Healthy Holiday Swaps Your Guests Won’t Even Notice

Holly Riddle

By Holly Riddle

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If you frequently host guests over the holidays, whether for the main meal or smaller events through the season and if those guests don’t share your same love for healthful cooking and eating, you might feel pressured to serve up the standard holiday fare. Gigantic servings of meat covered in sugar-loaded glazes. Pies made with mostly sugar and corn syrup. Casseroles containing more processed and canned foods (does anyone really know what’s in a “cream of” soup?) than anything else. Every vegetable covered in butter, cheese, breadcrumbs, or all of the above. The list goes on.

Happy African American mature woman brining stuffed turkey at dining table during family Thanksgiving dinner.
Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock

Whether you’re just trying to eat healthily or you’re following a specific diet, the holidays can be tricky. However, if you have the pleasure of hosting this season, you can make a few simple, holiday swaps that your guests won’t even notice. You can serve the holiday classics, while also not overdoing it on the sugar, carbs, dairy, and other things that you know will make you feel poorly for days after you indulge. Here’s how.

1. Swap The Sugary Ham Glaze.

If roasted (not deep-fried) and enjoyed in moderation, your Thanksgiving turkey likely won’t ruin your seasonal health goals. However, that Yuletide ham might be another story.

Many whole, baked, and glazed hams are packed with sodium and sugar. So, if you’re going to eat one, you’re going to need to do a little extra work beyond just unwrapping the ham, popping it in the oven, and then using the packet of glaze that came with it.

Instead, look for a lower-sodium ham in the grocery store and then make your own, homemade glaze that’s not reliant on large quantities of processed sugar. Opt for a glaze made with maple syrup or honey, if you want a sweetener. Otherwise, look for glazes that are primarily made with mustard, vinegar, or even rum or brandy.

(However, if your family will let it slide, you could reconsider the ham altogether and make another turkey for Christmas instead.)

2. Swap Your Standard Potatoes.

Yes, mashed potatoes have their place on the holiday buffet, but there’s no reason to go all in on the potatoes. You can reap some extra health benefits by swapping a portion of those carb-y potatoes for other mashed vegetables, all combined in one bowl. Think rutabagas, cauliflower, or, if you don’t mind the orange hue, sweet potatoes.

(And when it comes to mashing your potatoes, leave the skin on for more nutrients.)

3. Swap The Canned Cranberries.

While you won’t be able to get that ribbed, canned look when you make your own. Homemade cranberry sauce isn’t only more delicious than the canned stuff, but it also comes with less sugar. You can control how much is added to your recipe and, even better, use maple syrup instead of white sugar, along with orange zest, to achieve a perfectly festive flavor.

4. Swap The Apple Pie.  

If you’re watching your sugar intake or want to avoid gluten, you might not be looking forward to serving an apple pie this season. Consider losing both the added sugar and the gluten, when you choose to throw out the pastry and, instead, focus on the fruit. You can bake apples for a tempting dessert option that, with some seasonal spices and toppings, is cheerful and pretty, without requiring any processed sugar. Dates, honey, maple syrup, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon — we have plenty of ideas for how to make this dessert.