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Tips for Healthier Holiday Cooking

Tips for Healthier Holiday Cooking

Holiday MyPlateThe holidays are often filled with time-honored traditions that include some of our favorite meals and foods. As you celebrate, think of little changes you can make this holiday season to create healthier meals and active days. An added bonus, these small changes may help you to avoid those extra holiday pounds we all fear each year. Happy Cooking!

In the Kitchen:
• For gravies or sauces — if you are making pan gravy, first skim the fat off pan drippings. For cream or white sauces, use fat-free (skim) milk and soft tub or liquid margarine.
• For dressings or stuffing — add low-sodium broth or pan drippings with the fat skimmed off instead of lard or butter. Use herbs and spices and a whole grain bread for added flavor.
• For biscuits — use vegetable oil instead of lard or butter and fat-free (skim) milk or 1 percent buttermilk instead of regular milk.
• For greens — use skin-free smoked turkey, liquid smoke, fat-free bacon bits, or low-fat bacon instead of fatty meats.
• For sweet potato pie — mash sweet potato with orange juice concentrate, nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon, and only one egg. Leave out the butter.
• For cakes, cookies, quick breads, and pancakes — use egg whites or egg substitute instead of whole eggs. Two egg whites can be substituted in many recipes for one whole egg.
• Use unsweetened applesauce or mashed ripe bananas instead of butter.
• Try cutting the amount of sugar listed in recipes in half.
• Use spices to add flavor such as cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg instead of salt.
• Try baked apples with cinnamon and a sprinkle of sugar instead of apple pie.
• Invite your guests to make their own parfait with colorful sliced fruit and low-fat yogurt.

For meats and poultry (chicken and turkey):
• Trim away all of the visible fat from meats and poultry before cooking.
• Take off poultry skin before eating.
• Broil, grill, roast, poach, or boil meat, poultry, or fish instead of frying.
• Drain off any fat that appears during cooking.
• Chill meat and poultry broth until fat becomes solid. Skim off fat before using the broth.
• Skip or limit the breading on meat, poultry, or fish. Breading adds fat and calories. It will also cause the food to soak up more fat during frying.
• Choose and prepare foods without high fat sauces or gravies.

When Shopping:
• Start with a lean choice.
• The leanest beef cuts include round steaks and roasts (round eye, top round, bottom round, round tip), top loin, top sirloin, and chuck shoulder and arm roasts.
• The leanest pork choices include pork loin, tenderloin, center loin, and ham.
• Boneless skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are the leanest poultry choice.

Use the food label to help you choose
• Choose extra lean ground beef. The label should say at least “90% lean.” You may be able to find ground beef that is 93% or 95% lean.
• Processed meats such as hams, sausages, frankfurters, and luncheon or deli meats have added sodium. Check the ingredient and Nutrition Facts label to help limit sodium intake.
• Fresh chicken, turkey, and pork that have been enhanced with a salt-containing solution also have added sodium. Check the product label for statements such as “self-basting” or “contains up to __% of __.”
• Lower fat versions of many processed meats are available. Look on the Nutrition Facts label to choose products with less fat and saturated fat.

• Use a nonstick pan with vegetable cooking oil spray or a small amount of liquid vegetable oil instead of lard, butter, shortening, or other fats that are solid at room temperature.

Enjoy the Food, Fun, Friends and Family!
Cheers to Good Health
• Quench your thirst with low-calorie options. Drink water with lemon or lime slices. Offer seltzer water with a splash of 100% fruit juice.

Be the Life of the Party
• Laugh, mingle, dance, and play games. Focus on fun and enjoy the company of others.

Give to Others
• Spend time providing foods or preparing meals for those who may need a little help. Give food to a local food bank or volunteer to serve meals at a shelter during the holiday season. Giving back is a great mood booster.

Make Exercise a Part of the Fun
• Make being active part of your holiday tradition. Have fun walking and talking with family and friends after a holiday meal. Give gifts that encourage others to practice healthy habits such as workout DVDs, running shoes, and reusable water bottles.

Enjoy the Leftovers
• Create delicious new meals with your leftovers. Add turkey to soups or salads. Use extra veggies in omelets, sandwiches, or stews. The possibilities are endless!

Be sure your family and friends enjoy the food and fun, but focus on the time together. Remember this season is all about the memories, not just the food. You will feel better and enjoy your holiday time with less worry if you focus on staying healthy this season.

Source: USDA United States Department of Agriculture –

Packing a Healthy School Lunch

Healthy school lunch

Packing the kids’ lunches for school means you know which nutritious foods they are eating. Here are some budget-friendly, creative ideas to keep kids happy and healthy at lunchtime.

Make a “Smarter” Sandwich:

While some kids prefer the same thing every day, others may be okay with a slight switch to their sandwich.

  • Use different breads like 100% whole wheat tortilla wraps (choose wraps low in saturated and made with no hydrogenated oils) or 100% whole wheat pita pockets.
  • Besides lettuce, try shredded carrots or avocado slices with a turkey sandwich.
  • Buy blocks of low fat, low-sodium cheeses. You save money when you slice it yourself. Or use a cookie cutter to cut into fun shapes.
  • Instead of lunch meat, try a leftover grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato.


