Creamy, buttery foods have a way of creeping back into our diets during the holidays, so it’s no wonder that the average person gains 1 to 2 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Fortunately, there are tiny tweaks you can make to your menu that cut calories and unhealthy fats without sacrificing taste. Registered dietitians reveal the ingredient swaps they use to transform diet disasters into healthy, yet flavorful holiday meals.
- Greek Yogurt instead of Sour Cream
Any side dish that requires sour cream— mashed potatoes, casseroles, sauces—can instantly be made healthier by subbing in an equal amount of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt. Into a recipe, Greek yogurt tastes nearly identical to nutrition-devoid sour cream, with the bonus of adding protein to your dishes.
- Cauliflower Mash instead of Mashed Potato
For every spoonful of mashed potatoes you heap onto your plate, just know that a cup racks up over 200 calories (and that’s before the added butter and gravy). Cut calories and empty carbs by making mashed cauliflower instead. Mashed cauliflower has the same texture and similar flavor, and in addition to being more waistline-friendly, cauliflower is loaded with vitamin C.
- Zucchini Noodles instead of Pasta
If your family traditionally starts off holiday meals with a pasta dish, you can get those same tomato and garlic flavors by swapping out noodles for spiralized zucchini. Zucchini noodles, or “zoodles,” cut out empty carbs while filling your plate with vitamins and fiber.
- Grilled Fruit Instead of Pies
Substitute one pie on your dessert table for baked, roasted, or grilled fruit. This way, your guests will get the fruity sweetness they crave, minus the buttery, carb-heavy, calorie-dense crust. If you can’t stand the idea of going crustless, try a mock cobbler instead.
- Sauteed Spinach instead of Creamed Spinach
Spinach is nutrient dense, but you’re negating its health benefits when you make creamed spinach, which is loaded with saturated fat. Sauté the leafy green in heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil and garlic, topping the dish with diced red bell pepper for added crunch and sweetness. You could also toss a spinach salad dressed with balsamic vinaigrette topped with sliced apples or peas and toasted walnuts or pecans.
- Sweet Potato Casserole instead of Baked Sweet Potatoes
Topping your sweet potato casserole with marshmallows or a sugary crumble makes the dish more like a dessert than a side dish. Instead, try drizzling baked sweet potatoes with a sauce made from extra virgin coconut oil, maple syrup, fresh grated ginger, and pumpkin pie spice. While the syrup adds sugar, it acts as an unrefined form of the sweetener, which contains more natural nutrients like calcium and iron.
- Hummus instead of Cream Cheese
Serve hummus instead of a cream cheese-based dip, which can pack on around 50 calories from fat and 14 grams of cholesterol per serving. Add an array of fresh, colorful veggies to the plate for dipping—it’s a quick and easy substitute for chips or crackers and can add nutrients like vitamin A from carrots, folate and vitamin C from bell peppers, and vitamins B and C plus fiber from raw broccoli.
- Veggie & Shrimp Kabobs instead of Meat and Cheese Plate
Grill or roast veggies like zucchini and squash, as well as onions and pepper and serve them on a stick for easy grabbing. For added flavor, alternate the vegetables with shrimp, a great meatless protein option. This veggie-filled alternative swaps out saturated fat and added salt for more fiber and nutrients like vitamins A and K, potassium, and manganese.
- Sparkling Water instead of Cocktails
Toasting with a cocktail may be a holiday tradition, but filling up on sugary drinks doesn’t need to be. For cocktails, replace a sugary mixer with sparkling water flavored with fresh grated ginger, and fresh mint. Mashed fruit makes another great natural sweetener when paired with bubbly water. Use either of these methods and you’ll bypass the 30 grams of sugar per serving most mixed drinks contain.
- Whole Grain Stuffing instead of White Bread Stuffing
Stuffing makes a Thanksgiving turkey extra special, but that doesn’t mean the filler has to contain nutrition-devoid white bread, a refined, simple carbohydrate that can spike your blood sugar levels, since it contains added sugar. Try substituting white bread for a sprouted, whole-grain loaf when making your turkey day stuffing. Sprouted grains can be easier to digest, plus they contain more good-for-you nutrients, such as zinc, calcium, and iron. Another option would be to take out the bread entirely and try an ancient grain based stuffing with quinoa or farro.
By trying these healthy holiday swaps, you won’t even be able to taste the difference between the traditional and your healthier version.