Healthy holiday recipe swaps

Dec. 11, 2018

A recipe is on a tablet as a person chops vegetables.


Don’t be afraid to load your plate up for the holidays – if you’re choosing the healthy options, that is.

With a range of plant-based, whole-grain recipes that are festive and are not difficult to make, eating healthfully during the holidays may be easier than you think.

“Healthy holiday foods can have lots of great flavors and textures,” said Pam Wooster, a registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “Many recipes use nuts and seeds, dried and fresh fruit, traditional spices like thyme, nutmeg and pumpkin spice, and sautéed garlic, onion and celery.”

This year, leave those cans of cream of onion soup at the store and try Wooster’s recommendations for healthy holiday recipe swaps.

Cranberry Sauce

Instead of choosing a sugar-sweetened sauce, blend cooked, fresh cranberries with oranges, apples, pears, dates and a little ginger. Add honey or maple syrup to taste, and chopped hazelnuts or walnuts if desired.


Ditch the white bread and make a stuffing with farro or wild rice. “That way, you’ve incorporated a whole grain that’s not processed,” Wooster said. Up the flavor with celery, onion and garlic and try additions such as miso and mushrooms, or cranberries and walnuts.

Sweet potatoes

Adding marshmallows to a sweet potato casserole isn’t mandatory and adds a lot of extra sugar and calories. Instead, try a topping of nuts, seeds and dried fruit, or even a baked meringue.

“Sweet potatoes by themselves can be sweet enough,” Wooster said. “If you want, add a bit of honey or maple syrup instead of a cup of added sugar. Or try a drizzle of coconut oil, ginger, pumpkin pie spice and maple syrup.”

Mashed potatoes

Blend in cooked cauliflower to get a dose of low-carb veggies, and add yogurt instead of sour cream. “It’s actually a really nice, rich flavor,” Wooster said.


“We want to make sure we’ve got a lot of non-starchy vegetables showing up to the party, too,” Wooster said. Pair a salad of winter greens with a citrus-Dijon mustard vinaigrette. Roast Brussels sprouts or rainbow carrots for a classy and easy addition.

And instead of a traditional green bean casserole, go almondine style by steaming your green beans and serving them with a light sauce of butter, garlic, almonds and lemon.

Pumpkin pie

Sweeten your version with dates instead of sugar, and drop the crust to save on calories and fat, while still enjoying that pumpkin flavor.


Forget the cream cheese. Choose your favorite hummus, or blend up combinations such as peas and avocado, or roasted eggplant and beans.


With options such as lentil wellington, cranberry-glazed lentil loaf and stuffed butternut squash, you may find yourself going vegetarian instead of reaching for the classic turkey or roast.


Watch your alcohol consumption, as drinks are an easy way to add calories. “Try sparkling water flavored with mint or ginger or mashed fruits,” Wooster said. “Garnish with grapefruit, a few cranberries in the bottom of the glass, or a mint leaf.”

The best part: these healthy versions leave you feeling energized and don’t pack on the pounds.

“Whole-food, plant-based recipes support health, and are full of antioxidants and healthy fats,” Wooster said. “You’ll feel good choosing foods that support wellness, rather than foods that tend to make you feel tired and ready to hit the couch.”

For healthy holiday recipes, Wooster recommends websites including,, and


This article first published in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Nov. 26, 2018.

About the author

Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office writing and analyzing data. She blogs about writing and science at