Ready or not, the holidays are here. But as with any reliable friend, we come bearing the goods: gift inspo, a festive charcuterie board, and tins of decadent cookies. You’re welcome. With twinkling lights above—and comfort foods at the ready—this time of year glows unlike any other. Eating well on the other hand? It takes a backseat. The mouth-watering aroma of freshly baked pies and rich, creamy casseroles is hard to beat. In turn, we feel torn between two worlds: indulge until the couch calls or only scoop a dainty piece. Fortunately, there’s a middle ground: healthy holiday ingredient swaps.
Rest assured, there’s no need to forego festive treats. Sugar and indulgent dishes deserve a seat at the table. Rather, we want to inspire creative ingredient substitutions. Enjoy your favorite holiday dishes and feel nourished. With that, grab your mixing bowl. We’re unveiling the perfect ratio of celebration to well-being.
Featured image by Suruchi Avasthi.
Break Free From Holiday Food Guilt
“I shouldn’t have eaten that….” “Why did I have a third helping….” “I need to do X minutes of cardio tomorrow…” Sound familiar? Before your write yourself as someone who won’t ever have a positive relationship with food, hear us out: you can break free from holiday food guilt. To start, jot down your food fears. Anything you deem off-limits. Include food rules that dictate your daily life. Once you acknowledge them, you challenge them—with the help of a supportive family member, friend, or therapist. From there, you can re-build your inner wisdom. Sayonara, food guilt.
See here for additional intuitive eating tips.
Diet and Lifestyle Tips for a Nourishing Holiday Season
With that in mind, healthy holidays aren’t about deprivation or strict rules. They’re about balance and fluidity. Most importantly, they’re about enjoying the season in a way that aligns with your well-being goals. So, how can you keep your wellness goals in check while you’re out of your typical routine?
Eat mindfully. During holiday meals, truly savor each bite (notice flavors, textures, and colors), eat slowly, and pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.
Aim for balanced meals. Build a plate to include lean proteins, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. This aids in satiation and satisfaction.
Be aware of portion sizes. Especially when faced with large holiday spreads, use smaller plates. This will help you eat mindfully (see above!) and pace yourself.
Make smart swaps. Opt for healthier ingredient swaps in your holiday recipes. More on this, below.
Stay active. Continue to prioritize physical activity. Schedule regular workouts or engage in fun, active holiday traditions (backyard football, nature walks, etc.).
Manage stress. We all know the holidays are stressful. Carve out a few minutes every day for journaling, guided breathing exercises, or a calming meditation.
Get adequate sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Sufficient sleep can boost your immune system and help you make better food choices!
Plan and prioritize. Said differently: don’t overcommit. Do your best to set boundaries and prioritize events that truly matter to you. Embrace the spirit of togetherness in a way that aligns with your mental health.
How to Create a Healthier Cheese Board
Calling all charcuterie lovers: this one’s for you. Creating a healthier holiday cheese board doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor or variety. By making a few smart swaps, you can enjoy a delicious assortment of cheeses, accompaniments, and pairings. Below are a few ideas for nutrient-dense swaps for your favorite cheese board.
1. Whole-grain or seedy crackers
Instead of refined white flour crackers, opt for 100% whole-grain or seed-based crackers. These alternatives provide more fiber and satisfaction.
2. Fresh fruit
Replace candied fruit with fresh fruit, like apples, pears, or blackberries. They’ll complement the cheese while adding vitamins and fiber. Bonus points using low-glycemic fruits to help lower blood sugar.
3. Greek yogurt dip
Instead of a creamy spread, serve a tangy Greek yogurt-based dip. For extra flavor, season it with herbs, garlic, or lemon zest. Plus, your guests will get the benefit of protein and probiotics. Hummus is great as well!
4. Nuts and seeds
Add a mix of nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, etc.) to your cheese board. They provide healthy fats and protein, satiation, and texture.
5. Pickled vegetables
Include a variety of pickled veggies—gherkins, olives, or pickled onions—to add a zesty, tangy element to your board.
6. Lean protein
For a protein boost, consider adding lean protein sources (lean turkey, smoked tofu, or roast chicken). These are a satisfying addition for for a more substantial cheese board.
7. Herb-infused olive oil
For dipping bread and drizzling over cheese, swap a rich dip for a selection of herb-infused olive oils.
