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Holiday cooking that doesn't expand the waist line

So many of us look forward to holiday meals only to dread the after effects. We feel regretful, remorseful and rotund. But we don't have to. Getting your holiday fill does not have to mean switching out the skinny jeans for sweats. And it can be as easy as a little ingredient swap in the kitchen.

Let's start with your meal's centerpiece. For most, the holiday is not complete without the meat. If you're going with ham, lay off the traditional glaze, advises Chef Robert Childers, culinary instructor at The International Culinary School at The Illinois Institute of Art - Chicago. "Use a vinegar reduction like gastrique," he says. "It reduces the sugar and increases the acid profile, giving you flavor without the calories of sugar."

If you're having turkey, you can consume twice as much white meat as dark for about the same amount of calories and fat, says Chef Josh Linder, culinary instructor at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Indianapolis.

Now let's move on to all those side dishes. A green leafy salad is always a good start, until you pour on the dressing. "If you're making your own dressing, change the proportion of ingredients," says Childers. Instead of sticking to the three parts oil, one part vinegar recipe, Childers suggests using two parts oil, one part vinegar and one part stock.

For mashed potatoes, Linder urges you to opt for skim milk over whole. "Don't mix the butter in right away, either," he cautions. "Butter has a great 'mouth feel' because it has a lower melting point, so just a little can satisfy the palate." Linder advises you finish with butter instead of cooking with it; diners will get the taste they're looking for without piling on the calories and fat.

Stay away from creams. "Cream is nearly 36 percent fat by volume," says Childers. Replace cream in your favorite mac-n-cheese recipe with skim milk and use low fat or fat free cheese. You'll get the same texture which can satisfy you just as much without all the fat that you'll come to regret later. Don't let the pasta you use in the mac-n-cheese off the hook either, says Childers. Use whole wheat or whole grain pasta.

And we can't forget our sweet tooth. No holiday meal is complete without dessert. While most of us are full by the time the pumpkin pie and seven-layer cake hit the table, we still can't resist digging in. Chef Damian Fraase, pastry chef instructor at The International Culinary School at The Art Institutes International - Kansas City, has a few tips to make your meal's finale tasty and healthier.

Start with that pumpkin pie. If your recipe calls for cream or even whole milk, substitute skim, just like you did for the mashed potatoes. "And while we're on the subject of pies, rather than a dollop of whipped cream, portion out a small scoop of ice milk on top," advises Fraase. Cheesecake is trickier, but you can always go with low fat cream cheese instead of the full fat variety. And when you're making the crust, consider a vegetable fat instead of lard or butter.

"Don't be afraid to try a sugar substitute," says Fraase. "Just follow the directions on the packaging because each has different requirements." He cautions that some substitutes do better in the oven than others so you may want to test out the recipes before the big day.

To learn more about The Art Institutes visit www.artinstitutes.edu.

Editor's Note:

The Art Institutes (www.artinstitutes.edu) is a system of more than 45 educational institutions located throughout North America. The Art Institutes schools provide an important source for design, media arts, fashion and culinary arts professionals. Several institutions included in The Art Institutes system are campuses of South University. See aiprograms.info for program duration, tuition, fees, and other costs, median debt, federal salary data, alumni success, and other important info.

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