Health & Wellness

Have a Healthy Hanukkah

Learn about lightened-up latkes and more.

If all things go well for you this Hanukkah, your adoring bubbeh will reach around what used to be your girthy midsection, pinch your shrinking cheeks and say something about how you need to eat more. ("You're so thin!" she'll exclaim.) Here's hoping, anyway.

And to keep things that way—your shrinking gut, we mean—we wanted to offer some helpful pointers when navigating those perilous eight days of holiday reveling.


But first, a history primer on Hanukkah for the goyam:

Hanukkah—or חנוכה‎—is also known as the Festival of Lights, an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem that was destroyed during the Maccabean Revolt in the 2nd century.

According to the Talmud, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to keep the eternal flame at the temple lit for one day.

However, the oil burned for eight days—which is also the same amount of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh oil.

And that brings us to oil. Write that down, because oil is central to the modern-day Hanukkah celebration, at least in terms of the grub. Fried latkes, fried chicken, fried jelly-filled donuts—fried, fried, fried! Anyone worth his weight in fat knows that oil can spell danger in the battle to shrink the midsection or fend off the extra, unwanted ell-bees.

But fear not, hearty Hanukkah reveler! There are several ways to navigate the fat-fueled Festival of Lights. (Hint: They mostly involve stepping away from that FryDaddy.)


Potato latkes

So, so good. And so, so fattening. But they can still be delicious little morsels without all that fat and calories by baking them in the oven instead of frying them in oil, suggests Leslie Fink, WW recipe editor and in-house nutritionist.

"Or, cook them in a nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray," she says. 
Another good way to cut the calories is to use a fat-free egg substitute to bind the pancakes, leaving out the yolks. And instead of slathering on a heaping dollop of fat-laden whipped cream, consider topping the goodies with fat-free sour cream or apple sauce. (Here's another good, healthful potato pancake recipe.)

Guilt-free potato latkes? You're welcome.


Fried chicken

Another good Hanukkah staple, another fattening speed bump.

Take your traditional Hanukkah chicken recipe and—yep, you guessed it!—instead of throwing it into the ceremonious vat of artery-clogging, girth-making oil, throw it in the oven and let it bake low and slow so that the various flavors can marry and percolate.

And, remember: If you opt for the fried chicken, peel off that fatty and calorie-heavy skin.


Matzo balls

OK, so they're not that bad, these starchy, delicious bombs known as matzo balls. But they can always be better. Fink suggests using whole-wheat (or whole-grain) matzo meal, "which contains more fiber and protein than regular matzo meal."

She also suggests using egg substitute, or just less egg yolk and more white, to bind the matzo meal together.



Chocolate is a big part of any Hanukkah celebration. (Hello, when isn't chocolate awesome? It's especially awesome when chocolate coins are your reward after a rousing game of dreidle.)

To fight these chocolate temptations, Fink suggests employing your good old fat-busting friend, Mr. Portion Control.

"Make something that contains chocolate but comes in small portions and contains other healthy ingredients, too," she says. 

"This bark recipe contains heart-healthy almonds and fiber-rich dried fruit. It's cut into small pieces so you're not left to contend with a big wedge of seven-layer chocolate cake," Fink said.


The jelly-filled donut

Hanukkah almost always means jelly-filled donuts. Try to avoid this one at all costs. It's delicious, true, but it's also nothing but fat.

Well, OK, it is Hanukkah, after all, and it is a party, so why not? So, maybe just a little? Consider cutting Evil Jelly Donut in half and sharing with a friend.

Now, we realize that every Hanukkah celebration is different, and that families do things differently around the world to celebrate. So when in doubt—or when in distress—we say go for it, because hey, it is a party, right?! (And anyway, no one likes a masochist.)

So do yourself a favor and go for it—but do so with some moderation. Eat half that latke, say, or have half that jelly donut. But under no circumstances should you listen to your well-intentioned but way-too-pushy bubbeh and belly up to the latke bar for thirds.

RELATED: Recipe roundup: Hanukkah