For many, the holidays are rich with memories of indulgent food and drinks that feel as comforting as a warm fire. This often means we abandon our healthy eating goals for the sake of enjoying these once-a-year treats that we feel we must have.
But, there’s a way you can keep that holiday spirit alive and enjoy your favorite culinary traditions without totally wrecking your healthy eating goals this year. Use these healthy food swaps to save yourself calories, sugar, and unhealthy ingredients so you can make it through the holiday season with your healthy goals intact.
Holiday food #1: Pasta
Healthier option: Spiralized vegetables
A number of vegetables can be spiralized, creating a “pasta” dish that’s just as delicious as carb- and calorie-laden wheat pasta. Use a spiralizer to make zucchini, squash, or sweet potato noodles. These vegetables add flavor, can be dressed up a variety of ways, and provide far more nutrients — and far fewer calories and carbs — than their grain counterparts. Not to mention, you’ll be getting a boost of fiber and adding a serving or two of veggies to your daily intake.
Check out this Mediterranean-style spiralized vegetable salad. Or, use your own homemade sauce on top of spiralized zucchini. If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can cook up spaghetti squash, and it makes its own noodles — and it looks and tastes a lot like semolina pasta.
Holiday food #2: Store-bought eggnog
Healthier option: Healthy, homemade eggnog
A rich glass of eggnog is a delicious holiday tradition for many. But with just one cup adding up to 350 calories, you might want to rethink this indulgence. While you can buy light and low-fat versions in the stores today, they’re often still loaded with sugar or artificial ingredients you don’t want in your diet.
Here’s a better alternative: slash the fat and sugar and enjoy every bit of that nog taste without those calories by making your own homemade version. This recipe uses almond milk, so it’s perfect for those who are lactose-intolerant or allergic to dairy.
Holiday food #3: Mashed potatoes
Healthier option: Mashed cauliflower
While many people won’t eat plain cauliflower on their plates, you can bet that they’ll enjoy this mashed version that tastes a lot like its high-calorie potato counterpart. Buy pre-packaged riced cauliflower to cook and mash up. This is easier than peeling and chopping a couple of pounds of potatoes!
You can even make it in advance and put it in the fridge a couple of days before your party because it reheats well. You’ll also enjoy a boost of fiber and nutrients that aren’t found in white potatoes. Check out this simple step-by-step on how to make this dish.
Holiday food #4: Cookies and baked goods
Healthier option: Baked or grilled fruit
While it’s true that those traditional desserts are hard to let go of this time of year, consider some healthier options to replace at least some of these indulgences. Cooked fruit can be just as delicious — and far more nutritious — than baked desserts.
These grilled strawberry kabobs put an unexpected twist on everyone’s favorite berry. Or try these grilled peaches that have no added sugar and no dairy, but taste so much like classic peaches and cream.
Holiday food #5: Sour cream
Healthier option: Plain Greek yogurt or coconut yogurt
Just two tablespoons of sour cream packs 60 calories onto your plate. By contrast, 2 tablespoons of unsweetened coconut yogurt is less than 15 calories. Plain Greek yogurt is another great substitute at around 16 calories for two tablespoons, with plenty of protein. If you’ve never tried these options, you might be surprised at how much they taste like sour cream.
Holiday food #6: Sweet potato casserole
Healthier option: Baked sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are called sweet for a reason: they contain natural sugars that make them delicious. Unfortunately, many people turn this nutrient-rich food into a sugar-laden dessert in the form of sweet potato casserole. If you’ve never tried plain sweet potatoes, you may not realize that this root vegetable does not need to be topped with brown sugar and marshmallow to be tasty.
Baking sweet potatoes is easy and requires only a few pokes with a fork and about an hour of bake time. The long cooking time brings out their natural sweetness. Top them with a very small amount of butter, and they’re delicious all on their own — and just as festive.
Holiday food #7: Cream-based dips
Healthier option: Salsa, guacamole, or hummus
Ranch or creamy dips pack a lot of calories and fat and are loaded with sodium too. And, we often eat a portion of this dip before dinner is even served. After all, it’s hard to resist those appetizers that sit out on the counter as we wait for the turkey to be done. But, you can save yourself some calories by replacing creamy dip with one of many healthier options.
Salsa is low in calories and packs plenty of taste. Guacamole contains healthy fats and vitamins. And hummus contains fiber and fewer calories than the cream dips. Any of these can be purchased at the grocery store, which means no work for you. Or make your own and add the ingredients you like to make it unique. Check out this guacamole recipe that will have your guests coming back for more. To keep the carbs down, serve it with cut-up veggies instead of corn chips.
Beyond these swaps, you can do little things to add in more nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables at your holiday meal. This will lower your calories and bump up the vitamin and mineral content on your plate. Instead of a sodium-loaded and high-fat meat and cheese plate, for instance, serve up fresh produce in a variety of colors and textures. Or, stuff your turkey with carrots instead of bread. Making little changes can add up to a much healthier meal that you can feel great about serving to your loved ones — and enjoying for yourself.
Do you need help to reach your healthy lifestyle goals? Garcia Weight Loss and Wellness Centers offers personalized plans designed to help you reach your wellness goals. Get started with your no-cost consultation!
Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on December 18, 2018