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Healthy Swaps and Ingredient Substitutions for the Holidays

November 10, 2020

by Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN for the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission

The holidays bring a slew of homemade family recipes and tasty foods to the table, ranging from heavy dips and sauces to delicious generational casserole recipes. While we want to enjoy the taste, flavor and labor that goes into these recipes, many of us also want to stick to healthy eating goals. 

According to Consumer Reports, Americans eat between 3,000 and 4,000 calories at their Thanksgiving celebrations, and possibly more than that on Christmas day. Of course, we want the holidays to be a joyous time with family, friends and loved ones, and we don’t want consumers to be overly worried about counting calories. However, for those looking to cut down on calories, fat or sugar during the holidays, we have some healthy swaps to “lighten” up family favorite recipes that won’t compromise the taste or flavor of a recipe. 

To cut down on the fat and calorie content in a recipe, here are some considerations and options: 

To decrease the sugar content during the holidays, try to: 

  • Use half or three-quarters the amount of sugar that the recipe calls for
  • Substitute some of the sugar in recipes with no-calorie sweeteners or natural sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit
  • Use plain yogurts rather than flavored when baking or snacking 
  • Use more fresh fruit and less sugar in pie recipes (i.e. fresh mashed sweetpotatoes and fresh cranberries rather than sweetened canned options)
  • Skip or reduce certain sauces and marinades, like ketchup, barbecue sauce and ranch dressing

And remember, sweetpotatoes are a natural accompaniment to many holiday dishes and can certainly help increase the nutritional value of a dish, as well. For example, including fresh baked or mashed sweetpotatoes in place of candied yams offers more fiber, vitamins and antioxidants for fewer overall calories. A half-cup serving of candied yams clocks in at over 200 calories, while a serving of baked sweetpotatoes offers just 100 calories and substantially less sugar. 

Our website offers an abundance of healthy holiday-friendly sweetpotato recipes, like No-Bake Sweetpotato Pie Bites or Sweetpotato Rounds with Ricotta and Walnuts, that can help brighten up your holiday spread while providing extra nutrition, too. 

Lastly, making healthy choices throughout the day around your Thanksgiving and Christmas meals can make an overall difference. For example, keeping fresh fruits and vegetables out and available for snacking can help support healthy choices, since we usually eat what is visible to us. Fruits and vegetables also provide fiber, which can help stabilize blood sugar and fill us up so we aren’t mindlessly snacking throughout the day.

We hope you find these tips helpful and have a happy and healthy holiday season!

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