Dessert

9 Healthy Holiday Swaps That are Surprisingly Weight Loss Friendly

Dietitian-approved and full of flavor.

By: Lexy Parsons

The holiday season is here and we’re ready to relax, enjoy the company of friends and family, and of course, indulge in all the yummy holiday treats. Let’s face it, although we cherish time with loved ones, one of the best parts of the holiday season is, well, holiday food!

But we get that the holiday traditions that are centered around food can lead to stress if you’ve been working on your fitness and wellness goals all year. But, before you stress, the secret to staying on track this holiday season may be as simple as a few healthy holiday swaps. That’s right, by incorporating healthier ingredient alternatives, you can still enjoy your favorite holiday treats without reaching that “I have to unbutton my pants” feeling.

Are you ready to indulge and feel good doing so? With a few simple swaps, transform any not-so-healthy ingredient into a nutritious holiday meal. These sneaky substitutions may be healthy, but they certainly don’t skimp on taste. Try these nine healthy holiday swaps that no one will notice but will have everyone going back for seconds.

RELATED: 7 Ways to Indulge Mindfully & Stay Healthy During The Holidays

9 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:

Chocolate Chips: 

Cocoa/Cacao Powder:

  • Unsweetened Cocoa or Cacao Powder

Chocolate Bars:

Hot Cocoa:

#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. Mastela recommends swapping cauliflower — the ultimate glow up veggie. “It’s a very bland and basic veggie with no taste, so it will taste like it’s seasoning! It’s very low calorie and non-fat, so it makes a great choice to bulk up a meal,” says Mastela. Another option: If the idea of pure cauliflower mash doesn’t appeal to you, try half potatoes and half cauliflower!

Sweet potatoes and winter squash also make great substitutions, containing more nutrients and fewer carbs than regular potatoes. 

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!

#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)

#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:

#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

#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

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 nine 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.