Most traditional holiday food is filled with sugar and packed with fat. The treats often lack any serious amount of fiber and often have the nutrients pretty much cooked out of them. Moderation is one thing, but night after night of rich and sugary dishes undermines health goals and can leave you feeling sluggish, bloated and blah. There are ways to offer up the better stuff, without totally canceling Christmas or serving smoothies every night for Hanukkah. Just offer a few of these substitute dishes. They're still festive and tasty—and don't come with all the holiday health crisis baggage.
Like baked apples. Instead of apple pie, which is loaded with sugar and carbs, bake up some muffin tins of these beauties.
Sweet potatoes are super nutritious, but once you add all that butter, marshmallow and brown sugar, they take on a health profile that's a little less than great. Instead, try baking them up and serving them with salt, pepper and Greek yogurt, or even butter and a light sprinkling of brown sugar. Take the foil off during the last 15 minutes of baking, and the skins will get caramelized and chewy. You won't even miss the marshmallows.
You know green bean casserole? The holiday dish with cream of mushroom soup and those crunchy onions from a can? It's a calorie minefield. Unless your family or guests really, really love it, skip it this year and go for roasted Brussels sprouts. They're delicious, barely a calorie in sight and packed with good fiber and nutrition.
If you're trying to limit the carbs you eat, just a few bites of mashed potatoes will put you over your daily limit. But they're easy to replace with cauliflower, believe it or not. There are a ton of recipes for cauliflower mash online, and you'll be surprised at the number of guests who don't even know they're not potatoes.
If you're a member of Team Eggnog but are trying to keep it on the healthy side during the holidays, make a batch of antioxidant-rich (and just as decadent) hot dark chocolate. It's thick like eggnog but with fewer calories and less fat, since you don't need as much sugar. You can also try a red velvet cake hot chocolate or, if you're really cutting back, a sugar-free version.
Sour cream or artichoke dips are standards at the holiday party snack table. But if you're looking for something lighter, try all of your dip recipes with Greek yogurt instead.
If you love fruit pies but can't handle the sugar and carbs that come with each slice, try grilled fruit (topped with sweetened Greek yogurt). If you can't get through the snow to turn on the grill, then roast the fruit in an oven instead, or break out your underused grilling pan and get at it. Most fruits will work, including winter citrus. Keep in mind that super ripe fruit will be a little messy.
Canned cranberry sauce is a throwback holiday favorite, but just a half-inch slice of the stuff has 100 calories, most of it from sugar. While some folks will miss the gelatinous innards still shaped like the can, others will appreciate homemade cranberry sauce. Not only does it contain less sugar, it's also delicious—and filled with vitamin C and other antioxidants.
Artichoke-cheese and creamy spinach dips are now staples of a holiday appetizer board. But if you're trying to increase nutrition and lower calories, you'll want to avoid either of those, which are often served with high-carb pita triangles or chips. Instead, put out a tasty hummus and crunchy vegetables. You'll get lots of fiber and feel a little more virtuous for sticking to the good stuff. Try some of these elevated hummus recipes.
Holiday gravy is a delicious tradition, but there are other ways to elevate dishes that don't require so much sodium, fat and flour. Pesto is a great way to pack in flavor—garlic, pine nuts, basil—and it goes great on everything from vegetable side dishes to prime rib, turkey and even ham.
If you're all about those pumpkin spice holiday flavors but are trying to keep your carb intake to a minimum, skip the crust of a pumpkin pie and make puddings instead. Just follow the recipe on your pumpkin filling can (even cutting back on some of the sugar—you won't miss it!) and bake in ramekins or cook on your stovetop while stirring constantly until it thickens. Top with an extra sprinkle of nutmeg.
Instead of a charcuterie and cheese platter, serve up a lighter shrimp and veggies platter. Arrange precooked shrimp and peeled, sliced veggies with Greek yogurt curry dipping sauces. Just stir curry powder into Greek yogurt and add a little salt.
If your family is used to pasta salads, try making your recipe with zoodles (zucchini noodles) instead. The fun curls and textures of the vegetable, which nicely picks up the flavors of the other ingredients, is a great way to increase the health profile of another typically carb-heavy dish.
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