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Healthy Substitutions for Holiday Meals and Treats

Healthy Substitutions for Holiday Meals and Treats

When you do the math, it’s easy to see how holidays can take a toll on our waistlines. An average of 4,500 calories can be consumed at the holiday meal, according to some research estimates. Those favorite dishes and treats are often loaded with calories, especially in the jolly portions we tend to enjoy while celebrating.

Consider these tallies:

  • 3 ounces of ham can have 150 calories and more than 930 mg of sodium
  • Mashed potatoes can have 254 calories per cup
  • One pieced of pecan pie has 503 calories
  • One cup of egg nog can have almost 350 calories, 19 grams of fat and 21 grams of sugar

We all go into holidays with good intentions. Now’s the time to add some healthy habits and tricks to round down those calorie counts.

Here’s 20 ways to shave calories off your holiday favorites:

  1. If you’re serving party dips, offer a variety of vegetables instead of bread or crackers.
  2. Switch out cheese and mayonnaise-based dips with lower calorie hummus dip or shrimp cocktail.
  3. Choose lean, uncured (nitrate-free) low-sodium ham if possible. Many grocery stores carry healthier hams.
  4. Make mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. You can cook and season them the same.
  5. For leaner gravy, ladle the fat off the top of your beef or chicken stock.
  6. If your recipe calls for beans, go for dried instead of canned to save up to 200 mg of sodium per serving.
  7. Of course, steaming foods instead of boiling them retains more nutrients, while baking instead of frying prevents adding fat.
  8. Use whole wheat flour instead of white flour, or a mixture of both. Whole wheat flour has more fiber, keeping you feeling full longer.
  9. For a dose of healthy fat try pureed avocado instead of butter. This works best in savory dishes.
  10. Use sweet potatoes instead of white, or both, when making au gratin potatoes. Sweet potatoes contain more vitamin A and calcium.
  11. Use herbs or lemon juice instead of salt to add flavor to your recipes.
  12. Instead of sour cream, try low fat or non-fat Greek yogurt. This reduces the fat content, but also adds a serving of lean protein.
  13. Instead of apple pie, try baked apples as a dessert. It’s lower in calories, sodium and sugar.
  14. When baking, swap butter or oil for unsweetened applesauce to reduce fat and add fiber.
  15. Serving your pie a la mode? Use frozen yogurt instead of ice cream for a lower fat treat.
  16. Try substituting evaporated milk for cream in your holiday recipes to cut down calories. Add a little vanilla extract to kick up the flavor.
  17. Try making egg nog with almond milk to bring down the calories and sugar.
  18. For a healthy alternative to chocolate, try cacao, which is unprocessed chocolate that has no sugar and very little fat.
  19. Use stevia instead of sugar to drop your calories drastically. This all-natural sweetener has no calories or carbs and a zero glycemic index. A little goes a long way – one teaspoon of liquid stevia replaces one cup of sugar.
  20. If you’re making cocktails, save up to 100 calories by using seltzer water instead of juices. You can also squeeze fresh lemon, lime or oranges into your drink for added flavor.

With healthier cooking habits, you can feel good about the holiday meals you share with loved ones. You might even discover some tricks you’ll continue to use throughout the year. That’s a gift that keeps giving.

Emilee Brannan Dietician



(Emilee Brannan, Dietician CHI St. Alexius Health Williston)