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Lee Murphy Nutritionist discussing healthy thanksgiving alternatives

UT Professor Dishes Up Healthy Holiday Hacks

There are many delicious temptations during the holidays, but the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences’ Department of Nutrition professor Lee Murphy says there’s always room to hack your favorite recipe in order to reduce calories from added fats and sugars.

“If you can maintain the same amazing taste with just slight variations of the recipe, why not?” said Murphy. “It will satisfy your craving and save your waistline from expanding.”

Murphy offers up the following healthy hacks for this holiday season:

Applesauce. Use to replace oil or butter in cake-like recipes. Replace half the amount of butter in your recipe with applesauce. For example, if the recipe calls for one cup of butter, use half a cup of butter and half a cup of applesauce. If you don’t mind a bread that’s more dense and moist, replace all the butter with applesauce to cut even more calories and fat.

Bananas. Use one mashed banana to replace an egg in sweet quick bread recipes.

Puréed grapes. To reduce the white sugar in recipes, try replacing it with puréed grapes. You’ll need to adjust the dry ingredients a bit to ensure your baked goods aren’t too moist.

Avocados. Substitute half the amount of butter in a baking recipe with mashed avocado—it works well with cookies. Use the same method as you would when substituting applesauce. Using avocado not only lowers the calorie content but also creates softer, chewier baked goods. This substitution is ideal if you want to omit the dairy.

Greek yogurt. Replace half the amount of butter in your cookie recipes with half as much lower-fat plain Greek yogurt. For example, if the recipe calls for one cup of butter, use half a cup of butter and a quarter cup of yogurt. You’ll reduce the calories and the saturated fat. You may want to play around with using more yogurt and less butter to see if you still like the taste and consistency.

Prune purée. Use as a low-fat alternative to butter. Whatever amount of butter the recipe calls for, replace it completely with store-bought baby food prune purée (if you want to make your own, purée prunes in the food processor). This option works well in recipes that involve chocolate and cinnamon.

Below is Murphy’s recipe for hacked banana apple-chunk bread:


2 ripe bananas

1 apple, diced

1/2 cup sugar

1 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour

1/2 cup applesauce

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions: Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 9-inch loaf pan. In a medium-sized bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Add the diced apple, sugar, flour, applesauce, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon to the bowl and mix well. Pour into greased pan and sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out dry. Cool in pan before transferring to a cooling rack.

Article as featured in TN TodayBe sure to check out Lee as featured on WBIR-Channel 10.