A Cheat Sheet for Preparing Healthier Holiday Meals
Enjoy holiday favorites with less fat, sodium and calories with these tasty tips.
It's that time of year again when food becomes the main event at family gatherings. The biggest challenge many people face is finding ways to offer guests a delicious meal that's healthy without straying from the usual menu (tofurky is an acquired taste).
Here are some ways to make your holiday meals healthier without sacrificing the tastes and traditions your family has come to know and love.
Offer healthier appetizers. No need to add more calories to a day that's already filled with food. Instead of serving meatballs and chicken wings before dinner, offer these healthy and tasty snacks:
- Carrots and cucumber slices with hummus dip
- Low-fat Swiss and cheddar cheese with unsalted mixed nuts
- Fresh fruit on skewers with nonfat vanilla yogurt for dipping
- Artichoke hearts packed in water or olive oil
- Fresh olives
Reduce sodium in recipes. Salt hides in all kinds of places, including premade, boxed and canned foods. Here are some ways to reduce sodium in recipes:
- Flavor your food with spices other than salt, such as paprika, sage, rosemary, thyme, lemon, onion or garlic.
- Look for low-salt or no-salt versions of prepackaged foods you normally buy.
- Use fresh or unseasoned frozen vegetables instead of canned.
- Drizzle oil and vinegar on salad instead of bottled dressing.
Up vegetables' star power. Vegetables don't have to be an afterthought at holiday meals. It's easy to enhance their flavor with fresh herbs and spices so your guests are inclined to eat more of them. Here are a few delicious veggie ideas:
- Use butternut squash in both sweet and savory dishes—it's a seasonal favorite that's low in calories and high in fiber.
- Root vegetables make for a colorful side dish, and they're rich in fiber and vitamin C.
- Leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and collard greens are tasty and full of iron, calcium, potassium and vitamin K.
- Cauliflower can be steamed and blended for a creamy, low-calorie substitute for mashed potatoes.
Hold the fat. A lot of holiday recipes call for heavy cream, butter and oil. While they add flavor to dishes, they also add a lot of heavy calories. Here are a few substitutions to try:
- Plain yogurt is a great substitute for heavy cream or sour cream in recipes, including sauces, dressings, casseroles and soups.
- Unsweetened applesauce can be used in place of oil in almost any baked good recipe, including cakes, muffins and breads.
- Instead of spreading butter on vegetables or bread, drizzle some olive oil, which is a heart-healthy unsaturated fat.
Make healthier potatoes. Although potatoes are often a holiday staple, there are lighter ways to enjoy them than mashing them with butter, heavy cream and salt. Here are some equally tasty potato sides:
- Use low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth in your mashed potatoes to provide moisture and flavor without all the fat.
- Roast small potatoes in the oven with olive oil and some of your favorite spices, such as rosemary and garlic.
- The easiest and healthiest way to enjoy white or sweet potatoes is baking them in the oven or popping them in the microwave for about 10 minutes.
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Date Last Reviewed: September 13, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Jane Schwartz, RDN, CLT