Healthy holiday food swaps
You can enjoy your favorite dishes and still stay healthy this season. Learn how to make healthy choices at every celebration.
The holidays are almost here. That brings fun celebrations with family, friends, and coworkers — and plenty of delicious things to eat. It’s the season for festive dinners, homemade desserts, and tasty party platters.
Eating healthy at this time of year can be a challenge. No matter which holiday you celebrate, the effects of all that food can add up. Some adults tend to gain a few pounds between late November and early January, research shows.
And even if you’re not worried about gaining weight, it pays to make healthy food choices all season long. Eating well boosts your immunity and helps with digestion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The best approach is to be thoughtful in what you’re choosing during the holidays, says Paul Montanchez, MPH. He’s a health educator at Blue Shield of California. You can eat a balanced diet and still have some of the holiday treats you love. “You don't want to pass up your favorites or feel guilty because you’re choosing to eat Grandma's pumpkin pie,” he says.
But there are some healthy swaps you can make when you’re cooking at home or filling your plate at a buffet.
Top food swaps
The trick is to sub in healthier foods that taste just as good, says Montanchez. Here are some swaps to try:
- The swap: White meat instead of dark meat. Turkey is an excellent source of protein, which helps you feel full for longer. But you can make it a bit healthier by choosing white meat (it’s lower in calories than dark meat) and taking off the fatty skin.
- The swap: Lean ground turkey instead of beef. Ground turkey is a terrific alternative to ground beef. Use it for meatballs and burgers. And try turkey bacon instead of pork-based bacon. These will give you protein without as much saturated fat.
- The swap: Baked sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes. Sweet potatoes provide the same texture as the buttery mashed potatoes you love. But they pack a bigger nutritional punch. One other idea: Try mashed cauliflower “potatoes.”
- The swap: Baked apples instead of apple pie. Pie is delicious, but the crust tends to be high in fat. You can get that same apple-flavor by making baked apples. But you don’t have to pass up apple pie at a dinner party. Just serve yourself a small sliver.
- The swap: Yogurt instead of sour cream. In dishes that call for high-fat dairy, it’s easy to swap in healthier choices. Nonfat yogurt tastes great on baked potatoes and in dips. Not ready to give up sour cream? Choose a low-fat version at the store.
- The swap: Evaporated milk instead of heavy cream. You’ll save a bunch of calories by swapping in evaporated milk in recipes like soups and sauces.
- The swap: Seltzer instead of a cocktail or eggnog. It’s a treat to sip a festive cocktail or glass of punch at a party. But alcoholic drinks are filled with empty calories, so it’s best to limit yourself, says Montanchez. Have one drink when you arrive, then sip flavored sparkling water for the rest of the night.
Other ways to eat healthy right now
There are some other smart diet tips that can keep you healthy around the holidays.
- Bring a nutritious dish. If you’re taking a dish to a pot-luck dinner, go with something healthy. Roasted vegetables, a crisp green salad, and a pretty fruit tray are great options.
- Pay attention to portions. It’s tempting to just load up your plate at a party. Instead, take a small amount at first and eat slowly. Then wait for a bit before a second helping to determine if you’re actually still hungry.
- Have a game plan. Think ahead about which high-calorie foods you’ll be selecting. If you’re at a buffet, scan the entire spread first. Be sure to choose some healthy veggie dishes too.
- Get support. Your Blue Shield California plan may offer access to tools on Wellvolution® that help you make healthier food choices. You can find online programs designed to manage your weight and improve your diet – all at no extra cost.
- Enjoy yourself. Don’t get too stressed out about what you eat. “People show love through food, and that’s true across every culture, everywhere in the world,” says Montanchez. “Enjoy some indulgences and really savor them. That’s part of the holidays, too.”
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