Holidays can be a low carb diet disaster.
We all hate to love holiday meals because they can be a low carb diet disaster and many of us can trace our love for carbs right back to the holiday meals. From the breaded stuffing to the creamy green bean casserole to the sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows to the mounds of buttery dinner rolls, each dish outdid the next in a serious attempt at getting us almost immobile. The holiday meal was a text-book case for carb-loading; a meal any marathoner would be happy to eat. But, we went from the table to the couch, rarely burning off any of the carbs we ingested. When did all this over-indulgence happen?
Don't blame Norman Rockwell
The image of a plentiful holiday meal might bring the iconic image given to us by Norman Rockwell to mind. But, look again at this image entitled Freedom From Want. What do you see on the table? Well, first you notice the turkey. If you look closely, you'll notice the turkey is huge, and in fact, Grandma is probably struggling trying to hold it up like that. The bird in that picture probably weighs about twenty to twenty five pounds. Take a look at that picture one more time. That turkey is almost as big as Grandma!
But, what else do you notice about that picture. Look at the table. It's not crammed with creamy casseroles, piles of sweet potatoes, corn oyster bakes, or cheesy macaroni. You would probably find the mashed potatoes in the covered casserole, but that's a bare minimum compared to today's holiday spread. Yes, it appears the masterpiece, the star of the table, was most definitely the turkey. You'll see a few celery sticks, pickles, cranberry sauce, and some fruit on the table. So, Norman Rockwell depicted a typical holiday table during World War II as a huge, protein packed, low carb feast.
So, when did things turn to the carb-fest we have today? We can't exactly be sure, but with many changes in consumerism, we can trace a 'boom' in consuming to post World War II. Families grew, and right along with the growth of families came a growth of meals. Kitchens were becoming more modern and cooking was becoming easier. More prepackaged foods became available. The post World War II home meant Mom in the kitchen cooking big meals for a big family. The holiday table grew along with the family.
We went from a high protein holiday meal, featuring a lean, nutritious bird, with a few sides straight from the garden, to a meal of shrinking protein and increasing carbohydrates in the form of creamy, sugary vegetables and fruits. In lieu of a serving of baked sweet potatoes, we laced them with sugar, maple syrup, and a marshmallow topping. Our blanched green beans turned into a canned soup and french fried onion delight. Our tastes changed, and so did our expectations.
Over the years, we have developed a litany of side dishes that have taken center stage, or table, in place of the turkey. As we complain about our expanding waists, we dream of those beautiful holiday tables. Oh, yes, the holiday meal is our most guilty pleasure Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and we hate to love it, but we do so love it. So, now what? How can we get back to the Norman Rockwell table, rich in protein and healthy carbs?
Go back to the farm
It's often said that in order to eat healthy, shop the perimeters of the grocery store. Stick to the produce and protein and you can't go wrong. The trouble starts when you move into the center of the store where you'll find the packaged, processed foods. Take that one step further and I say stick to the farm.
If you want to go back to the table that Norman Rockwell depicted in his holiday meal painting, you'll need to think only of what is produced on the farm. Whether it's grown in the garden or the pens, hunted or fished, the closer you eat to what is in and of the earth, the healthier your diet will be. Eating low carb usually means eating whole foods in a state closest to natural. In other words, unprocessed or lightly processed foods are best. Even foods that aren't necessarily considered low carb, such as bread, can be enjoyed in small quantities if it is mostly made of whole, unprocessed grains.
Plentiful protein is another basis for a low carb diet. That is not to say that you should eat only protein or mostly protein. A low carb diet requires a good amount of fiber-rich vegetables, but protein is considered essential as well. As a matter of fact, protein, and the fats that are naturally occurring in protein sources are not only necessary to feel full, but are also necessary for overall health.
When families relied on the farm for their food supply, it was not uncommon to have two or three chickens, ducks, geese, or turkeys on the table for a large meal. The meal was then rounded out with a nice supply of vegetables, greens, fruits, or berries from the gardens and surrounding grounds. But creamy casserole style concoctions were not common. Instead, cream, butter, and cheese were saved for special touches, like desserts.
Look at your holiday menu this year. Are you relying too heavily on the traditions handed down from our post World War II atmosphere of bigger is better when it comes to the family meal? Are your favorite carb-rich dishes going to ruin your efforts at dieting this holiday season? You won't miss your traditional dishes if you replace them with plenty of good, wholesome, flavorful foods. Take a look at the smiling faces gathered around the table that Norman Rockwell drew and ask yourself if those folks look deprived. Make this the holiday season you finally stick to your diet and feel great about doing it.
The holiday meals
Start your feast off right with low carb holiday appetizers and finish with cookies and candy to satisfy your cravings even when you are on a low carb diet.
A few low carb facts to consider:
- Start your feast off right with low carb holiday appetizers.
