Your Healthier Hanukkah Menu – Fried Food Still Included

Your Healthier Hanukkah Menu – Fried Food Still Included

Chanukah Design ElementsBy Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN. Originally published by US News & World Report 

During the Jewish festival of lights, people light candles for eight nights, after which they typically enjoy holiday songs and lots of food. Often, that means eating two traditional foods – potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts, both which are fried. Believe me, I love my fried food, but after eight nights of eating oil-laden carbs, I start feeling greasy. Not to mention, I tend to win the dreidel game (think poker with a dreidel), where the prize is chocolate coins. So, in recent years, I started tweaking the menu to make it healthier. Here’s how:

1. Plan the menu.

My trick is planning a well-balanced (non-fried) meal an hour or two before candle lighting. Then, I serve light finger foods and desserts after the candle lighting ceremony, which is usually around sundown.

2. Pick your poison.

Latkes (or potato pancakes) and jelly-filled doughnuts are the holiday’s biggest fried food culprits, but they’re also part of the tradition and bring back memories from my childhood. Each night, I pick one – not both – dish to serve fried. The other, I lighten up.

3. Lighten up the potato pancakes.

Potato pancakes are made by grating russet potatoes and mixing them with egg and some spices. They can be deep-fried in oil and served with applesauce and sour cream. But to create a lighter alternative, I do the following:

  • Fry mini-potato pancakes to help keep portions in check.
  • Grate a combo of potatoes and parsnips, zucchini or carrots, which are all lighter in calories than potatoes. This combo can be pan-fried in a few tablespoon of oil and finished in the oven.
  • Instead of sour cream, I opt to serve my potato pancakes with applesauce made with apples, pears or cranberry-apple chutney. That can help use up the leftover frozen cranberries from Thanksgiving, too.

4. Create healthier jelly doughnuts.

As for the jelly donuts, you could pick them up at your local bakery or doughnut shop, but what’s the fun in that? In a real emergency, I’ve done that, but I opt for the mini jelly-filled doughnut holes. Otherwise, here’s how I lighten up these babies:

  • Fry mini doughnuts and cover them with blue and white sprinkles.
  • Bake mini-doughnuts and sprinkle them with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon. You can purchase a non-stick mini doughnut pan for about $10 to $15.
  • Make doughnut cookies or crisps with a jelly glaze. It’s the same idea, but with fewer calories than a full-sized doughnut.

5. Trade chocolate coins for monopoly money.

When it comes to playing dreidel for chocolate coins, sometimes, we just use monopoly money or pennies instead of chocolate. Although chocolate isn’t fried, the calories in these addicting coins can add up quickly.

6. Make healthier appetizers.

A few of my go-to finger foods that are also family-friendly include:

  • Crudites: Besides being super easy to prepare, vegetables provide only 25 calories per half cup. Further, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans reports that 90 percent of Americans do not meet their daily recommended amount of veggies.
  • Healthier dip: Bean dip, yogurt-based dip and hummus contain protein and fiber to help fill you up. Avoid dips filled with cheese and other super high-calorie ingredients to make room for the fried goodies.
  • Lean protein: Skewers are kid- and adult-friendly. Choose chicken, lean beef or shrimp, and serve them with a tomato-based dipping sauce. Meatballs are another family favorite that can be served with toothpicks. Make them with lean ground beef, lamb, turkey or chicken.
  • Veggie-based appetizers: A light version of stuffed mushrooms, beet chips and skewered mozzarella and grape tomatoes add nutritional value to the meal without going overboard on calories.

7. Balance your desserts.

If doughnuts or doughnut variations are part of the menu, balance them out with fruit. For instance, try:

  • Fruit salad: You can dress up your fruit salad in a few ways, such as by putting the fruit on skewers and serving them with vanilla yogurt dipping sauce or by finely chopping the fruit and placing it in teeny glasses with mini spoons. (Kid’s love anything mini.)
  • Cooked fruit-based desserts: Round out dessert with a cooked fruit dish like poached pears or apple crisp served in single-serve ramekins.

Bottom Line: When it comes to the festival of fried foods, it’s all about planning and being creative in the kitchen so you can enjoy the traditions and food the holiday has to offer.

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