MealEnders Blog

Eat This, Not That During the Holidays

Simple Swaps to Lighten Up Your Favorite Dishes

By Tami Lyon, MPH, RD
November 12, 2016

Eat This, Not That During the Holidays

Around the holidays, there are likely a handful of foods that you just can’t wait to eat, be it pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, or hot chocolate by the fire. For these special foods it needs to be the real deal–grandma’s family recipe or bust. But there are probably also tons of traditional holiday foods that, to you, are just mediocre, and can be modified or substituted without dampening your holiday spirits. So instead of wasting calories on those foods that you’re hardly excited for, make the switch to these healthier alternatives.

Eat this: Cauliflower rice
Not that: Bread stuffing

Stuffing is typically made with large amounts of white bread, whole milk, and butter–and it’s entirely possible to down four or five slices of white bread in a typical serving of stuffing. Reduce the amount of calories and carbohydrates in this side by switching to cauliflower rice, which uses broth instead of heavy dairy products. The cruciferous vegetable only has 25 calories per cup (compared to around 350 for a typical cup of stuffing), as well as a hefty dose of fiber, vitamins C, K, B6 and potassium. For fall flavor, add in cumin, pomegranate seeds, orange zest, sliced almonds, and sea salt. If the holidays just aren’t the holidays without bread stuffing, swap out white bread for whole grain bread, which will provide more filling fiber, use lowfat instead of whole milk, and add low calorie flavor boosters like mushrooms, caramelized onions, and fresh herbs.

Eat this: Roasted sweet potatoes
Not that: Candied yams

Candied yams recipes typically call for copious amounts of butter and brown sugar–not to mention that layer of marshmallows. But yams and sweet potatoes already have natural sugars that make them sweet enough–save the added sugar for dessert! Roasting sweet potatoes actually brings out their sweet flavor even more, so there’s no need to add extra sugar. Toss cubes of sweet potato with olive oil and salt and add extra flavor with herbs like rosemary or thyme and roast at 425 Degrees for 30-40 minutes. If you want to go sweet rather than savory, sub in coconut oil and cinnamon.

Eat this: Pumpkin pie without crust
Not that: Pumpkin pie with crust

For many pies–think pretty apple pies with a lattice crust–the pie crust plays a significant role in the pie’s flavor, texture, and presentation. But when it comes to pumpkin pie, all of the flavor is in the filling; the crust just adds structural support. Bake the pie in individual ramekins or just don’t eat the crust and save around 150 calories per slice.

Eat this: Dips made with Greek yogurt
Not that: Dips made with sour cream

Whatever dip you end up serving around the holidays, be it spinach artichoke or caramelized onion dip, sub out the sour cream for plain low-fat Greek yogurt. Cup for cup, you’ll save around 180 calories and 15 grams of saturated fat. You’ll also gain 14 grams of satiating protein, which will help you feel satisfied during the appetizer round. Just be careful heating up Greek yogurt–at high heats it can curdle, so temper it first by adding a small amount of the warm ingredients and then adding that to the larger portion. Save more empty calories by also serving your dips with crunchy, nutrient-rich vegetables like carrot, cucumber and jicama sticks.

Eat this: Roasted green beans or Brussels sprouts
Not that: Green bean casserole

It might be one of the most iconic Thanksgiving dishes ever, but the traditional green bean casserole doesn’t have a lot going for it nutritionally. Green beans are completely disguised by cream of mushroom soup, high-sodium soy sauce, and French fried onions–making this vegetable side much higher in calories than it should be. Lighten up the traditional dish by making your own cream sauce–saute onions with mushrooms, then add milk and buttermilk powder for that creamy taste (boost the onion flavor with onion powder). Substitute french fried onions with toasted almonds, which will give you the same crunch along with a helping of healthy fats. If you’re ready to trade up for an even more nutrient-rich veggie side dish, try roasted Brussels sprouts.  The are multiple recipes on the web that appeal to a variety of tastes, including Brussels sprouts with a sweet touch like cranberries and pecans, or a more savory flavor profile such as bacon and onion.

Eat this: Homemade eggnog
Not that: Store bought eggnog

Regular store bought eggnog is made with whole milk and cream–and many supermarket brands clock in around 400 calories (and that’s before you add in the alcohol!). Added sugar also contributes to that huge number, with some brands containing as much as 58 grams of sugar per cup. If you make it yourself, you can make it with low fat milk and adjust the spices and sugar yourself–saving you at least half of those calories.

Eat this: Broth-based soups
Not that: Cream-based soups

Creamy flavors already abound during the holidays, whether it’s from dips, mashed potatoes, gravy, cheesy snacks, or dessert. Choose a broth-based soup instead: a Penn State study found that participants who ate a broth-based soup before their lunch ended up eating 20% fewer calories overall. If you must have that creamy, velvety texture, try pureeing root vegetables like butternut squash or cauliflower: just start with a base of onion, garlic, and other aromatics, add the rest of whatever vegetables you’re using along with broth and spices, and puree until you get the perfect texture.

*Individual Results May Vary