- Choose the star off the feast from a variety of low carb holiday main dishes.
- Consider low carb holiday side dishes the time to try something totally new or give traditional favorites a low carb makeover.
- Decadence doesn't have to destroy your diet thanks to delicious low carb holiday desserts.
- Finish with cookies and candy to satisfy your cravings even when you are on a low carb diet.
- Enjoy the spirits of the season with low carb holiday beverages.
- Make a big dinner out off little healthy bites with a low carb holiday buffet.
Low carb festive appetizers
What do you think of when you imagine serving your guests holiday appetizers? Usually lots and lots of creamy dips and other goodies? If you are trying to restrict your carb intake, you may be thinking you will have to skip out on all those yummy starters. However, there are ways to cut out the extra carbs without sacrificing all the wonderful flavors you want to enjoy during this festive season. Here are a few suggestions to cut back on the carbs right from the start.
Good things come in small packages
For some reason, everything seems to be getting super-sized, even appetizers. These little snacks have expanded to almost side-dish portions in recent years. One of the simplest ways to create a healthier appetizer buffet is to create bite-size portions instead of big platters of dips and spreads. You can scale them back down and still make a big splash. Tiny bites, or Ã¢â‚ tapas are becoming all the rage, taking the restaurant business by storm. Maybe your own tapas are just what you need to scale down your holiday appetizers to a healthier size.
Instead of the large cheese logs you have made in the past, try making individual bite-size cheese balls. The same can be done with the spinach dips you currently serve in a big bread bowl. Instead, make tiny bites using similar ingredients. By offering smaller, bite sized portions, your guests will not tend to keep dipping and inadvertently fill up on appetizers before they even get a chance to sit down at the table.
Classics with a twist
Take a look at some of your favorite appetizers and rethink the ingredients. Swedish meatballs is a great hot appetizer that's filling and tasty. You can make them small enough to keep them healthier, yes, but you can also replace high-carb breadcrumbs with low-carb alternatives, such as almond flour and meal. Of course you can buy low-carb baking items like flour and biscuit mixes to help with the types of appetizers that require breadcrumbs or a crust.
One of my favorite appetizers is stuffed mushrooms. But, a breading-based stuffing is not on a low-carb diet. Again, rethink the classic recipe and you'll design a stuffed mushroom that easily fits your dietary needs. Saute a little onion, garlic, and celery with flavorful sausage, then stir in freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Stuff your mushrooms and you have a low-carb appetizer that is sure to please anyone. If you want a stuffed mushroom more like the ones you enjoy at restaurants (they use more breading because it stretches the stuffing) then stir in a bit of almond meal or even finely ground peanuts. You won't be able to tell the difference, but your figure will.
Those delicious creamy spreads and dips with the thick pieces of crusty bread alongside may be appetizing, but that bread is loaded with carbs. If your diet has you shying away from bread and crackers, can you still enjoy the spreads? Sure you can. Spinach dip, crab dip, cheese balls, and other favorite appetizers are often light on the carbs as long as you find a new 'vehicle' to serve them on, or in. Stuff a grape tomato with crab dip and enjoy! Spread spinach dip on a cucumber slice. Cut celery up into one or two bite pieces, fill them with your favorite cheese ball ingredients, and you have an instant low-carb alternative to cheese and crackers.
Stick with a few favorites
There are appetizers that are naturally low-carb. Think of your favorite protein-based appetizers and you'll have a few ideas right away. Wrap just about any seafood in bacon, put it under the broiler, and you have a festive appetizer that is perfect for any holiday buffet. Remember ham and Swiss cheese wrapped asparagus bundles? These are the appetizers that have stood the test of time, and are low-carb diet friendly.
Also, don't ignore the obvious; the antipasto tray. Olives, sausage, cheese, pickles, and artichoke hearts artfully arranged, can be all the appetizers you need. This is a classic that never gets boring. Be sure to include a variety of each element to keep the interest.
When the Holidays come around, we all look forward to the appetizer buffet. But, when you're on a low-carb diet, the choices can feel limiting. The surprising and wonderful thing is... they're not! You have a lot of choices, some very familiar, that will keep you happy as well as low-carb.
Low carb festive main dishes, the star of the feast
Luckily, most main dishes we think about over the holidays are naturally low-carb because they are usually protein-based. Choices such as turkey, duck, goose, and ham are traditional stars of the holiday table, but are they all equally nutritious and diet friendly? Let's take a look at some of the most popular and see how they stack up against each other.
Many families pride themselves in their great big, juicy, golden brown turkey coming out of the oven. And why not? This glorious bird is a holiday classic that is not only beautiful when cooked well, but is just as tasty. But, how does turkey stack up in the healthier food department?
