Make Your Holidays Happy and Healthy with These 8 Easy Swaps

holiday dinner

Published on December 9, 2021

Last updated December 14, 2021

By Ariane Resnick  

Our most classic holiday foods may be tasty, but they tend to be some of the least healthy things we cook all year. We can’t deny that mashed potatoes with a stick (or two!) of butter or Brussels sprouts drowned in bechamel are delightful, but they could certainly be healthier. Fortunately, we’ve got some easy changes that will make the holiday dishes you love more nutrient-dense — and honestly just as delicious.

1. Glaze your ham healthfully

A few simple swaps will help your ham go from candy-like to much more healthy (and more savory). Opt for fresh pineapple slices over canned, if available; pineapples are typically available at big box grocers year-round due to the tropical growing climates they’re imported from. Use a high-quality honey if possible, and swap out some of the sweetener for liquid allulose syrup. It caramelizes just like sugar does, but without having the big glycemic impact. 

For an extra punch of flavor, add 1-2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard to your glaze, which will enhance the taste of the skin and add a subtle, earthy flavor. 

2. Add vegetables to your gravy

Everyone has a secret to the perfect gravy. A long-used — but under-discussed — chef method involves adding cooked vegetables to gravy for thickening. Underneath your holiday turkey or roast, place rough chopped carrots, onions, and root vegetables like parsnips. When you’re gathering your drippings, give them a whirl in the blender with the liquid. The result will be a vegetable-forward gravy that’s thickened without any starch or flour needed, and that comes together much faster than the stovetop version. 

3. Give your mashed potatoes a protein boost 

When mashed cauliflower took the internet by storm, many people weren’t sold. But there’s no need for an all-or-nothing approach on the creamy mash front. You can go halvsies and get the texture and flavor you crave, while being a little bit healthier. Just sub out 2-3 cups of chopped white potatoes for one medium head of cauliflower florets. Add them to the boil about five minutes after you’ve added the potatoes, and continue with the recipe.

Because mashed potatoes require additions to get them as creamy as we want them to be, subbing out half the butter or replacing the sour cream in your recipe with Greek yogurt will provide a hit of protein with plenty of richness. Choose full-fat or 2%, rather than nonfat, to ensure the mouthfeel is still satisfying. 

4. Treat your Brussels sprouts to higher heat

Sure, covering Brussels sprouts in a creamy sauce may hide them well enough for those who don’t love them to give them a try, but what about making them simply taste better on their own? If you’ve ever wondered why Brussels sprouts taste better at restaurants, you probably haven’t utilized your oven’s heat enough. By roasting your Brussels at 425-450 degrees, depending on how hot your oven runs, you’ll get sprouts with a fabulously crispy exterior. All they need before roasting is a light coating of avocado oil and some seasoning. Once out of the oven, toss with dried cranberries and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar for a grown-up, delicious dish.

5. Make your eggs angelic

Packing the yolks of deviled eggs with nothing but mayo takes away from the great health attributes of eggs, like protein and choline. Instead, try flavoring them with chopped fresh herbs like dill and parsley, so less mayo is needed. Alternately, use a little scoop of something creamy with more protein, such as ricotta cheese or Greek yogurt. Flavoring deviled eggs with digestive spices can also make them a useful addition to your appetizer spread. Consider a curry spice mix or the heat of some chili powder added in.

6. Step away from the marshmallows

A classic sweet potato casserole is full of brown sugar and topped with marshmallows, and if this is how you’ve always eaten it, you might not be aware of just how sweet yams already are on their own. Try mashing them and then tasting before you start adding sweetener — you might discover they’re actually great as-is. If you do want to sweeten them, try a hit of grade B maple syrup, which offers minerals and a lot of wintry flavor, instead of only sweetness.

Roasting sweet potatoes will also bring out their natural sweetness. Throw them in the oven whole, with a light sprinkle of oil, and roast at 425 until they’re soft and leaking syrup. Serve as you would a baked potato, and be prepared for a blast of concentrated sweetness.

7. Sweeten your cranberry sauce differently

Cranberries are as tart as a berry can be, and as such, most cranberry sauce recipes require multiple cups of sugar. To make your sauce as sweet as always while cutting back on sugar, substitute ⅓ of the total sugar for a noncaloric natural sweetener. We suggest allulose, monk fruit, or Swerve. Note that there are certain noncaloric sweeteners you can’t boil because they’ll crystallize, so avoid erythritol and xylitol in this case.

8. Whole your rolls

It doesn’t get simpler than switching out white flour for whole wheat. Dinner rolls are an integral part of a holiday meal, but they’re one we don’t give much thought to. If you’re up for making your own, that’s great. But since no one expects that, you can make this swap at the grocery store easily. Whole wheat has fewer carbs and more protein than white flour — but if you don’t feel quite up for that swap, opt instead for a seeded dinner roll over a plain one. Those seeds will add fiber and protein along with crunch, making for a roll that needs to be eaten more slowly and mindfully. 

Good food brings people together.
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Good food brings people together.
So do good emails.

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Good food brings people together.
So do good emails.

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