As a nation we have become obsessed with dieting, and with good reason. Obesity now out ranks heart disease as the number one health problem. Most feel they would prefer to wait until after the holidays to start a new diet program which is probably a wise idea, but if you are the cook you can help your loved ones get a head start by making healthier, leaner choices for your holiday feast.

Health conscious cooking can be a more difficult task and it does take courage to be outwardly different. Although switching to healthy oils, fresh vegetables, organic flours and other alternatives that will enhance flavor rather than alter a favorite recipe should not present a problem for the cook or your guests.

Some family cooks will find themselves faced with making healthier choices for the feast when a family member’s continued good health relies on diet changes. Whatever the reason, if this is your first holiday healthy cooking adventure, congratulations. I think you will find you really can serve a satisfying feast that is healthier.

Starting at the top of your grocery list should be a free range fresh turkey. These animals have been allowed to roam freely eating grains and other natural plants without all the steroids and antibiotics found in commercial feeds. When you choose free range meat you have also helped protect the acres of land devoted to raising the animal and the farm family that devoted their lives to their care. Even fresh birds have been pre-basted so save yourself the time and cut down on the fat.

Switch to organically grown vegetables- potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts may be smaller in size and more perishable but the taste is hard to beat. If not over cooked they will require less salt, butter or other dressings because they have a hardy satisfying taste of their own.

For baking choose organic eggs and flours. Be sure to use aluminum free baking powder, (Rumfords is good) raw sugars, molasses succanant and stevia for sweetening. Get rid of the margarine. Instead use organic oils or clarify butter and further reduce fats without loosing that rich taste of butter.

Wake up your dishes with herbs, spices, roasted nuts and dried berries or fruits. Try fresh rosemary, sage and bay leaf on the bird. Roast or candy walnuts for the sweet potatoes, toast almonds for green beans or green salads, mash the potatoes with half the butter, add plain yogurt and fresh crushed garlic instead. Use half the sugar called for in a fruit salad then add some chopped fresh mint.

If potatoes are your weak point try the South Beach Potato recipe. Steam cauliflower until soft. Then puree’ with butter and enough milk to make them smooth.

Bottled salad dressings are easily replaced with simple oil and vinegar dressings or vinaigrettes. I found several good recipes on foodtv.com or BHG.com.

A healthier feast will take some planning and a little more shopping. I think you will find it was worth the effort. Happy cooking and baking- till next time, Rebecca