Turkey is essentially considered a low-to-no carb food. Since meat is mostly protein, you can enjoy as much turkey as you wish if you are on a low-carb diet. However, a few things to consider would be the dressing you may have stuffed the bird with. If you consider roasting your bread-filled bird a tradition, just be sure to avoid the dressing when dishing up your plate.
Other nutritional considerations is the fat, cholesterol, calories, and sodium. One trick to cut down on the fat, which often contains those unhealthy elements, is to be sure the bird is on a rack in the roasting pan so the fat cooks off and runs through, and the bird isn't sitting in the fat juices.
Choosing which portion to eat is also important to eating healthier. The white meat is lower in fat and cholesterol than dark meat. But, dark meat has more iron. So, there are always trade offs to think about. Of course, you want to skip most if not all of the skin to avoid the vast majority of the fat and salt.
If you are faced with a holiday table filled with carb-rich, fat-rich foods, your choices may be limited, but you can feel confident helping yourself to multiple servings of turkey. If you stick to mostly white meat, with only a nibble or two of dark meat and a tiny bit of crispy skin, you can load up without worrying about your healthy diet.
Duck versus goose
Two popular birds to grace the holiday table are duck and goose. Either one is a glorious addition to a beautiful table. They both are aromatic, the skin crisps and browns beautifully, and they are often a traditional favorite simply because we just don't tend to cook them often.
But, when it comes to eating healthier, which would you choose? The nutritional data may surprise you. We believe duck to be a very fatty bird, and it is, of course. However, between the two, goose is actually much higher in calories and almost five times more calories come from the fat in a goose than the fat in a duck. This is without the skin.
Even with the goose having a much higher calorie count from fat, the cholesterol count is quite a bit lower for a goose than a duck. This just illustrates how important it is to check the nutrition labels before you dig in, especially if you are on a strict diet.
The good news is both duck and goose are carb-free, so if you are on a low-glycemic diet, this may be one dish you can enjoy without difficulty during the holidays. Again, the crispy skin may be tempting, but just a nibble will have to do if you want to stay within your dietary restrictions concerning fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
Ham it up
It's hard to look at a glazed ham and see it as nutritious and diet-friendly. Of course, a basic baked ham fits into a low-carb diet, but what about after it's fancied up for the holiday table?
Comparing a basic baked ham with a honey baked ham, you'll quickly see where the nutrition suffers in the honey baked variety. The sodium levels jump dramatically as well as the carb levels, thanks to the added sugar or honey. The calories and fat seem to be on similar levels, which would be considered quite high for most people counting calories. However, that is assuming you eat an equal part lean and fatty ham, so you could help yourself to a leaner portion and save a few calories.
With this holiday main, it could really depend a lot on the cut and the recipe. If you choose a lean ham, then bake it with a savory glaze, such as a mustard glaze instead of a sweet glaze, you can save on carbs, calorie, and fat. Bake it on a rack to let the fats drip off and you'll save even more on the fat content. Put the salt on the table instead of on the ham and you'll reduce your sodium, as well.
Whatever your traditional holiday meal has for its star, you can always make it healthier. Choose your main, then tweak your recipe and cooking method to create a main dish that is not only beautiful and tasty, but healthier, too.
Low carb festve side dishes
You have finally started to see results from your low carb diet. Now, the holidays are here. Perhaps reinventing your traditional side dishes is one way to stay on your diet, but wouldn't it be fun to find entirely new and tasty sides to celebrate your accomplishment? When it comes to side dishes, the sky's the limit so why not create an entirely new menu of side dishes this holiday season. Let's take a look at some low carb side dishes that just may become new traditions in your family.
Smarter starchy sides
We all love our big pile of mashed potatoes and gravy, but on a low carb diet this is pretty much off the menu. But, there are ways to satisfy that starchy craving without all the carbs involved. A great alternative is baked spaghetti squash with Parmesan cheese. This filling and satisfying side dish can fool the taste buds into believing you're getting a tummy full of starchy goodness without all the carbs. Toss in a bit of cream cheese for a real smooth texture that makes this dish even yummier.
Another way to serve a side that tastes starchy without being loaded with carbs is with a brown rice dish. Granted, brown rice is not exactly low in carbs, but you won't eat that much in a serving when you make a side dish that is loaded with mushrooms, vegetables, and even sausage. This starchy side will definitely have you forgetting about your plate of potatoes.
A new green
Getting away from the usual green bean casserole can be a struggle, but not when you replace it with a side dish that's just as creamy and tasty. It's all about having the same textures in a new dish that we enjoy in our classics. Think of all the healthy greens that can be cooked with creamy ingredients. For instance, a very flavorful green like kale can be tossed with almonds and Parmesan cheese for a tasty side. You have the creamy texture of the cheese and crunchy almonds that replace what you long for in the old classic, but with a fraction of the carbs.
