Food swap ideas for a healthier holiday season

Let the festivities begin.  The holidays are a time for celebrating with friends, family and, of course, good food! However, the season spans for more than a day or two.  We would do ourselves a favor if we paced our indulgences and considered healthier alternatives to some of the old rituals. Here are our top “eat this, not that” hacks to try to stay on track throughout the holidays.

Swap full-fat dips for yogurt dips.  Why indulge on appetizers? Substitute low-fat or nonfat plain Greek yogurt for sour cream in all of your recipes this season. With herbs and seasonings, no one will be able to tell the difference.  Just 1 ounce of sour cream has 60 calories compared to 1 ounce of Greek yogurt, which only has 15 calories.  Be sure to use fresh vegetables instead of chip or crackers.

Skip some alcoholic drinks and try wine spritzers. For a portion-controlled alternative that will help you save calories, replace 2 ounces of wine with club soda.  A 5-ounce glass of red or white wine has about 150 calories, while club soda has none, saving you 60 calories. Now that’s a deal!

Skip candied yams and eat roasted sweet potatoes. Instead of serving candied yams, which have 215 calories per half-cup, try oven-roasted sweet potatoes.  A ¾-cup serving of sweet potatoes brushed with olive oil is only 100 calories.

Go for the white turkey meat, pass on the dark.  The dark meat in the turkey has about twice the fat of white turkey breast. That’s why we recommend that you eat mostly white meat. Lose the skin on either to save up on the calorie count.

Try low-fat gravy instead of traditional.  Turkey gravy is a recipe that can be healthy without losing taste. Try 1 cup of fat-free turkey broth, 2 tablespoons of flour and seasonings to taste. If you want to add some drippings, skim off the fat first.

Skip cranberry sauce, eat cranberry relish.  That can of cranberry sauce is full of sugar, corn syrup and other added sweeteners.  Even if using portion control, just ¼-cup of the canned stuff can have more than 100 calories.  Make your own relish and use less sugar than the recipe calls for – it’s often too much anyway!

Eat fresh green beans with slivered almonds in lieu of green bean casserole. Alternatively, use reduced fat mushroom soup. Eat your vegetables first because they are lower in calories and help fill you up, leaving less room for higher calorie foods.

Go for pumpkin pie with graham cracker crusts and say “no thank you” to pecan pie. We know this one is tough! It’s hard to resist holiday desserts but you can save about 200 calories by choosing pumpkin pie. Consider eating a handful of pecans sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. If you really can’t pass on the pie, skip the crust entirely, which is where most of the fat lurks.

Be adventurous this year! Look at some of your old recipes, put a new spin on a few and see how it goes. Healthy holiday eating might make you anxious but don’t get too worked up. This should be a time of celebration and relaxation.  If you happen to eat more than you planned during this holiday season, don’t beat yourself up.  More importantly, don’t let a lapse become a relapse. Nevertheless, by planning ahead you can set yourself up for success!


Ann Caldwell and Maureen Shackelford are nutritionists and registered dietitians at Anne Arundel Medical Center. To reach them, call 443-481-5555.

Originally published Nov. 5, 2018. Last updated Nov. 18, 2019.