The holiday season is here! It’s time to kick back and relax, enjoy the company of friends and family, and of course, fill our bellies full of festive foods and holiday treats. While we cherish time with loved ones and look forward to some much-needed R&R time, there’s something particularly special about holiday food. In fact, for many, food is a universal language of love and connection. Aside from being the center of many traditions, holiday food brings people together, provokes feelings of nostalgia and joy, and of course, tastes ultra delicious. That said, holiday foods are generally more indulgent than nutritious.
But fear not — there’s a way to keep your goals in check without stress, food guilt, or restriction. The secret to staying on track this holiday season? Calling on healthy holiday swaps! That’s right, with a few simple swaps, you can enjoy your favorite holiday treats and feel good doing so.
Ahead, delicious substitutions for all your favorite festive foods and treats. Think: healthy alternatives for chocolate, mashed potatoes, pasta, and more! Get ready to indulge without that “I have to unbutton my pants” feeling. Trust us, these ten healthy holiday swaps will have everyone going back for seconds.
RELATED: 8 Ways to Indulge Mindfully & Stay Healthy During The Holidays
10 Registered-Dietician-Approved Healthy Holiday Swaps
#1 Dark Chocolate VS. Milk Chocolate
What do chocolate chip cookies, hot cocoa, and peanut butter blossoms all have in common (besides being ridiculously tasty)? Milk chocolate. While it may be yummy, the added milk and sugars make this an ingredient worthy of a swap. Don’t worry, you can still get your chocolate fix. “Dark Chocolate is a very healthy swap for milk chocolate,” says Lisa Mastela, Registered Dietitian and Founder of Bumpin Blends, a line of personalized superfood smoothie cube blends designed to help meet the nutritional needs of women.
Studies show dark chocolate contains up to 2-3 times more flavanols (naturally occurring antioxidants found in cocoa) than milk chocolate. Before you grab any dark chocolate off the shelf, Mastela says it’s important to be mindful of branding and ingredients. While dark chocolate contains heart-healthy antioxidants and minerals like magnesium, “it can have just as much sugar,” says Mastela. To ensure you’re making healthy holiday swaps, beware of ingredients. For the most nutritional benefits, studies recommend choosing dark chocolate that is at least 70% to obtain the most flavanols.
When your chocolate cravings are calling, try these (dairy-free and low-sugar) healthier alternatives:
- Enjoy Life Foods dairy-free chocolate chips
- Endangered Species Oat Milk Chocolate chips
- Lily’s Stevia-Sweetened Chocolate Chips
- Hu Kitchen Vegan and Keto-friendly baking chips
- Navitas Organics Cacao nibs
- Beyond Good Pure Dark Chocolate Melts
- Unsweetened Cocoa or Cacao Powder
- Hu Kitchen Paleo Dark Chocolate
- Lily’s Stevia Sweetened Chocolate Bars
- Eating Evolved Chocolate Bars
- Four Sigmatic Functional Hot Cacao Mix
- Lakanto Monkfruit-Sweetened Drinking Chocolate with probiotics
- Laird Superfoods Hot Chocolate
- Numi Drinking Chocolate
Here’s How to Incorporate it Into Your Holiday Treats:
- Use dairy or refined sugar-free chocolate chips in holiday cookies or baked goods
- Make chocolate-dipped fruit using melted paleo chocolate
- Add a spoonful of antioxidant-rich cacao powder to smoothies, pudding, or brownies
- Make healthy holiday bark with unsweetened melted chocolate
#2 Greek Yogurt VS. Sour Cream
Want a thick and creamy texture without the additional fat calories? We’ve got the best healthy holiday swaps for even your creamiest of needs. “Opting for a non-fat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream is a great alternative, notably because of the probiotics in Greek yogurt (which can support a healthy digestion) and the lack of fat.” This healthy substitute offers a thick and creamy texture without adding additional fat calories. Instead, you’ll get a healthy dose of protein! “We add non-fat Greek yogurt to our non-vegan smoothies for a boost of protein and probiotics,” says Mastela. Unlike sour cream which has under 1g of protein per serving, Greek yogurt contains about 20g per cup.
Greek yogurt is a 1:1 replacement for sour cream, making it an easy switch in recipes. When shopping, Mastela suggests reading ingredient labels to keep it healthy— many brands have loads of sugar in them.
We love Siggi’s Plain Icelandic Yogurt, Maple Hill Grass-Fed Organic Greek Yogurt, or Unsweetened Chobani and Fage Greek Yogurt!
And if you’re looking for a dairy-free alternative, you’ve got plenty of options!
- Try dairy-free greek yogurt brands like Kite Hill almond-based yogurt
- Make your own cashew sour cream by blending 1 cup of cashews soaked cashews with ½ cup of water, 1 tbsp of lemon juice, and ½ tsp apple cider vinegar!
- Purchase a dairy-free store-bought sour cream like Kite Hill Sour Cream or Forager Sour Cream
#3 Cauliflower, Sweet Potatoes, Winter Squash VS. Potatoes
Mashed potatoes are a holiday favorite, but each serving is accompanied by a hefty calorie count (and let’s be honest, we never just have one serving). To reduce calories and increase nutritional value, try these healthy holiday swaps.