Consider a creamed spinach instead of your usual green bean casserole this year. This is a wonderfully satisfying side dish that is made low carb easily by using almond flour or meal to thicken a white sauce instead of using wheat flour. Add nuts for the additional crunch. Or depart entirely from the greens and choose a cheesy eggplant bake instead. When finding something new to replace the classics, think about what you like about your traditional side dishes and find ingredients that replicate the old, but with a new twist.
Don't get stuffed with stuffing
This is the dish that has most of us falling way off the low carb wagon. The trick here is to create a whole new taste sensation so you don't miss the traditional herbed bread stuffing. Here's where you need to get creative. Instead of bread cubes, think of using cubes of yellow squash, then add cauliflower, sausage, and lots of celery, onion, chopped nuts and traditional herbs. Bake this 'stuffing' outside the bird and you'll get to enjoy a whole new taste without all the carbs of bread.
Again, you want to replace the traditional breaded stuffing with a dish that is different enough to intrigue your guests, and their taste buds. Look at ingredients like squash, nuts, sausage, apples, and even oysters. Use traditional stuffing spices to tie it all together and your new side dish will be a definite hit.
Soups and salads move up to side dish status
Often, we think of soups and salads as starter courses, served before the main dish and sides. But, why not choose a soup or salad as a side to serve along with your turkey or other main dish? Stick with familiar fall ingredients and the flavors will be just right for your holiday table.
Why not make a thick, creamy pumpkin or squash soup to serve with dinner? Try a curried carrot and parsnip soup or even a seafood bisque to satisfy that craving we all have for a nice filling starchy side dish. Serve with a sprinkle of toasted salty almonds for crunch and a dollop of yogurt on top for extra creaminess. You can even serve a hearty potato soup and you won't get as many carbs in the soup as you would in a serving of potatoes and gravy.
Salads loaded with fresh, healthy ingredients can easily replace your traditional green bean casserole or other carb-loaded vegetable side dish. Use crispy spinach and mixed greens with a lot of added vegetables, then toss in goat cheese and other cheeses, along with nuts, and even a variety of thinly sliced hard sausages. Don't forget to add fresh chopped savory herbs to complete the holiday flavor palate you're looking for.
Sometimes tweaking familiar traditional side dishes leaves us feeling a bit deprived; we didn't get our real green bean casserole, stuffing, or mashed potatoes and gravy. But, if we change the menu completely with brand new sides featuring entirely new ingredients, our taste buds are so intrigued, we never miss the old classics.
Low carb holiday classic sides
When we start putting our holiday menu down on paper, we usually notice something happening. The same dishes appear year after year after year. Aside from the traditional main dish, there seems to be a pattern in many households of our favorite sides reappearing. It's wonderful to follow tradition, but what happens when those family favorites are in conflict with your healthy diet? Many sides we love are not exactly what you'd call low-carb. So, how do we reinvent our holiday side dishes? Let's take a look at a few new ways to treat a few old favorites.
Mashed potatoes and gravy
Anyone on a low-carb diet will automatically push past the mashed potatoes and gravy. We know it's loaded in carbs, right? But the clever cook can easily replace the traditional favorite with a new favorite; Mock Smashed Potatoes and Golden Au Jus. The secret to this low-carb dish is simply that you aren't cooking potatoes; you're creating potatoes out of cauliflower.
Boil cauliflower, then mash or put in food processor with cream cheese and other ingredients, and you have a smooth potato-like texture. You can thicken the potatoes a bit with a tablespoon or so of almond flour if you wish. Add garlic, Parmesan cheese, onion, salt and pepper to add even more flavor.
Then the gravy is simple. All you need really is the pan drippings, a little water, and a saucepan over medium high heat. Get the liquid bubbling and let it reduce by half and you'll have a nice, rich gravy without any added flour. Of course, if you wish to thicken the gravy a bit, a little sprinkling of flour won't add a significant amount of carbs to the meal.
Green bean casserole
You know you love a big heaping helping of this favorite dish, but just one look at that can of cream of soup and you also know it's off limits. But you can have this traditional side dish again; all you need to do is control the ingredients.
Once you have your green beans cooking and your seasonings ready, you just need the sauce to bring it all together. That thick creamy sauce is what makes the dish, right? Create your own cream of soup by making a simple white sauce using milk and almond flour to thicken. You can also stir in a bit of cream cheese to give it an even creamier texture. It's really as simple as opening a can once you get the basic technique down.
As for those crunchy onions on top, the carbs don't account for much in the entire dish, but if you want to eliminate them entirely, but keep the onion taste, oven fry some thinly cut onion that has been coated lightly with olive oil. When they get golden brown, toss them into and on top of the casserole for all the flavor without any breading.