Love Those Leftovers:

Try using the leftovers from the family dinner for the next day’s lunch. Invest in a thermos to keep foods hot or cold until lunchtime.

  • Low-sodium tomato, vegetable or bean soups
  • Chili made with lean or extra lean ground turkey
  • Whole wheat spaghetti with low sodium tomato sauce
  • Low-sodium baked beans, bean casserole or beans & rice


Let Them Dunk:

Sometimes it is okay to let your kids play with their food, especially when they are getting extra nutrition.

  • Apple and pear slices to dip into low-fat plain yogurt mixed with peanut butter.
  • Carrot, celery and sweet pepper strips to dip into hummus, fresh salsa or homemade bean dip.
  • Whole grain crackers (choose crackers low in sodium and saturated fat and made without hydrogenated oils) to dunk into low-sodium vegetable or tomato soup.
  • Unsalted sunflower seeds, crushed whole wheat cereal and sliced banana to mix into low fat vanilla yogurt (no added sugars) to eat with a spoon like a sundae.


Get Them Involved:

While letting kids in the kitchen might mean a bigger mess, if they help pack their own lunch, they are more likely to eat it! On nights you have a bit more time, like a Sunday night, have them choose which piece of fruit or what type of whole grain bread they want and let them assemble their lunch. Make this a weekly routine – it’s another great way to spend family time together.

For more heart healthy lunch tips visit:

24-Hours of Family Friendly Campfire Recipies

4-H Volunteers cook s'mores over the campfire at Camp Timpoochee

4-H Volunteers cook s ‘mores over the campfire at Camp Timpoochee

For many families, summer is synonymous with camping. Whether you are at 4-H Camp, a family camping trip, or a stay-at-home-vacation, cooking over the campfire is a fun (and yummy) activity that the whole family can enjoy. In support of the 4-H initiative for Healthy Living, we have selected 24-hours’ worth of delicious and nutritious food that your family can enjoy over your next campfire.

Breakfast Camporitos– this is a campfire version of breakfast burritos. Dice and sauté the veggies of your choice (we recommend onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and/or potatoes). Place sautéed veggies in a bowl for later. Next, scramble your eggs. To assemble, spoon veggies and eggs onto a tortilla, then sprinkle with cheese. You can add a bit of salsa if preferred. Wrap your tortilla burrito style, then wrap the entire burrito in foil. Camporritos can be prepared and assembled in advance, and stored in a cooler until breakfast time. To serve, place the foil packets over the campfire for 5-7 minutes until the cheese is melted and the burritos are thoroughly heated through. Serve with seasonal fruit and orange juice or milk.

Campfire Calzones (for lunch or dinner)- use store-bought pizza dough or your favorite recipe. On a 2-foot section of aluminum foil, roll out a portion of pizza dough into a circle the size of a paper plate. Next, spoon on some tomato or marinara sauce, sprinkle with basil and oregano. Working on just one half of the circle, sprinkle on 1/3 cup of mozzarella cheese and add your favorite pizza toppings (we recommend pepperoni or ham, spinach, olives, and mushrooms).   Fold the half of the dough without toppings over, and crimp the edges tightly, next fold over the aluminum foil, creating an envelope and crimp the foil together securely to make a foil packet. Place your packet over the grate or coals of your campfire. Bake your calzone 5-10 minutes on each side, depending on the temperature of your fire.

Campfire Veggie Dip (a tasty snack)- for this recipe, you will need a large, empty can that has been washed out. In the clean can, layer the following ingredients: Black beans, shredded cheese, salsa, fat free refried beans, and fresh cilantro. Place the can on the grate over your campfire and allow the contents to heat up. Once the cheese is melted and heated through, remove the can. Wrap the can with a festive bandana and serve the dip with carrots, bell pepper, broccoli, celery, or tomatoes.

Campfire Chili and Corn Bread in a Jar (for lunch or dinner)- in a clean mason jar, ladle a cup or two of your favorite chili. On top of the chili, place about 1/3 cup of your favorite cornbread dough (made from scratch or use a mix). You can screw on the jar lids to make the chili easier to transport. Place your jars over the campfire and allow them to back for 30-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the cornbread comes out clean. By then, your chili should be thoroughly heated through. If you prefer, you can assemble this recipe in a large Dutch oven, rather than in individual jars.

Desert Campfire Cones– Stuff a waffle cone or bowl (not the regular sugar cones) with diced fresh strawberries and bananas, along with mini marshmallows, chocolate chips, or even peanut butter chips. Wrap your cone or bowl with aluminum foil, and place over the grate of the campfire. Rotate the foil packet every 1-2 minutes. After 5-7 minutes, your cone should be ready to eat. If you are camping in the fall, try a variation of this technique with diced apples and caramel sauce.

To learn more about the Florida 4-H Program and our Healthy Living Initiative, visit  If you are interested in volunteering or donating to 4-H, contact Heather Kent at