To save carbs and calories, Mastela recommends swapping white potatoes for cauliflower. “It’s a very bland and basic veggie with no taste,” but it’s rich in water and fiber with a similar fluffy consistency to mashed potatoes. Thus, it’s a great choice to bulk up any meal! Not wanting to give up potatoes in their entirety? Try half potatoes and half cauliflower!
Sweet potatoes and winter squash also make great substitutions, containing more nutrients and fewer carbs than regular potatoes.
Feeling inspired? Embrace seasonal eating and swap traditional potatoes for other nutritious root vegetables! Here are 8 nourishing ways to cook with root veggies this holiday season.
#4 Medjool Dates VS. Sugar
Skip the refined sugar and opt for nature’s candy! If you’re indulging in something sweet, Medjool dates are a surprisingly healthy sugar substitute that will satisfy your sweet tooth. Thanks to their high fiber content, dates are low on the glycemic index providing your body with a slow release of energy (unlike the instant sugar rush from refined white sugar), making them a better option for your waistline.
“Dates are a phenomenal alternative to sugar in food prep. That’s why Bumpin Blends smoothies exclusively use dates to sweeten rather than sugar or other sugar alternatives! Dates are pure, natural, and full of fiber, minerals, vitamins, and sweetness!” says Mastela.
Maple Syrup, molasses, honey, and coconut sugar make for additional healthy holiday swaps when replacing sugar! Just be sure to read the ingredients to avoid added sugar!
In need of a yummy holiday dessert? Serve up Salted Caramel Almond Bliss Balls. They’re free from artificial sugar and made with just five ingredients, including Medjool dates, almonds, and coconut!
- ¼ cup almond
- ¼ cup shredded coconut
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup almond flour
- 1 cup Medjool dates, pitted
Step #1: Place dried dates in a bowl of warm water. Soak for thirty minutes to soften. Drain and add to a food processor. Pulse until mashed into a smooth paste. If it is too dry add 1 tbsp of warm water.
Step #2: Add the almond flour, shredded coconut, and salt. Stir well to combine. The result should be a sticky paste.
Step #3: Chop the raw almonds and place in a small bowl.
Step #4: Roll the date mixture into 10 balls and then coat them with chopped almond. Keep leftovers in the fridge for up to one week.
#5 Veggie Noodles VS. Pasta
Zoodles, spaghetti squash, or legume-based noodles all make for delicious healthy holiday swaps that will curb your pasta craving without the empty carbs and high calories. “Red lentil pasta, black bean pasta, and chickpea pasta are all fantastic high-fiber, high-protein alternatives,” says Mastela. If you’re not in the mood for veggies, 100% whole wheat pasta is a great alternative — just make sure it’s 100% whole wheat (not just wheat).
Try these nourishing recipe ideas:
- Swap zucchini noodles for traditional noodles in your chicken or veggie noodle soup
- Skip the refined grains and make a hearty spaghetti squash and meatball dish
- Serve up butternut squash or sweet potato noodles with a drizzle of oil and spices like rosemary, sage, and basil
- Make a low-carb pesto noodle dish with zucchini noodles, avocado, and a boost of protein (we love chickpeas, shrimp, chicken, or salmon)
Looking for a quick-and-easy holiday side dish or starter? Try this Zucchini Veggie Lasagna! Make it dairy-free by using dairy-free cheese, swap the tofu for meat if preferred, or skip it altogether and layer on the veggies.
- 5 zucchini
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup firm tofu, crumbled
- 1 cup pasta sauce
- ½ cup mozzarella, shredded
- ½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
- sea salt & black pepper, to taste
- basil leaf, chopped, to serve
Step #1: Start by preheating the oven to 350°F and line a baking dish with parchment paper.
Step #2: Wash the zucchini and peel into long strips to resemble lasagna noodles.
Step #3: Add a layer of the zucchini noodles to the baking dish and top with ⅓ of the crumbled tofu, cheese, and sauce. Continue layering until all ingredients are used.
Step #4: Add an extra sprinkle of cheese to the top layer and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
Step #5: Top with fresh basil and enjoy!
#6 Greek Yogurt or Hummus VS. Cream Cheese
Whether you’re smearing it on your bagel or spooning it into recipes, a serving of cream cheese turns into an empty tub… real fast. With these healthy holiday swaps, save on calories and fat without sacrificing flavor (even grandma will approve)! In addition to protein-rich greek yogurt, hummus makes a delicious cream cheese alternative. While Greek yogurt offers a more comparable taste, hummus is a crowd pleaser and comes with a host of health benefits.
“Hummus has its own strong flavor, but you could blend up chickpeas with some almond milk and tahini for a more bland but sweet plant-based, high fiber cream cheese alternative! My motto: when in need of healthy, high fiber, plant-based thickener: blend chickpeas. You can add blended chickpeas to everything for a fiber boost! Chickpeas are the secret ingredient to our famous vegan Cookie Dough blend,” says Mastela.
Opt for an unsweetened plain greek yogurt like Siggi’s or a nutritious hummus brand like Cava, Hope Foods, or Ithaca Hummus.
