As much as we all look forward to festive holiday treats, there’s no question that they’re not the best for your waistline or health. In fact, as festive and joyful as the holiday season can be, it can also be anxiety-inducing for a variety of reasons. One such reason is the availability of such amazing (read: high-calorie) food and the possibility of all that goodness derailing the dietary breakthroughs so many people have worked so hard to achieve all year long. To avoid that temptation, make sure to have healthy holiday food on hand.
There are definitely some healthy holiday recipes to swap for those beloved comfort foods, and they’re so tasty you’ll barely even notice. Though these alternatives may be lower in calories and empty carbs, these healthy holiday food options are still packed with plenty of color, flavor, and festivity. So, you can have a good time, enjoy the food, and still not gain a pound during the holidays!
Here are 10 popular festive foods you find at holiday parties and an easy, healthier alternative for each:
1. Sweet Potato Casserole
Sweet potato casseroles are usually made with a lot of sugar. and then topped off with even more sugar – marshmallows. Yet sweet potatoes got their name because of their incredible, natural abundance of sweetness.
Healthy Swap: Baked Sweet Potatoes
A healthy holiday food alternative to this sweet potato classic is baked sweet potatoes. They’re made like regular baked potatoes. Serve the holiday version sprinkled with a bit of sea salt and cinnamon for a festive kick.
2. Green Bean Casserole
The green bean casserole is another popular dish that sounds like a healthy holiday food. Unfortunately, it’s a calorie-corrupted dish, despite all those green beans. This casserole contains cream, butter, high levels of sodium (from the mushroom soup mix), and even deep-fried onions.
Healthy Swap: Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are a tasty alternative to green beans. Packed with loads of vitamins and minerals, they are a truly healthy holiday food and they have a wonderfully nutty taste when roasted. And if you cook them over high heat, they take on a great, nutty caramelized flavor. Roast Brussels sprouts at 400 with equal amounts of extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. Add a dash of salt and pepper, and some thinly sliced almonds before serving.
3. Mashed Potatoes
A holiday meal would not be complete without mashed potatoes; they may be the ultimate comfort food – especially with all that butter or sour cream. But, even without the additives, potatoes are considered a “bad” carb to eat. The starch in baked potatoes contributes to a high glycemic rating, meaning they raise blood sugar very quickly.1
Healthy Swap: Mashed Cauliflower
Instead, try mashing everyone’s new favorite vegetable multi-tasker, cauliflower, for a healthy holiday food. Though it may be white, cauliflower actually packs a punch just like any of the “greens” that are popular at the table. 2 Cauliflower has become a favorite to eat and a master of disguise; it can be found in everything from pizza crusts to vegan buffalo wings, and it can also morph into the same texture as mashed potato. Make a creamy mash using low-fat ricotta cheese, and top with chopped chives. You can even add some roasted garlic!
4. Cheese Ball and Crackers
A cheese ball contains more than just cheese – you’ll also find high-calorie ranch dressing and sometimes bacon bits in there, too.
Healthy Swap: Goat’s Cheese log with Veggie Sticks
Opt for a log of goat’s cheese instead. Eating a one-ounce serving of goat’s cheese clocks in at 103 calories, whereas the cheese ball is more than double at 221 calories.3 You can turn goat’s cheese into a festive display by decorating it with fresh herbs like parsley, thyme, and even a little minced garlic.
You should also switch out those salty, highly-processed crackers for fresh vegetables and veggie sticks (carrots, celery, peppers), or even whole-grain crackers.
Gravy seems like an irreplaceable holiday food, but it is full of fat and sodium and makes that lean piece of meat you just chose kind of pointless.
Healthy Swap: Pesto
Bring some nutritional greens into your sauce by opting for a fresh, homemade pesto instead. Pesto is traditionally made with basil and pine nuts, but you can give it a wintery, festive twist by using mint and walnuts, or dill and pecans instead. Try this recipe:
- 1 cup fresh mint or dill leaves
- 1 cup fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, walnuts, or pecans
- 2 cloves of garlic
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Juice of 1 lemon
Simply place the herb leaves, parsley and nuts into a food processor and pulse a few times. Add the garlic and cheese and pulse a few more times. While you’re pulsing, slowly add the olive oil and lemon juice. Once well blended, serve a teaspoon over your favorite meat for a festive kick – since it’s super flavorful, a little goes a long way.
6. Canned Cranberry Sauce
What’s the difference between store-bought and homemade cranberry sauce – aside from the convenience factor? A whole lot of unnecessary preservatives and sugar.
Healthy Swap: Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Take some time to flex your creative muscles, and make your own cranberry sauce from scratch. Your guests will love that this healthy holiday food is homemade, and you’ll know it’s healthy. Combine 6 cups of fresh cranberries with ½ cup water and the zest of 1 orange, and then use your favorite sugar substitute, to taste – stevia works well here.
Coleslaw is healthy when it’s naked, but once it’s drenched in high calorie mayo, all bets are off.
Substitute: German Cabbage Salad
A much healthier twist on festive cabbage is the German-style Rotkohlsalat cabbage salad. Take a shredded red or white cabbage and add 2 tablespoons of vinegar. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Add shredded or chopped apple and 1 tablespoon of oil (try walnut, macadamia, or walnut oils). Mix well, and you’re done. You can also top with some roasted hazelnuts or pecans.
8. Egg Nog
Everyone loves a creamy, hot drink to turn to in the cooler months, and eggnog is a festive favorite with its mix of eggs, brandy, heavy cream, and holiday spices. It’s also a caloric nightmare if you’re watching your weight. But there’s still hope for a creamy drink.
Healthy Swap: Hot Chocolate
That old staple – hot chocolate – can be a force for good. Make it using real cacao powder and almond milk, and then sprinkle a little nutmeg on top.4
9. Pigs In a Blanket
Who doesn’t love eating little sausages in a crisp, buttery roll? For a healthier twist on pigs in a blanket, you can switch to asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. Not only will you save on all the calories packed into that pastry, but you’ll also get kudos for your gourmet Italian twist!
Healthy Swap: Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus
Drizzle asparagus spears with extra virgin olive oil, then wrap each spear with one slice of prosciutto in a spiral like pattern. Set on a baking tray with space between each spear, and broil for around 3 minutes. Flip the asparagus over, and broil for around another 3 minutes – until the prosciutto appears crispy.
They’re a staple of the holiday season; pecan pie, pumpkin, chocolate cream, apple, and so many more. No one wants to miss out on pie during a Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration, and you shouldn’t have to, either. It’s all about getting a little inventive.
Healthy Swap: Naked Pumpkin Pie or Baked Apples
Switch out pumpkin pie for a “naked” pumpkin pie by pouring the pumpkin filling straight into a pie tin and baking sans-crust. Without the crust, you’ll save on saturated fat and refined carbohydrates. An apple pie can become festive-baked apples. Fill apples with pecans, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little coconut oil and bake until golden and juicy. Apples have plenty of natural sugars that are released when baked.
You Have More Control Than You Think
Just remember that you do have some control over your festive eating plan, you just need to plan ahead!
If you’re hosting, you’re in luck – you have complete control over the menu. If you’re a guest, why not make a dish or two to take along to help your host? That way, you’ll know there’s definitely something on the table that you can eat. Make sure to also take along a healthy beverage, such as kombucha or sparkling water, so that you won’t turn to sugar-drenched sodas or wine.4
Want more holiday health tips? Keep reading: