Celebrate the Holidays with Healthier Choices

By Carol Ritchie, celebrity chef and To Life!™ Lifestyle-Change Management Participant

celebrate the holidays with healthier choicesAs the holidays arrive, I find myself thinking about our favorite seasonal foods, soups for cold nights by the fire, and sweets for all. Foods we associate with fall, winter, and the holidays are often more calorie-laden, so now’s the time to plan ahead and enjoy all the season has to offer by making better choices without sacrificing taste.

One of the ways I include my favorite foods in my diet is by cooking lighter or vegetarian versions of them. By using lean cuts of meat or substituting beans, I can eat almost anything. I also use these additional strategies:

  1. Make substitutions to cut out the extra fat. Many recipes can be adapted to use olive oil or cooking spray instead of butter for sautéing. Or substitute low-fat evaporated milk for cream. Broth-based soups are generally lower in fat, so look for recipes where most of the liquid comes from broth or water. For a wonderful, mildly spicy meal in a bowl, try my Southwest chicken and green chile stew (see recipe below).

  1. Practice portion control. Many of us eat more food than our body really needs. Restaurants and fast-food establishments have also increased portion sizes, so having a realistic idea of proper portions is important. For example, a serving of meat is 3 ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards. A cup is about the size of a baseball. A half-cup is about the size of a traditional lightbulb.

  1. Choose wisely. Yes, you can have your pie and eat it too, as long as you choose carefully. Pumpkin pie, at about 300 calories for 1/8 of a pie, is a much better choice than pecan (more than 500 calories for the same size). Or try my sweet potato scones or apple and oat crisp for a healthier version of a sweet treat (see recipes below). Even choosing white meat over dark meat can save a few calories. And it goes without saying — don’t eat the skin.

  1. Exercise more. There’s no doubt it’s easy to take in more calories during the fall and winter, so increase your exercise to compensate. Enjoy the brisk weather and walk longer than usual. Park further away from the mall or grocery store entrance. Take the stairs at work. I wear a pedometer every day so I can track my daily goal of 10,000 steps or more, and sometimes that inspires me to keep moving.

With the Methodist Weight Management Institute’s To Life!™ Lifestyle-Change Management Program, I’ve been able to enjoy all the foods I love while still losing weight. I’ve learned to change some long-standing behaviors and make more conscious decisions about what I eat. For additional tips, online cooking demonstrations, and recipes, go to www.MethodistHealthSystem.org/Carol.

If you’re ready to take on a healthier, brighter way to live and work, visit us at Jobs.MethodistHealthSystem.org.

© Methodist Health System


Southwest Chicken and Green Chile Stew

southwest chicken and green chile stewServes 4; 1 1/2 cups per serving

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 pound chicken breasts, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

1 cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

1 (15-ounce) can red beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup frozen corn

2 (4-ounce) cans diced green chiles

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 cup dry quick-cooking barley

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tomato, diced

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add olive oil and swirl to coat bottom of pan. Add chicken and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, or until browned. Add onion and garlic and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes. Add chicken broth, red beans, corn, chiles, cumin, and chili powder. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover pan, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in barley and salt and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Ladle stew into bowls to serve and garnish with diced tomato and chopped fresh cilantro.

Sweet Potato Scones

Makes 12 scones

2 cups white whole-wheat flour (see notes below)

1/4 cup packed brown sugar (or 1/8 cup SPLENDA® brown sugar), plus 1 tablespoon for topping

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 egg, lightly beaten (or egg substitute equivalent to 1 egg)

1 cup mashed sweet potatoes

1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, stir together flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt, and baking soda. In a small bowl, whisk together applesauce, vegetable oil, egg, sweet potatoes, and buttermilk, and add to the dry ingredients just until moistened. Turn mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and using lightly floured hands, gently knead the dough 3 to 4 times. Pat dough into a 10-inch circle. Using a sharp knife, cut into — but not all the way through — the dough to make eight wedges. (This keeps the scones attached, however, allows for easy separation into serving-size pieces when baked.) Sprinkle 1 tablespoon brown sugar over the top of the scones. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool scones on a wire rack for 5 minutes, separate into serving size pieces and enjoy.


White whole-wheat flour is milled from hard white spring wheat, rather than traditional red wheat. It makes lighter-color, milder-tasting baked goods. You can substitute whole-wheat pastry flour or a combination of 1 cup whole-wheat flour and 1 cup all-purpose flour.

Apple and Oat Crisp

apple and oat crispServes 8

4 medium tart cooking apples (Granny Smith), peeled and sliced (about 4 cups)

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats

1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 375º F. Lightly spray 8 ramekins (or oven-safe custard cups) with cooking oil spray. In a bowl, stir together apple slices, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Spoon the apples into the prepared ramekins. In another bowl, stir together oats and olive oil. Sprinkle oat mixture over the apples. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake at 375° F for 25 to 30 minutes, until apples are tender and oat topping is golden brown.

All recipes courtesy of Carol Ritchie.

Posted Healthy Eating