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.

Young girl bringing platter of bread to dining room table during family celebration meal

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.”

Y0118_22_838A_C 11172022

Wellvolution is a registered trademark of Blue Shield of California. Wellvolution and all associated digital and in-person health programs, services, and offerings are managed by Solera, Inc. These program services are not a covered benefit of Blue Shield health plans and none of the terms or conditions of Blue Shield health plans apply. Blue Shield reserves the right to terminate this program at any time without notice. Please note that for Medicare Advantage Plan members, Wellvolution is neither offered nor guaranteed under our contract with the Medicare program, nor is it subject to the Medicare appeals process. Any disputes regarding Wellvolution may be subject to the Blue Shield’s grievance process.

The information in this article is for informational purposes and not intended as medical advice.

The company complies with applicable state laws and federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate, exclude people, or treat them differently on the basis of race, color, national origin, ethnic group identification, medical condition, genetic information, ancestry, religion, sex, marital status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, mental disability, or physical disability. La compañía cumple con las leyes de derechos civiles federales y estatales aplicables, y no discrimina, ni excluye ni trata de manera diferente a las personas por su raza, color, país de origen, identificación con determinado grupo étnico, condición médica, información genética, ascendencia, religión, sexo, estado civil, género, identidad de género, orientación sexual, edad, ni discapacidad física ni mental. 本公司遵守適用的州法律和聯邦民權法律,並且不會以種族、膚色、原國籍、族群認同、醫療狀況、遺傳資訊、血統、宗教、性別、婚姻狀況、性別認同、性取向、年齡、精神殘疾或身體殘疾而進行歧視、排斥或區別對待他人。