8 Nutritionist-Approved Healthy Holiday Ingredient Swaps
This goes without saying, but indulgent gatherings will happen (or be hosted!) at some point during the holiday. Embrace them. Remember, there’s endless gratitude for the opportunity to eat with loved ones—particularly over a decadent, homemade meal. But in the spirit of finding a happy middle ground, consider the following healthy holiday ingredient swaps. Hopefully your guests will appreciate these substitutions, too.
Greek Yogurt for Sour Cream
Substituting Greek yogurt for sour cream is a double-whammy: a range of health benefits without sacrificing flavor or texture. Greek yogurt is notably lower in saturated fat and calories, making it a heart-healthy alternative. It’s also rich in protein (great for satiation) and probiotics (helpful for overall digestion). The creamy, tangy consistency of Greek yogurt complements various dishes—from mashed potatoes and cheesecake to dips, dressings, and casseroles.
Squash for Potatoes
All hail the mighty winter squash. Make your holiday season delicious and delightfully nutritious. Swap out potatoes for squashes. These vibrant and versatile veggies offer a lower-carb alternative to spuds—a smart choice for blood sugar-conscious feasters. Packed with vitamins and antioxidants, they can boost immunity and encourage radiant skin. Plus, their natural sweetness means you can cut back on added sugars. Whether you’re roasting, blending, or mashing, give squashes a starring role.
Veggie Noodles for Pasta
Speaking of squash, sub some of your noodle-packed dishes with spiralized zucchini, sweet potatoes, or carrots. Packed with essential vitamins and fiber, they keep energy high and digestion on track. Not in the mood for a 1:1 veggie to pasta swap? Try a legume-based noodle, like red lentil or chickpea pasta. Even 100% whole wheat noodles are a high-fiber, high(er)-protein alternative. For inspo: substitute butternut squash noodles for egg noodles in chicken soup or use zucchini as the pasta layer in lasagna.
Coconut Milk for Heavy Cream
Substitute heavy cream for creamy and dreamy coconut cream! This tropical delight brings a luscious texture to your dishes and heart-healthy satiation. Coconut cream is a dairy-free alternative that’s lower in saturated fats. Plus, it adds a subtle sweetness to recipes, enhancing both savory and sweet dishes. Try it in mashed potatoes for a velvety finish, whip up a vegetarian soup with a dollop of coconut cream, or relish this filling coconut curry.
Avocado for Butter
Yes, you can sub avocado for butter in many recipes. A heart-healthy substitute for butter or lard, avocado provides a creamy texture while reducing unhealthy saturated fats. Avocado is also loaded with essential nutrients—potassium, folate, and vitamins. Whether you’re making cookies, muffins, or even creamy mashed potatoes, avocado adds a nutrient-packed twist to your holiday favorites. Try your hand at this chocolate avocado mousse or avocado key lime pie! Otherwise, replace half the oil in your favorite dips and spreads with avocado.
Baked Fruit Crumbles for Pie
The holidays aren’t complete with pie, but baked fruit crumbles come as a close second. Unlike pies, crumbles boast a lighter, nutty topping that’s lower in saturated fats and sugar. Plus, they’re a cinch to prepare, saving you time in the kitchen during the busy holiday season. Whether it’s a warm apple crumble or juicy berry medley, these fruity creations satisfy a sweet tooth. For an even easier option? Baked apples. Add your favorite crushed nuts, a few warming spices (cinnamon, cloves, etc.), a bit of coconut oil, and et voilà—a nourishing dessert without added sugar.
Alternative Flour for Refined White Flour
Alternative flours—like almond flour, cassava flour, and coconut flour—are wonderful swaps in your holiday bakes. They provide more satiation, can reduce bloating, and for most, are easier to digest! They’re also more blood sugar-friendly than traditional, refined wheat flour. Plus, they’re rich in fiber and healthy fats. Other options include buckwheat flour (gluten-free) and oat flour. These flour swaps not only offer a diverse range of nutrients, but they enhance the flavor and texture of your baked goods.
Monk Fruit Sweetener for Refined Sugar
Sweeten your holiday season—the blood sugar-friendly way—by swapping out refined sugar for monk fruit sweetener! This zero-calorie, plant-based alternative is a game-changer. It satisfies sweet cravings without the blood sugar rollercoaster. Plus, it’s kind to your teeth. Whether you’re baking cookies, pies, or cakes, monk fruit seamlessly replaces sugar. No need to compromise on flavor or texture. Let your baked goods shine with 1:1 sugar replacement.