Skip to main content

Make Healthy Holiday Food Choices

<p>Holiday cut-out cookies made with healthier whole-grain wheat flour. Photo by Peggy Greb, from USDA ARS image gallery.

During the holiday season, eating healthy can seem downright impossible. Between shopping for the holidays, family and work responsibilities and sometimes not enough sleep, the temptation to indulge in your favorite holiday foods can be hard to resist. This holiday season, instead of feeling bad about making and eating your favorite holiday dishes and treats, try making some simple substitutions to bump up the nutrition and decrease the fat, calories, and sodium in your recipes to have a healthier holiday season.

Check out the following tips on making healthy holiday substitutions for some of your favorite holiday recipes.

Tips for Making Healthy Holiday Substitutions:

  • Flour: Try substituting whole wheat flour for half of the called for all-purpose flour in baked goods such as cakes and muffins to increase the nutrient content of your sweet treats. Whole grains provide many nutrients vital for health, such as dietary fiber, B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium).
  • Cream: Top off holiday pies with frozen or low-fat yogurt instead of whipped cream or ice cream. When recipes call for sour cream, use plain, low-fat or fat-free yogurt to make snacks that are lower in fat and calories. Dairy products that retain their calcium content such as yogurt have calcium as well as potassium, vitamin D, and protein.
  • Seasoning Salt: When the recipe calls for seasoning salt, such as garlic salt, celery salt, or onion salt try using herb only seasoning, such as garlic powder, celery seed, onion flakes, or use finely chopped herbs such as garlic, celery, or onions. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, healthy adults should reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg/ day (about 1 teaspoon of salt). Reduce intake to 1,500 mg/day (about one-half of a teaspoon) among those 51 years and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Every little bit helps, so start reducing your sodium intake wherever you can.
  • Eggs: For cakes, cookies, and quick breads try using egg whites or cholesterol free egg substitute instead of whole eggs. Two egg whites or 1⁄4 cup cholesterol free egg substitute can be used in many recipes in place of one whole egg. The average amount of cholesterol found in one large egg is 185 milligrams, all of which is located in the yolk. It is recommended that healthy adults limit dietary cholesterol to less than 300 mg per day. Egg whites can be beneficial for those watching their cholesterol levels because they contain no cholesterol.
  • Dressing & Stuffing: Try adding low-sodium broth or pan drippings with the fat skimmed off instead of lard or butter for dressing and stuffing. Use herbs, spices, and whole grain bread for added flavor. Also, think about replacing some of the bread in your stuffing with sliced almonds, chestnuts, or a mixture of vegetables.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) say Americans gain about a pound during the winter holiday season. Although one pound does not sound like much, over several years this adds up. Remember, obesity doesn’t happen overnight, pounds accumulate slowly over time. So start a tradition this holiday season by getting creative and making your holiday recipes healthier through simple substitutions.

Check out for a variety of information on food, nutrition, and health topics. It is a great resource for the holiday season.

By Lisa Franzen-Castle, Extension Nutrition Specialist