The holiday season is upon us, and—among other things—that means a feast (or three) is in order. While there’s nothing wrong with partaking in a few indulgences, gorging ourselves on overly rich and sweet foods can cause physical pain and have a negative impact on our health. In order to help you avoid some of these less-than-pleasant effects, we’ve gathered a list of healthier holiday dishes that will keep you feeling good.
For your main dish, the best strategy might be to stick with a traditional roasted turkey. Turkey is a naturally healthy, lean protein, but certain cooking methods can detract from this. Deep-frying adds a small amount of unnecessary fat, and smoked meats have been shown to increase your risk of developing cancer. Also consider skipping ham to cut red meat from the menu.
Easy Herb-Roasted Turkey: This featured recipe has the added benefit of a vegetable stuffing that will add fiber and vitamins to your holiday feast. Of course, you can go many directions with a roasted turkey, so work with whatever flavors you find most appealing.
Tofu “Turkey” With Stuffing: If you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or simply looking to forgo meat this holiday season, here’s a tofu “turkey” recipe we think you’ll enjoy. After all, the health benefits of a vegetarian diet have been well-documented. To kick up the healthfulness another notch, you can try using a whole-grain stuffing mix or omit the stuffing altogether.
Side Dishes and Sauces
Many of our conceptions of “traditional” holiday side dishes include highly processed foods that are too high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and sodium. This means that, in some cases, just making a dish from scratch will automatically give it a health boost. Here, we’ve chosen to emphasize recipes that feature whole, nutrient-dense ingredients while maintaining the comforting flavor we crave this time of year.
Wild Mushroom and Barley Stuffing: For stuffing (or dressing), we’ve gone with a recipe that uses fiber-and-protein-rich barley rather than bread or cornbread for its starch. It also includes a slew of other healthful ingredients, including plenty of seasonal vegetables, wild mushrooms, fresh herbs, pecans, and dried cherries.
Cranberry-Pomegranate Sauce: For cranberry sauce, it’s hard to beat this seriously simple recipe from The Pioneer Woman. Using only three ingredients (including the antioxidant powerhouse that is pomegranate juice), it’s almost as easy as opening up a can and slicing that weird cylindrical jelly blob into discs.
Healthy Green Bean Casserole: Green bean casserole has a lot of potential to be a healthy dish, but the standard preparation holds it back. Condensed cream of mushroom soup, canned green beans, and packaged fried onions will leave you with a concoction loaded with salt and lacking in vitamins. This recipe incorporates low-sodium chicken broth, fresh green beans and mushrooms, and a panko parmesan topping for a healthy spin on a holiday classic.
Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole: Let’s face it: There are some glaring health concerns with the average marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole. Namely, the marshmallows. The butter and brown sugar don’t help its case much, either. For a truly healthy version, try this recipe from Joy Food Sunshine. It uses applesauce as its sweetener and crushed pecans for a topping.
Mashed Turnips and Sage: If you’re looking for a lighter dish than mashed potatoes, mashed turnips might be just what you need. Compared to potatoes, turnips have a similar fiber content but only about a third of the calories and carbs. If turnips aren’t your thing, you might try mashed cauliflower or a mixture of cauliflower and potatoes.
Low-Fat Turkey Gravy: No holiday feast is complete without gravy, but it can add a lot of unhealthy saturated fat to the meal. This clever recipe from the Mayo Clinic makes use of all the flavor from the turkey drippings while removing most of the fat.
Easy Mushroom Gravy: If you’re opting out of the turkey this holiday season, try this vegan mushroom gravy to complete your meal. It is naturally low-fat, and the mushrooms add even more nutritional value to the spread. For a holiday-sized feast, you might need to double, or even triple, this recipe.
It’s difficult to make any dessert completely healthy if you still want it to resemble a dessert, but there are still practical strategies for maintaining balance at the sweets table. Luckily, holiday desserts include plenty of fruit- and nut-filled pies, which are already a healthy step up from cakes, cookies, and other pastries. Here, we’ll take a look at how we can make those classic pies even healthier.
Vegan Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie: Dessert is one area where accommodating your vegan friends and family is actually pretty simple. Not only does this recipe help people on specific diets feel included and loved, but everyone else will be eating something healthier as well. This pie has about 3 grams less of saturated fat and a whopping 15 grams less sugar than a traditional pumpkin pie. If you don’t have a guest with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you might want to try the whole-grain crust featured at the bottom of this list.
Mini Vegan Pecan Pies: These mini vegan pecan pies are super cute and slightly healthier than their traditional counterpart. The use of maple syrup and coconut sugar instead of light corn syrup (glucose) or brown sugar results in a lower glycemic index than a standard pecan pie.
Slow Cooker Apple Pie Filling: This pie filling keeps the apple peels (which are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants) intact and calls for only 3 tablespoons of maple syrup for just enough sweetness. You can top this with a healthy crumble or fill a whole-grain pie crust for a holiday-worthy dessert.
Whole-Wheat Pie Crust: This whole-wheat pie crust is good for nearly any pie you are looking to make. Even if you go with a full-sugar or full-fat filling, the fiber from the whole grains can help your body regulate its blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
You don’t have to walk away from a holiday feast feeling sick or regretful. Give some of these recipes a shot. You might even find that making lighter versions of your favorites leaves you with extra room to savor more of these comforting classics.