – excessive decorating, excessive gifts, and excessive eating.  Eating, however, is not only about the food.  Eating revolves around tradition, culture, and fellowship.  Traditional dishes vary from home to home, but the holiday season is an optimal time to help your students discover the joys of learning through cooking.

Recipes can be a great teaching tool for your students to impart measurement, math, and healthy eating skills.  Knowing how to measure food and medicine is important, such as knowing the difference between a tablespoon (T or Tbsp) and a teaspoon (t or tsp).  Recipes often require math skills, such as working with fractions when doubling ¾ cup of flour or converting 12 ounces to 1 ½ cups.  Healthy eating is only a step away when using easy substitutions to lighten up the calorie/fat load without losing flavor.  For example, unsweetened applesauce may be substituted for oil or butter in sweet or savory dishes.  Greek yogurt is a great base for creamy dips instead of mayonnaise or sour cream.  In addition, low-fat or fat-free dairy products (skim or 1%-milk, low-fat or fat-free sour cream, and low-fat or part-skim cheese) may easily be substituted for their higher fat counterparts.

Below are two examples of traditional holiday foods in my home (yes, I’m from the south) – the original recipe is provided alongside a lighter version.  In both cases, the lighter version tastes just as good without the guilt (you can eat them all year long)!  Try this substitution exercise in the classroom (and on your own), and reap the rewards of learning via class cooking demonstrations or a potluck dinner – bon appétit!

Sweet Potato Casserole
Original Recipe Lighter Version Recipe
2 cans yams, drained, mashed 3 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup sugar Honey or low-glycemic sweetener to taste
2 eggs 1/2 cup chopped nuts
5 Tbsp butter 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup raisins (plumped) 1/2 cup raisins (plumped)
2 Tbsp frozen orange juice 2 Tbsp frozen orange juice
Beat ingredients together, and place in a greased casserole Stir ingredients together. Serve Warm
Top with: 1/4 cup melted butter, 2 Tbsp flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup chopped nuts * Note: I use the microwave to cooke the potatoes, pegans for the nuts, and Splenda for sweetener- that is personal preference of course.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes
Frozen Cranberry Dessert
Original Recipe Lighter Version  Recipe
1-16 oz. can whole cranberreis with sauce 1-16 oz. can whole cranberries with sauce
1- 8 oz. package cream cheese 1-8 oz package fat-free cream cheese
3 Tbsp sugar 1/2 cup pecans chopped
2 Tbsp mayonnaise 1 small can crushed pineapple
1/2 cup pecans, chopped 1- 8 oz. container Cool Whip Free or alternative light whipped cream
1 small can crushed pineapple
8-oz. whipped cream
Beat cream cheese, sugar, and mayonnaise together. Add craberry sauce, drained pineapple, and nuts- mix well. Fold in whipped cream. Freeze. Beat cream cheese. Add cranberry sauce, drained pineapple, and nuts- mix well. Fold in whippped topping. Freeze.


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