Healthy swaps for holiday favorites

Do you dread the annual holiday weight gain? Try these easy, healthy swaps for the traditional heavy ingredients in holiday foods.

  • Find ways to add flavor without added salt, sugar or fat.
  • Fill your table with healthy, plant-based side dishes.
  • Avoid overindulging at the holiday party by trying mocktails and a healthy cookie recipe.


Just when you feel like you’ve finally overcome the sugar overload from Halloween, the holiday season is fast on your heels. Pies, parties and cocktails abound.

Before you know it, the scale produces a number you barely recognize, and the New Year’s rush to the gym begins in earnest.

While it may not be the season to lose weight, keeping off the extra pounds comes down to making a few smart choices here and there. Try these tasty tactics and heathy food swaps for the upcoming holiday season.

Party on — in moderation

Just because you’re trying to stay healthy doesn’t mean you have to skip out on the holiday parties. Here are a few tricks that can help you avoid overindulging:

  • Drink a glass of water or seltzer in-between each alcohol drink.
  • Try skipping the alcohol altogether or alternate an alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic mocktail — just make sure to watch how much sugar is in each drink.
  • Pour a very small glass of eggnog and fill up the rest of the glass with skim milk.
  • Choose lighter beverages like a glass of wine or a light beer, rather than a sugary cocktail or an IPA.

Be smart about sweets

Sugar is everywhere during the holiday season. Here are a few easy ways you can cut back:

  • Go for smaller portions of pie and dessert. If you find this is a struggle, try a smaller plate or ask to split a dessert with someone.
  • Try substituting sugar with more natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. This peanut butter fudge recipe is a great option, or try these decadent chocolate raspberry almond butter bars.
  • Keep plenty of fresh fruit on hand as a healthy alternative to cookies and pie.
  • Take your dessert without the extra toppings of whipped cream or marshmallows.
  • Cut back on soda and alcoholic beverages by drinking sparkling water. Try adding a bit of fresh fruit for more flavor.

Add flavor, not fat and salt

There are plenty of ways you can add flavor to a dish without excess butter, salt and cream:

  • Lean on herbs and spices to flavor your food. Try doing a spiced mashed sweet potato (without marshmallows) instead of white potatoes with butter and cream.
  • Cook your stuffing outside the turkey to avoid adding fat to this side dish. Then, instead of adding sausage, toss in lots of fresh and dried herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme.
  • Use healthier fats when cooking. Instead of always reaching for the butter, stock your pantry with olive oil or coconut oil.

In honor of #NationalCookieDay on December 4, here’s a simple and healthy recipe for cookies using only 5 ingredients. Using almond flour is always a great substitute for regular flour.

Almond flour sugar cookies:

  • 1 cup (112 g) blanched almond flour (not almond meal)
  • 3 tablespoons coconut sugar (see notes for keto option)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons water


  • Preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk the almond flour, coconut sugar, baking powder and salt (breaking up all lumps in the flour). Add the water and stir until blended.
  • Drop by tablespoons (I used a small cookie scoop) on the prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 13 to 16 minutes until golden brown and set at the centers.
  • Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack and cool completely.


Source: PowerHungry

Choose a healthier alternative

Holiday side dishes don’t always have to be heavy. In fact, many of your guests may welcome a respite from the salty, fatty traditions. Give these swaps a shot:

  • Roast vegetables like sweet potato, broccoli or fennel instead of serving the traditional sweet potato or green bean casseroles. You also can try tossing the roasted veggies with herbs or spices.
  • Serve whole wheat bread or rolls instead of white bread made with refined grains and sugars.
  • Use healthy sweeteners in your cranberry sauce. You could try this recipe for date-sweetened cranberry sauce or this version that uses maple syrup.
  • Choose light meat instead of dark. If you want to avoid the temptation for a turkey thigh, consider purchasing just a turkey breast, rather than the whole bird.
  • Skip the meat. Try serving a plant-based meal with vegetarian main dish instead of the traditional ham or turkey.

Get the group moving

Here’s a healthy swap that doesn’t involve the dinner table — instead of heading for the couch after a meal, gather the family together for a fun activity outside. Go for a bike ride, play a game of soccer or football, or take a leisurely walk. If the weather isn’t ideal, plan a scavenger hunt around the house that will keep everyone moving.

Remember to keep perspective

In the end, what are the holidays really about? Yes, we all love the parties and dinners, but the season is truly about spending time with loved ones and giving thanks for the blessings in our lives.

As you’re planning your healthy swaps for this holiday season, remember that your focus shouldn’t only be on food. Look around you and find what else you can be grateful for — it doesn’t have to be that extra slice of pecan pie.

Find a nutritionist or doctor

If you need help prepping a healthy holiday season, a nutritionist, registered dietitian or doctor can help you plan and stay on track. You can find a Providence nutritionist using our provider directory. Or you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.






How do you plan to stay #healthy during the #holidays? Share your healthy #recipes, cookie recipes for #nationalcookieday and food swaps with us @psjh.


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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.


About the Author

We are all about food! The Providence Nutrition Team loves to talk about and share our expertise on how to help you find the right diet, food types and maintenance tactics to help you live life to the fullest...while also enjoying the best foods that mother nature has to offer.

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