Sweet potato casserole
This favorite side dish will take a lot of tweaking, but with the carb savings you'll enjoy, it's well worth it. Sweet potatoes are loaded with carbohydrates, and I don't mean a little; I mean a lot! One trick for bringing the carb count down is to mix pureed pumpkin in with the sweet potatoes. You maintain the texture and flavor (remember, pureed pumpkin doesn't have any flavor of its own), and bring the carbs down within a reasonable amount.
Of course, you'll want to avoid as much sugar as possible, so one alternative is to stir in a bit of artificial sweetener, just enough to bring the sweetness to a level that you're used to. Another way is to readjust your thinking entirely when it comes to sweet potato casserole. You may want to make it savory instead of sweet. A sweet potato casserole made with crispy bacon or sausage instead of marshmallows and sugar could be a nice change on your holiday table.
There are even ways to tweak this tangy sweet side dish. Cranberry relish is typically not what you would call low-carb. The amount of sugar in most recipes is pretty much off the scale, and the canned variety is even worse. But, even though the amount you would normally eat at one sitting won't amount to too much, there are still ways to reduce the normal amount of carbs.
One interesting way to reduce the amount of carbs in a bowl of cranberry relish is to bulk up the relish as much as possible with lower carb ingredients. Surprisingly, the peel of the orange is lower in carbs than the fruit itself. Fill your food processor with raw cranberries and the peels of several washed oranges and process until finely chopped. Then, add sections of the orange, tasting after a few are processed, and stop adding when you have a nice blend of tangy and sweet. Add a sprinkle of artificial sweetener or sugar just until you've gotten the sweetness you like. You'll be surprised how little sugar you'll have to add if you taste it first.
All of these makeovers have one thing in common, you have to just stop and think before you do what you've always done. Often that's all it takes. When you rethink the ingredients, you can usually eliminate or substitute something that is healthier and just as tasty. You may even be creating new holiday dinner traditions.
Delicious low carb festive desserts
Any dessert is a good dessert. However, most of the traditional desserts you've been making are probably loaded with carbs. This is one area where I recommend you invest in a few low carb ingredients so you can still make some of your favorite holiday desserts. However, there are a few ideas for desserts that may become new favorites. Let's take a look at how you can put a little variety into your holiday classic desserts without giving up on tradition entirely.
Pumpkin, pumpkin everywhere
Whether you make your own pumpkin puree or choose canned, you are using probably one of the best examples of low carb ingredients for making holiday desserts that you can find. When you adjust the carbs taking into account the fiber you get, your net carbs drop considerably. The trick is to find recipes that don't use a lot of added carb-loaded ingredients.
Most of the carbs in pumpkin pie comes from the crust and sugar. Invest in almond flour to replace wheat flour in your crust and you've got a good start. Using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar will get you closer to the low carb level you desire. Of course, if you shy away from using artificial sweeteners, you can go the route many dessert fans are going now; reduce the sugar amount and increase the other seasonings. Many cooks have found that almost half the sugar can be eliminated in a pie filling without affecting the flavor.
If you want to eliminate the crust entirely, choose a pumpkin puree parfait or other lighter fare. Whip pumpkin puree with heavy cream, vanilla ice cream, and even a little cream cheese to thicken, then serve in pretty dessert bowls with a sprinkling of nutmeg and crunchy toppings of chopped pecans. Believe it or not, vanilla ice cream and the other ingredients are surprisingly low in carbs, and the vanilla ice cream adds enough sweetness to avoid adding more sugar.
Cranberries move from relish to dessert
You can depart entirely from pumpkin if you want to try a traditional holiday flavor in a new way. Cranberries don't have to end up only in a relish or sauce. This tangy fruit is loaded with nutrients and makes an excellent dessert when you know how to use it.
Make a creamy cranberry pie or dessert similar to an Apple Brown Betty using cooked cranberries and ricotta cheese. You'll be well under your carb limit with both ingredients and as long as you use almond meal for the crust, you can enjoy without guilt. Part of the reason cranberries are low in carbs, is again the fiber is so high that the net carbs drop way down on the scale. Plus the additional nutritional benefits makes this one dessert ingredient that you can eat that would easily fit into the vegetable and fruit serving.
Perhaps a slice of traditional pecan pie is out of the question when it comes to your low carb diet. But why exactly? Again, it's the sugars and the crust. However, if you replace the wheat flour with almond flour and the sugar with artificial sweeteners, your pie may still be too high in carbs because of the corn syrup. How can you enjoy a rich pecan dessert on a low carb diet?
You don't have to pass on a pecan dessert because, surprisingly, pecans are very low carb. Again, you can thank the fiber content for pulling down the total carbs. Consider using chopped pecans as a crust for another dessert to get both your pecan fix and a low carb alternative to traditional crusts. Think crunchy crust made out of pecans instead of flour or even oatmeal. Now you're on to a whole new idea that is low carb but with all the crunchy, nutty goodness.
If you're still missing your pecan pie, consider making tarts in mini muffin tins using a simple crust recipe of almond flour, rolled out thin, then pressed into the muffin tin cups. Mix chopped pecans with eggs, vanilla, a touch of sugar or artificial flavoring and fill the tart shells. Remember, you probably don't need as much sugar as you think, and the vanilla extract will give you most of the flavor. Over-stuff the tarts with pecans so you get mostly pecans in these tiny dessert bites and you'll be under your carb limit.
And, when in doubt, a handful of toasted pecans with an egg white glaze and little sprinkling of sugar will satisfy your sweet tooth without going over the edge in carbs. Even served over a tiny bowl of vanilla ice cream, this favorite dessert nut won't have you destroying your low carb diet.
You don't have to be stuck to tradition for tradition's sake. Rethink the desserts you love and try some totally new ingredients, too. Soon you'll have a variety of desserts that will please everyone at your holiday table.
Low carb holiday goodies to enjoy
When the holidays roll around, you can expect the sweets to be everywhere. Most every candy you used to enjoy before you went on a low carb diet is off limits. But, aren't there any options? Although you won't be able to help yourself to every goodie that you're offered, there are some things you can make to enjoy a bite of something sweet. Let's take a look at how even holiday treats can be made more diet friendly.
Artificial sweeteners and sugars
Many cookies and candy recipes for low carb diets will contain artificial sweeteners instead of sugar. The newest one you'll see is Stevia, but you'll still see recipes that use other sweeteners as well. You may or may not want to use these sweeteners, but this is an option you should investigate.
Another option is to reduce the sugar called for in the recipe. Don't forget; corn syrup is a sugar, so you have to take this into consideration. This can work sometimes, depending on the recipe, and is one of those try-it-first before you serve it deals. If you enjoy all the sweets around the holidays, go ahead and spend some time deciding if this is worth your trouble.
Tweaking other ingredients
If you're going to enjoy a couple sweet goodies during the holidays, you can't get too crazy about the carbs. You can't totally escape the carbs in a cookie or candy. You can, however, choose a few less carb-loaded ingredients and learn to make new goodies.
Just about any time you see a cookie or candy that calls for wheat flour, you can substitute almond flour. Will it be exactly the same? Maybe not. Will it be tasty? Probably. If you are limited to a few sweet goodies, you'll appreciate what you get. So, go ahead and make a batch of lemon bars or cookies and see what happens.
Some nuts have lower carb counts than others. Believe it or not, pecans are lower in carbs than peanuts, walnuts, almonds, and even macadamia nuts, but cashews are the greatest offender. When choosing which nut to use in your cookies or candy, you may want to take that into consideration.
A word about chocolate
It is true that dark chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate is lower in carbs than milk chocolate. But, you can cut carbs also by reducing the amount of chocolate chips in a recipe as well as the size of the cookie or candy. You can also lower the total carbs in the chocolate by adding cream in as you melt it, creating a ganache. This will not harden as well, but it may be perfect for certain treats.
My main issue with trying to avoid chocolate entirely, especially during the holidays, is we are way too concerned. Consider this; you want to make chocolate covered nuts. You choose pecans, which have a net carb count (that's carbs less fiber) of about 5 grams for a cup of chopped pecans. Then if you melt chocolate, even milk chocolate to mix in, you'll need only about a tablespoon or so which is about 8 grams of carbs. So, even if you ate that entire cup of chocolate covered nuts, you would be eating about 13 grams of carbs. For a decadent candy, 13 grams is not a disaster to your diet.
My point is, if you choose to enjoy a bite or two of chocolate, even chocolate covered nuts, you are going to feel satisfied and happy, rather than deprived. And, we all know that when our diet leaves us feeling deprived, we end up diving head first into a bag of mini candy bars, chips, or a loaf of bread. Choose your sweet carbs carefully and enjoy a bite or two this holiday season.
Put together a low carb festive buffet
If your holiday buffet features large chaffing dishes filled with au gratin potatoes, heaps of stuffing, fiesta corn, and cheesy macaroni, you're not offering much to anyone on a low carb diet. If your guests have to walk away with just a couple slices of turkey and a few celery sticks, you're not going to feel too good about that. If you're planning a buffet this year, you might want to figure out how you can make all your guests happy, even the ones on a low carb diet. Let's take a look at several dishes that go well on a healthier holiday buffet.
Starting with the main event, you can certainly roast a turkey and slice the meat, put it on a platter, and call it good. Or, you may want to present an alternative. Thin slices of turkey make the perfect wrap instead of using tortillas on a low carb diet. Cold turkey slices wrapped around blanched asparagus with a piece of cheese is a classic that many people look forward to on a buffet. You can change this classic up a bit by changing the vegetable to broccoli, spinach, or even cucumber. Put together a variety of wraps with different cheeses, herbs, and seasonings.
