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6 Healthy Ingredient Swaps Nutrition Pros Swear By for Their Holiday Recipes

Tis the season for gastronomic celebrations! To stay on track, try these holiday recipe ingredient swaps.

You love traditional holiday foods like roasted turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and apple pie, but don't want all the calories, unhealthy fat, and sugar? Not to worry. We have six healthy  ingredient swaps for your favorite holiday recipes. These dietitian-approved holiday recipe ingredient swaps are healthy switches that nutritionists swear by to lighten up your favorite indulgent dish.

It's easy for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to pack in a couple days' worth of calories and saturated fat. In fact, the Calorie Control Council estimates that the typical Thanksgiving meal packs around 3,000 calories and 160 grams of fat. That's more calories and fat than most adults need in an entire day. An average adult who gets moderate exercise only need about 2,000 calories and 66 grams of fat per day. But that doesn't need to be the case. You can easily slash about half the calories of a holiday meal with these smart swaps below.

To help you stay on track during the holiday season, here are 6 nutrition-approved swaps for your favorite recipes.

First, have a game plan

The good news is that many traditional holiday dishes, like turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and other veggie side dishes are relatively healthy choices. A good game plan is to fill your plate with the healthiest foods first. Then, if you're still not satisfied after eating the better choices, you can have smaller services of the more decadent options.

Holiday charcuterie

cheese board with fruit and nuts

If you want to impress your guests, try creating a healthier charcuterie board. Use a variety of in-season winter fruit like pomegranate arils, citrus and sliced apples, add in-shell pistachios, walnuts or almonds and hard cheese like manchego and sharp cheddar. Los Angeles-based registered dietitian Ashley Hawk, MS, RD, opts for sliced Envy apples on her boards because they remain whiter longer compared to other apple varieties and their sweetness is a perfect complement to savory nuts and cheese.


greek yogurt dip with olives, tomatoes, and bread

If you love rich dips to make crowd-pleasing crudités or to partner with your favorite chips, here's a healthier swap: Use nonfat plain Greek yogurt in place of sour cream. Greek yogurt is protein-rich and has no added sugar and has a fraction of the calories of sour cream. Due to its rich and creamy texture, it's a perfect stand-in for sour cream.

Mashed potatoes

mashed potatoes

To make slimmed-down mashed potatoes, skip cream or whole milk and mash your potatoes with nonfat, 1% milk or buttermilk. In lieu of butter, use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) to reduce saturated fat and add beneficial antioxidants. A garlic- or herb-infused EVOO will add even more flavor. Another great trick is to mash cauliflower and have your mashed potatoes be half cauliflower and half potatoes. The cauliflower will boost the antioxidants and add some texture to your spuds.


pom wonderful stuffing with pomegranate seeds
Courtesy of POM Wonderful

This year, skip the overly processed boxed stuffing and make your own. Registered dietitian Katherine Brooking, MS, RD, makes this homemade stuffing recipe that calls for whole grain bread, olive oil and includes the burst of flavor and texture from pomegranate arils along with the antioxidant boost from POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice.


sunkist navel orange meringue pie with graham cracker crust
Courtesy of Sunkist

A sweet end to your holiday meal doesn't always need to be pumpkin, pecan, or apple pie. Pies are among the most caloric desserts, and they are usually loaded with saturated fat and added sugars. For example, a slice of traditional pecan pie can pack in about 500 calories. Brooking serves fruit-based desserts as much as possible to get more nutrition and fewer calories to the end of a meal. One of her favorites is this recipe for Navel Orange Meringue Pie by Kelsey Siemens of The Farmer's Daughter. It has a lighter graham crackers crust and provides a burst of flavor and beneficial nutrients from the Sunkist navel oranges and lemons.

Sweet potato casserole

sweet potato casserole with pecans

Baked mashed sweet potato casseroles are a fan favorite, but the marshmallow topping is pure sugar calories. Start with fresh sweet potatoes rather than canned options that have added sugar. Sweet potatoes are nutrient-rich and pack in beta-carotene, fiber, potassium, and vitamin B6. Sweeten your casserole with maple syrup instead of marshmallows for a more natural, earthy flavor and top your casserole with chopped pecans for added texture and antioxidants.

Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD
Julie Upton is an award-winning registered dietitian and communications specialist who has written thousands of articles for national media outlets, including The New York Times, US News & World Report, and USA Today. Read more about Julie