Healthy Holiday Substitutions- Modify Those Recipes!

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Substitute healthy ingredients  into your traditional holiday recipes. There are countless ways to cut the calories but keep the flavor. Below are a few suggestions, don’t be afraid to try some out and modify your recipes. We always say to keep modifying until it “doesn’t make, doesn’t bake, or the family says yuck”. What are other modifications you have tried? Share in the comments section.
Replace the fats.
  • Toss the sour cream and use non-fat plain Greek yogurt as the base for your dips. Add fresh herbs and a squeeze of citrus juice to provide powerful flavor. Greek yogurt is also great as a replacement to sour cream on tacos and in chili. Make sure it is plain and not a flavored Greek yogurt!
  • Choose white meat instead of dark meat on the turkey, and avoid the skin.
  • Make gravy with low-sodium turkey broth instead of turkey fat, and bulk it up with mushrooms and other savory vegetables.
  • Replace half the oil in your cake recipes with applesauce, or substituent the butter in your cookie recipes with avocado. These substitutions cut the calories, pack in the nutrients, and preserve the original texture of your baked treats.
  • Roast your vegetables in olive oil and a dash of salt instead of baking them with sodium-laden cream of mushroom soup and fried onion rings (looking at you, green bean casserole).
  • Replace half the mayonnaise in salads with plain Greek yogurt or opt for olive oil instead (still makes great cole slaw). Replace the mayonnaise on sandwiches with mashed avocado, hummus, mustard, or pesto.
  • Top your salads with oil and vinegar-based dressings instead of creamy dressings. Make your own dressing with olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar. Try balsamic, apple cider, red wine, or sherry vinegar for variety. Leave in a jar in the fridge to use all week.
Reduce the sugar.
  • Mash cauliflower in place of or in combination with potatoes. Cauliflower has far fewer calories and tastes almost exactly the same.
  • Canned pie fillings and cranberry sauces are full of added sugars and preservatives. Use fresh or frozen fruit for your pies, desserts, and sauces instead.
  • Replace half the white flour in your biscuit, bread, and pie crust recipes with whole-wheat flour. Better yet, follow a recipe that uses 100% whole wheat flour.
  • Roast pecans and walnuts with cinnamon, nutmeg, and just a dash of sugar. A small handful has fewer calories than a slice of pecan pie, but satisfies the same sweet craving.


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16 thoughts on “Healthy Holiday Substitutions- Modify Those Recipes!

  1. Some of these ideas are really nice. However, some of them aren’t really healthier substitutes if you’re allergic to the substitute and not allergic to the original. I would prefer seeing several substitution ideas and leaving it up to the individual to determine whether it’s really healthy. Doesn’t matter if something is packed with nutrients if it leaves you feeling sick after you eat it.

    1. Hi LM, yes, these are optional substitution ideas for the general public and those with allergies or restrictions should adapt or avoid as needed. Thank you!

  2. In many traditional dessert recipes there is more sugar than is really needed. I often cut my sugar in half and add nothing else, or add a little bit of honey or guava for a natural sweetener. Especially if you use fresh or frozen fruit that are sweet naturally.

    1. We agree Angela, you can often just the sugar in a recipe and not even notice. Especially if it’s a recipe made often, you can slowly start to add less and less sugar until you can’t tell a difference/get used to the lower sugar option. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I would be very interested in non-dairy modifications as I have lactose issue and am having a difficult time figuring out how to modify to get a great end result.. so for the past few years I simply don’t get to enjoy things that have lactose in them, or do and regret it later.

    1. Hi Krista, great comment. There are many dairy alternatives on the market that could work for some substitutions, such as soy milk instead of milk, and now there are also vegan cheeses, sour cream, etc. But I would check the label first, as often times there are other added ingredients. I have found soy and almond milk to still work well in baking products and pumpkin puree or avocado to replace butter in some instances but it is dependent on the recipe. I have not tried any of these desserts, but it looks like Jamie Oliver has a page of dairy-free dessert ideas:

  4. For many baked items, I reduce the sugar by 1/3 and replace 1/3 more with sucralose – no one can tell the difference. (I am careful about who I serve it to, since some people can’t tolerate sucralose.)

    Using chicken broth instead of water for cooking vegetables or making stuffing imparts enough flavor that butter usually isn’t needed.

    1. Artificial sweeteners have affects on you that are worse than what plain sugar does. The only one not proven to have horrible effects on your body is Stevia, at this point, since it’s the most naturally sourced sugar alternative, AND is calorie free (though some don’t like the taste – as with any artificial sweetener).

  5. My husband and I started sharing a dessert. If I make a dessert at home, we have one piece and then it goes away to school or church for others to eat.

  6. it would be nice if you replaced some of your dairy products with non dairy products for the recipes. I use Tofutti “better than cream cheese” in recipe that call for cream cheese same with the sour cream. Some people don’t know that they cook the same. In baking a cake I never use half oil and half applesauce I use just applesauce it also makes the cakes taste much better.

    1. tofutti contains soy and it is processed soy, which studies have now shown is not that healthy, especially if you have thyroid issues, plus to make it taste better it adds sugar. The fat difference is only 1 gram and there are more additives in the Tofutti than neufchatel cream cheese.

    2. Thank you for your comments, Cheryl and Debra! I would talk to your doctor or Registered Dietitian regarding non-dairy alternatives. Thanks for sharing!

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