A hot alternative is to first roast your asparagus or other vegetables, then add cheese and wrap in the turkey slices. Now coat your turkey rolls with finely crushed pecans or almond meal, then lightly fry them and serve hot. And, don't forget ham slices and prosciutto can also be used for wraps.
Another protein we love on buffets is seafood. Aside from the classic bacon wrapped shrimp, what else can we do to make our holiday buffet special? Of course you can serve small salmon filets that have been oven roasted or grilled to perfection. Cut the filets into finger food size for easy serving and have a dill sauce on the side. Coat the salmon in a ground pecan meal and fry for a sweet crunch.
Salmon and cucumber is a combination that gets rave reviews on any buffet. But, rather than sandwiches with bread, why not make something a bit simpler and low carb diet friendly. Put canned salmon, smoked or not, in your food processor with lemon juice, cream cheese, and seasonings and process until nice and fluffy. Then, serve on thin cucumber slices, either round, cut lengthwise, or on the diagonal.
Crab meat, shrimp, or other seafood is a great way to add protein to your buffet table without adding a lot of carbs. Celery sticks are a very diet friendly way to serve cold protein dishes. Chop the seafood, mix with mayonnaise or cream cheese, and seasonings, stuff the celery sticks and you have a tasty, protein rich food that also provides some very good carbs. Or you can marinade crab meat or other seafood in an oil and vinegar dressing and serve in a ceviche style dish for something entirely different.
If you want a hot main dish made with seafood, try forming patties or "cakes" out of the seafood, add onion, sweet red pepper, and celery, then crack in an egg, mix, and, instead of adding bread crumbs, add almond meal until mixture is sticking together, but not too moist. Then form your patties, about two to three bite-size, and quickly fry in a good oil. Serve each little cake on top of a leaf of romaine lettuce or other sturdy green like kale for a simple main dish that is easy to eat and very tasty.
Don't forget the vegetarians in your low-carb main dish buffet menu. Black bean burgers are one option that is relatively low in carbs but very high in protein. You can use a mix of dried, cooked beans, put them in the food processor, add your celery, onions, and flavors, and blend until you can form patties. Add cilantro and other deep flavors to make them more interesting. Add in an egg to help the mixture hold together, then form your patties and fry. Serve just like you did the crab cakes.
Tofu is a also a welcome addition to the buffet table when vegetarians and vegans are looking for a filling dish to enjoy. The trick is learning how to cook and present a good tofu dish. To begin, completely dry the tofu by pressing down firmly serving-size pieces with a heavy weight between clean towels. Once dried, you want to fry the tofu, and then marinade it in the flavors you want to present. When the tofu has absorbed the flavor, it's time to stir fry and toss into a hot or cold dish for your buffet. Roasted veggies are a perfect option, as well as mixed greens, shredded cooked cabbage, and nuts. Use your imagination and several different marinades to make your tofu dishes interesting and delicious and your guests will be very pleased.
This is normally where the difficulty starts. Since we often think of sides at a holiday dinner as the starches and carbs, it's hard to imagine what we can do to get away from that whole thought. The trick may be tweaking the classics, but you may also need to try entirely different dishes than you are used to.
Since sweet potatoes are high in carbs, and sweet potato casserole with the marshmallow topping is off the charts, you may think you have to avoid this classic entirely. But, there are ways to make even sweet potatoes more diet friendly. Start by thinking small. You don't want to eat even a cup of sweet potatoes on a low carb diet. However, by making little sweet potato fritters, using almond meal for the binder, you can enjoy a couple bites of this holiday traditional food without being too concerned. You may also want to temper the sweet potato mixture with a bit of pureed pumpkin to lower the carb count even further.
You can do the same thing with white potatoes if you wish. Just make small potato puffs, reducing the high carb count of the potatoes by adding Parmesan cheese and cream cheese to the mixture. Bind with almond flour and even an egg for a real flavorful bite. Be sure to add chives or green onions for an even prettier look and delicious flavor.
Macaroni and cheese is a no-no on a low carb diet due to the pasta. However, you can make a cheesy alternative that will satisfy even the most diehard mac and cheese fan. Steam cauliflower, lightly mash, then mix in a cheesy white sauce until you reach a desirable consistency. Put in the oven in a casserole dish and top with a buttery faux breadcrumb topping, using almond meal instead of the breadcrumbs, cooking until golden brown on top. Set out on your buffet and watch it disappear even faster than your old mac and cheese did.
What do you like about the traditional green bean casserole? The creamy sauce and crunchy fried onions, right? Go ahead and make a white sauce using almond flour instead of wheat flour, that's step one. Then cut sweet onions up into thin wedges, drizzle with olive oil, toss with almond meal, and roast until browned slightly. Quickly cook your fresh green beans, then add all the ingredients together and toss well. You have all of the elements of the classic green bean casserole without all the carbs.
