Healthy swaps for holiday favorites

December 9, 2020 Providence Nutrition Team

This article was updated on December 9, 2020 to reflect updated information.

Holiday eating doesn’t have to include extra fat, sugar or overly large portions to make it festive. Try these tips for a healthy—and still tasty—celebration.

  • Look for ways to add flavor without added salt, fat or sugar.
  • Use alternative fats such as olive oil or coconut oil when cooking.
  • Rely on healthy, plant-based recipes for the bulk of your holiday menu planning.


This year’s celebrations will look different for almost everyone. However, for many, the majority of holiday activities will still center around food. Although this may not be the ideal season to lose major pounds, making a few smart choices here and there can help keep those extra pounds from making their annual appearance.

Gaining weight doesn’t have to be a part of your annual holiday traditions. Try these tasty tactics and healthy food swaps for the upcoming holiday season.

Don’t overindulge your sweet tooth

Even if most or all of your festivities are taking place at home, chances are good sugar is still a large part of your holiday plans.

Since too much sugar over time can contribute to clogged arteries, increased blood pressure, and not to mention that inevitable sugar “crash” that can leave you feeling crummy, it may be a good idea to trim back the sugar. Here are a few easy ways you can cut back:

  • Go for smaller portions of pie and dessert. If you find this difficult, try a smaller plate or split dessert with someone.
  • Substitute recipes that are high in sugar with those that use more natural sweeteners like honey, agave, maple syrup or coconut sugar. Try these 3-ingredient almond flour sugar cookies.
  • Keep plenty of fresh fruit on hand as a healthy alternative to satisfy your sugar cravings.
  • 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.

This collection of healthy dessert recipes from Allrecipes will help you get started.

Add flavor, not fat and salt

There are plenty of ways you can add flavor to a dish without relying solely on 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 traditional side dish. Boost the flavor by including 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.

Try these sugar-free recipes for healthier dessert options or these low-sodium recipes that feature healthier choices if you’re watching your salt intake.

Choose an alternative

Holiday side dishes don’t always have to be loaded with fat with and calories. In fact, many of your guests may welcome an alternative or two from the traditional high-salt and fat menu. 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 temptation, consider purchasing just a turkey breast rather than the whole bird.
  • Skip the meat. Try serving a plant-based meal with a vegetarian main dish instead of the traditional ham or turkey.

Try these healthy makeover recipes.

Get up and move

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 soccer or football game, take a leisurely walk. If the weather isn’t ideal, plan a scavenger hunt around the house that will keep everyone moving.

From the kitchen of Chef Tse

Providence’s own Chef Tse can help keep your holidays healthy without sacrificing flavor and tradition. Chef Tse trained in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu and several other famous kitchens before returning to the United States to focus her talents on sharing her expertise about food and nutrition and how to combine the two for food that’s as delicious as it is healthy. Try some of her favorite techniques from the Providence blog.

Getting dinner on the table every night doesn’t have to be a chore you dread. Chef Tse shares tips and recipes for making nutritious family dinners.

Healthy comfort food from Chef Tse’s kitchen brings the flavors you’re looking for but leaves out the excess fat and salt.

Get your kids involved with Chef Tse’s tips for cooking with kids.

Remember what’s important

In the end, it’s important to keep in mind what the holidays are really all about. Yes, we all love the parties, special dinners and all that yummy baking. And yes, it’s hard to miss so much of what we look forward to all year as we adapt to the pandemic and its impact on our celebrations. But the holiday season isn’t only about the food. It’s about spending time with loved ones—even if it’s only a Zoom call— and reflecting on the blessings we’ve been given. And that’s calorie-free.


Get relevant, up-to-date information on the coronavirus (COVID-19) from Providence.

If you need care, don’t delay. Learn more about your options.


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. With Providence Express Care Virtual, you can access a full range of healthcare services. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.






How do you plan to stay #healthy during the #holidays? Share your healthy #recipes and food swaps with us @providence.

Related Resources

Your A-Z guide to healthy holiday eating

Your healthy holiday checklist for the entire family

Foods to help you reset in the new year

Tips for beating stress eating

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.

More Content by Providence Nutrition Team
Previous Article
Electrolytes keep your body balanced
Electrolytes keep your body balanced

Here’s how to maintain the proper balance of electrolytes in your body to stay energized.

Next Article
Do detox diets and teas really work?
Do detox diets and teas really work?

Detox teas and detox diets are popular ways to lose weight and cleanse your system, but are they safe?