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10 Healthier Holiday Food Swaps


With the holidays come delicious but decadent treats. Indulge in them all and you"ll feel bloated, skip them all and you'll feel cheated. Option C: Swap the worst of them for their lighter, still-festive cousins. (Think: No to fudge, yes to hot chocolate.)

Here are a few ideas for picking healthier treats this season.

1. Gingerbread for Sugar Cookies

a pile of gingerbread men

"Sugar cookie" is not a misnomer: these treats tend to be sugar bombs, from the buttery cookie to the super-sweet icing. Opt instead for a gingerbread cookie, which usually contain less of the bad stuff. Bonus: the ginger and molasses in the little gents contain some nutritional benefits!

2. Hot Chocolate for Fudge

a cup of coccoa and marshmallows

There's a reason fudge rhymes with pudge: this rich treat is loaded with sugar and cream. If it's chocolate you crave, swap the fudge for a cup of hot cocoa. Make it with low-fat milk and you have a tasty, protein- and calcium-packed treat that's not terrible with fat and calories. Resist the whipped cream and save even more fat and calories.

3. Steamed Veggies for Casseroles

a cheesy casserole

Be suspicious of any creamy-looking casserole that tries to fake you out by including a veggie in its name—we're looking at you, green bean casserole. Try this trick instead: Serve yourself a big scoop of steamed veggies, then top with a much smaller scoop of the casserole and mix together. You'll get some of the flavor and rich mouth-feel that you crave, plus bonus fiber and vitamins from the extra veggies, without overindulging.

4. Skinny Coffee Drinks for the Regular Ones

a woman holding a coffee at an airport

Pumpkin spice and gingerbread lattes are resurrected every year for a reason: people love the taste. Unfortunately those tasty drinks are as rich in calories as those drinks are spendy. Don't not treat yourself this season, but don't make them your regular, daily cup of joe. Sub nonfat milk and sugar-free syrup to lower the fat and calories, and skip the whip (nine times out of ten).

5. Dark Meat for White Meat

a roast turkey

No, you didn't read that wrong. The dark meat from a turkey has long been reputed to be the unhealthy choice, but in fact, it has just four more calories an ounce than the white meat.

Considering that those calories come with more nutritional benefits than white meat—including more iron, zinc, and B vitamins—you can't be faulted for choosing the dark side if that's what you prefer! Plus, dark meat tends to be more flavorful and less dry than white, which means you can skip the rich gravy. Both types of turkey are lower in fat than red meat, and it's less processed than traditional spiral hams, making it the healthiest main on the table.

6. Sweet Potatoes for Mashed Potatoes

a plate of sweet potato

Weigh this one carefully, because the preparation matters: added butter, cream, and sugar (or marshmallows!) will greatly affect the calories per serving of both of these starchy sides.

But taken at face value, the bright orange flesh of sweet potato bests its pale cousin nutritionally in fiber and vitamin A. Most important, they are naturally very flavorful, so they don't need a lot of added calories to taste good. Swap a plain roasted sweet potato—serve sprinkled with a touch of butter and cinnamon or salt if you like—for rich and buttery mashed potatoes.

7. Whole Wheat Crackers for Dinner Rolls

a pile of crackers

The processed white flour in standard dinner rolls does no one any favors: it's devoid of nutrition, and will actually cause your blood sugar to spike and then drop, leaving you hungrier (and more prone to attack the dessert table). Instead, have five whole-wheat crackers, and you'll pick up a few grams of filling flavor along with some tasty crunch.

8. Hummus for Creamy Dips

hummus surrounded by cucumber slices and pita bread

Mayo, cream cheese, and cheese are often key ingredients in creamy dips—we're talking artichoke dip, spinach dip, queso, etc.—which means they pack tons of calories, fat, and not much else into that tiny, two-tablespoon "recommended serving size." Choose hummus, and you'll save a ton of calories, gain some fiber, and walk away feeling fab.

9. Cinnamon Toast for Cinnamon Rolls

two slices of cinnamon toast

If it's tradition in your house to start Christmas morning with freshly baked cinnamon rolls, by all means indulge, in a small, lightly iced one. Satisfy subsequent cravings with a piece of whole wheat toast lightly buttered and topped with cinnamon and sugar. Your brain and body will be satisfied, and your blood sugar might just benefit: cinnamon is believed to help control spikes.

10. Crudités for Dressed Salads

a selection of vegetables

Tossed salads can confuse the most conscientious eater: it's salad, so it must be healthy, right? But greens heavy on the dressing (and the cheese, nuts, and candied fruit) can be a weight watcher's worst nightmare. If you encounter one of these questionable green salads, opt instead for raw crudités and a small handful of mixed nuts.

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