Another option is to create a fun green bean wrap. Start by blanching your beans. Peel a large onion, and drop in the blanching water for a few seconds, just until you can separate the layers. Remove one layer, slice to lay open, then put some beans inside, add a dollop of cream cheese or goat cheese, and season as you like, then roll up and dredge in almond meal or crushed nuts. Lay seam side down on a baking sheet and bake in moderate oven, roasting until onion is nicely browned. Serve your little green bean casserole bundles hot with a little creamy dipping sauce.
There are numerous options for healthier, low carb buffet offerings at your holiday buffet. The trick is to look at the ingredients you can have on your diet in any main dish or side dish, then pick apart the recipe and get creative. The great thing about a holiday buffet is that everyone expects something a little different from a regular sit-down dinner. So have fun with it and enjoy!
Low carb holiday beverages to enjoy
When you think of beverages during the holidays, typically those beverages are 'spirited' with alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol is considered taboo on most low carb diets, typically because alcohol turns to sugar, even if the label says zero carbs. But there are ways to reduce the total carbs in some of our favorite festive drinks. Let's take a look at a few ways to enjoy your holiday spirits with a few less carbs.
Giving eggnog a chance
This is one holiday favorite that often gets the thumbs-down on a low carb diet. But, what is the main ingredient you're trying to avoid? Of course, the rum comes to mind, but surprisingly, rum is not high in carbs or even sugars. The alcohol is known to turn into sugar when ingested, but this is not a beverage that is considered high in carbs or one that you would drink a lot of.
So, where does the fear of egg nog's high carb status come from? It's the creaminess, of course. This is an easy fix. Use low carb milk products like almond milk or even whole cream. Find a recipe you like and tweak it to fit your own personal taste. In my experience, most recipes use too much rum, so start with less, which is another way to cut back on the alcohol-sugar that many low carb diets warn against.
This is another case of thinking before using a recipe. There are often ways to reduce sugars and carbs in a recipe when you just take a minute to look at the labels. Many people would assume that using skim milk would improve the recipe to be healthier. However, if you are eating, or in this case drinking, a low carb diet, you'll learn that low fat often means high carb. Remember, read the labels and tweak your recipes accordingly. That way you can enjoy many of your favorite holiday beverages without guilt.
After dinner Irish whiskey coffee
Enjoying a cup of coffee after dinner is a nice treat and a familiar tradition after a big holiday feast. But, for special occasions we often like to dress our coffee up a bit with a little cream and a splash of spirits. Never fear. Your treat can be low carb if you watch your ingredients.
Whiskey is carb-free, of course, but remember, the alcohol itself does turn into sugar in the body, so limit yourself. Use a nice, rich coffee, decaffeinated or not, and fill a large mug, then add the whiskey. You will probably add less than the recipe calls for if you taste the coffee before adding more. Now, again, the trick is in choosing the cream. Go ahead and put a big dollop of whipped cream on top. The carbs are just about nonexistent and the sugar is relatively low, but the calories are something to be aware of. However, you aren't going to have more than a dollop, so enjoy.
Cocktail time tricks
If you like a traditional cocktail, like a Tom Collins or a Cosmopolitan, for instance, you'll have to rethink using the sweet ingredients. The easiest way to make these kinds of beverages low carb is to replace any sugar with artificial sweeteners. There is really no way around it.
Using unsweetened lemonade, cranberry juice, or other mixes will give you the ability to add just the right amount of artificial sweeteners. Sweeten your cocktail with artificially sweetened powdered drink mixes like Crystal Light instead of sugar to make the carbs and calories easier to calculate. Remember to taste before sweetening, as I have time-and-time again noticed that most recipes call for too much sweetener, no matter if it's artificial or regular sugar.
A nice glass of wine with dinner is a classic holiday treat. Unfortunately, this is one alcohol beverage that contains carbs, both from sugars and the alcohol. No matter what kind of wine you drink, white, red, or rose, you will be getting a couple grams of carbs in a small glass of wine; small being about a 3 to 4 ounce glass. Considering that most wine glasses hold a lot more than that, you have to be careful and measure.
Even though many wine lovers argue that red has more carbs than white, or that white has more carbs than red, the truth is it's all about the same. With the exception of sweet or 'dessert' wines, which have a great deal more carbs than either red or white table wines. If you want to reduce the total carbs in your wine beverage, there is the option of adding a low carb 'wash' such as a sparkling water and turn your wine into a spritzer served over ice. Toss in a few berries or fruit to make the spritzer more beautiful.
Sure, you can enjoy a spirited beverage during your holiday feast, as long as you measure, tweak the recipes, and pay attention to the ingredients. Don't expect your beverage of choice to be entirely low carb and diet friendly, but with a little common sense, you can enjoy the spirit, and the spirits, of the season.