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Recipe & Meal Ideas

How to Make Your Favorite Holiday Recipes Healthier

The holidays are a time to be with family, look back on the past year, and indulge in your favorite holiday recipes. Unfortunately, most of your favorite festive meals are likely high in fat and calories, so between filling up on big dinners, followed by pie and cookies, your family’s healthy eating plans are quickly forgotten.

There are many ways to mitigate the health challenges that you face this season, starting by eating mindfully. To do so, the American Heart Association recommends:

  • Control your portions
  • Eat only when you’re hungry
  • Plan healthy snacks ahead of time
  • Slow down
  • Keep a food diary

Ultimately, however, much of the challenge comes down to the ingredients in your favorite holiday recipes and the lack of healthy options. Make a few small tweaks this year to enjoy your favorite festive eats and keep your family healthy.

Keep Vegetables at the Center

Some of the most popular holiday meals are centered around meat, sugar and high-fat ingredients. To make your favorite holiday recipes healthier, keep vegetables at the center of each dish with seasonal produce that’s both tasty and healthier for you. Seasonal Food Guide explains:

“Unlike out of season produce which is harvested early in order to be shipped and distributed to your local retail store, crops picked at their peak of ripeness are also better tasting and full of flavor. What’s more, studies have shown that fruits and vegetables contain more nutrients when allowed to ripen naturally on their parent plant.”

This year, feature these seasonal gems in your favorite holiday recipes. For example, use a blend of sweet potato and regular potato for your mashed potatoes, and opt for extra virgin olive oil as a fat source, rather than butter. Better yet, try this Instant Pot Easy Sweet Potato Mash recipe.

Other seasonal veggies worth highlighting in soups, salads, sides and entrees include:

  • Sweet potato
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Acorn squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Shallots
  • Turnips

Check these full lists of fall seasonal foods and winter seasonal foods to add some new ingredients to your grocery list.

Enjoy a Healthy Breakfast

As the day gets more and more hectic, it’s hard to guarantee your kids will get a nutritious meal. To mitigate the nutrient loss, start the day with a healthy breakfast. A well-balanced breakfast includes a mix of protein and carbohydrates and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital explains why:

“Carbohydrates, like whole grains and fruit, power the body and the brain. Protein will help kids maintain the energy level and fullness they need to get them through the morning.” A healthy breakfast is especially helpful during this busy time of year, ensuring your child has the fuel to make it through a long day.

Luckily, there are dozens of healthy food options for your child, so check out a few simple recipes below:

If your child prefers a simple breakfast like toast, add more nutritional value with these 25 healthy toppings ideas.

Rely on Healthy Substitutes

Your favorite holiday recipes have likely not changed in the last few decades, meaning they rely on high-fat, high-calorie ingredients. Luckily, there are many ways to substitute the unhealthy ingredients for better options without losing any of the taste or texture. Here are a few to try, as recommened by Greatist:

  • Swap 1 cup sugar for 1 cup applesauce
  • Swap 1 cup butter for 1 cup pureed avocado
  • Swap 1 cup 1 cup butter or oil for 1 cup mashed banana

Print The Only List of Baking Substitutions You'll Ever Need to keep in the kitchen. When you’re in a pinch, this list will be helpful for finding alternatives for ingredients lemon juice, eggs or cocoa powder, but don’t have time to get to the store.

Try Alternative Flours

Gluten sensitivity is becoming more and more popular among the American population. While only 1 percent of the American population has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, according to 2017 research, up to 6 percent of the population is considered to have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Not to mention, many health-conscious individuals are avoiding white flour because it’s been found to cause similar issues as refined sugar, according to One Green Planet, including:

  • Increased risk of blood pressure, poor heart health and higher cholesterol.
  • Increased risk of cancer and inflammatory diseases
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Fatigue and hypoglycemia

To keep your family eating healthy and feeling their best, consider how you can use alternative flours to recreate your favorite holiday recipes. If you’re not sure where to started, check out Food 52’s list of beginner alternative flour recipes. You’ll find all the holiday favorites including pound cake, chocolate fudge cake, biscuits and even homemade graham crackers—you can use the latter as a base for your favorite pie.

Try New Foods as a Family

Get away from the usual unhealthy ingredients in your favorite holiday recipes by trying new foods as a family. Not only does this show your child that it’s fun to try new foods, but you can role model healthy eating and attitudes about trying new foods, which is critical to their long-term health, according to the USDA.

To try new foods, start with your lists of in-season produce (fall seasonal foods and winter seasonal foods). Consider the various swaps you can make while maintaining the flavor profile your family loves so much.

Another option is to allow your child to choose foods in the grocery store. Let them explore their curiosity by picking new ingredients and then cooking the meal with you. This empowers them to try new foods while exposing them to an array of flavors and nutrients. You may even find new favorite holiday recipes that become a special tradition for your family.

Reinvent Your Favorite Holiday Recipes

Keep your family’s health in check this season by making your favorite holiday recipes healthier. With a substitution here or extra veggies there, your child will be sure to get plenty of nutrients while mitigating the challenge of added calories. Don’t forget to focus on breakfast on your busiest days, ensuring that everyone gets a healthy base before heading off for another long, busy day with family and friends.

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