Try these yummy ideas:
- Use greek yogurt in place of cream cheese for a low-carb, lower-sugar frosting
- Make stuffed mushrooms, pasta, or peppers using greek yogurt in place of cream cheese
- Use hummus or greek yogurt as a dip for crackers, veggies, or holiday platters
- Make a raw “cheesecake” using chickpeas or sweet hummus in place of cream cheese (try Kite Hill’s season pumpkin pie cream cheese!)
And if you’re in a pinch, try these tasty and healthy store-bought cream cheese alternatives:
- Kite Hill Dairy-Free Cream Cheese
- Miyoko’s Creamery Vegan Cream Cheese
- Nancy’s Probiotic Cream Cheese
- Spero Sunflower Seed Cream Cheese
Stuffed with hummus instead of cream cheese, these Red Pepper Boats make a yummy app or holiday snack.
- 1 red bell pepper
- ¾ cup hummus
- Fresh parsley, chopped
- Chili flakes
- Sea salt & black pepper, to taste
Step #1: Slice the bell pepper to make 4 boats. Discard the seeds.
Step #2: Divide the hummus between the 4 boats. Tops with parsley, and chili flakes, and season with sea salt and pepper.
#7 Cashew or Other Nut Milk VS. Heavy Cream
With heavy cream taking over holiday dishes — we’re talking eggnog, mashed potatoes, even spinach — it’s no wonder our pants feel a little tighter this time of year! If a recipe calls for a creamy base, try these healthy holiday swaps for heavy cream! Have you ever made cashew milk or cashew cream? These healthful nuts are a versatile substitute — they can be used in both sweet and savory recipes, made into a cream or a milk, and provide a low-calorie, high protein alternative to heavy cream!
“Cashew milk and other nut milks are great alternatives. They’re rich in healthy unsaturated fats, plant-based, and protein-rich! We use cashew butter for a mild, sweet thickener,” says Mastela.
Here are yummy ways to use non-dairy milk this holiday season:
- Make a dairy-free eggnog with cashew or coconut milk and warming spices
- Mix your favorite dairy-free milk into any baked goods holiday recipe as a 1:1 swap for dairy milk
- Use non-dairy milk such as coconut, cashew, or oat milk to thicken any recipe (think: gravy, mashed potatoes, or homemade caramel sauce)
- Add a splash to your morning coffee or holiday latte
The best part? It’s easy to blend up your own! From homemade almond to cashew to oat milk, here are the 7 Best Milk Alternatives worth blending up.
#8 Roasted Veggies VS. Bread
Between the dinner rolls, stuffing, breadcrumbs, and pastries, holidays are a gluten overload! Mastela has a less gluttonous resolution: incorporate roasted veggies in place of bread. “Roasted veggies are packed with fiber which can help fill you up (and your plate!) to mitigate bread cravings,” says Mastela. If you opt for bread, Mastela recommends sourdough or 100% whole wheat.
- Make your favorite toast sans the bread! For a savory option, try sweet potato avocado toast. Craving something sweet? Toast up a slice of sweet potato and top it with yogurt and nut butter
- Use eggplant, mushrooms, or sweet potatoes as a bun replacement for burgers
- Use roasted veggies like carrots or sweet potato wedges as a dipping vehicle for your favorite sauces or spreads instead of bread
- Make a no-bread stuffing using hearty veggies like sweet potato, mushrooms, cauliflower, and carrots
#9 Delicious Dairy-Free Swaps
Love dairy but hate the bloat and indigestion that often comes with it? Good news. Dairy-free alternatives are easy to come by and taste just as good (if not better) than their dairy-laden alternatives! If you can’t tolerate dairy, try these dairy-free healthy holiday swaps
- Instead of cream cheese, try nut butter or nut-based cream cheese! Kite Hill Almond-based Chive Cream Cheese tastes like the real deal
- Swap coconut oil in place of butter for all your cooking and baking needs
- Instead of mayo or yogurt, try avocado!
- Try oat milk in place of milk or cream
- Instead of cheese, try nutritional yeast
- Try banana ice cream in place of ice cream
#10 Sugary Cocktails VS Holiday Mocktails
Whether you’re celebrating a sober holiday or looking to cut back on carbs, calories, and sugar, swapping cocktails for mocktails is a yummy way to support your weight loss goals. From dairy and alcohol-free eggnog to low-sugar seasonal spritzers, there are so many ways to have your drink and enjoy it too. Simply skip the sugary mixers and syrups (like soda, simple syrup, and pre-made mixers) and opt for healthy alternatives like seltzer, kombucha, or muddled fruit.
And if you are looking to enjoy a cocktail, we’ve got healthier holiday cocktails, too! Think: Mistletoe Margaritas, Peppermintini’s, and more.
The Nutritious and Delicious Ways to Enjoy the Holiday
The holiday season is meant to be enjoyed! Gone are the days of restricting your diet or spending hours at the gym working off your holiday feast. With these 10 healthy holiday swaps, you can feel your best while enjoying your favorite meals. Transform any unhealthy ingredient into a mouth-watering dish that will leave your waistline feeling just as good as your tastebuds.