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12/17/2021
Seasonal

Your Guide to Cozy Holiday Meals

Written by
Team Nutrisense
Reviewed by
Natalie Carroll
MS, RDN, CDN, CLC
a person holding a plate of roasted veggies

It's the end of another year—we can't believe it either! With all the festivities in full swing, we're sure you're already digging into a variety of holiday meals. After all, it’s pretty easy to give in to temptation when facing those beautiful holiday spreads. Feasting on the rich, scrumptious holiday foods is tradition, and let's be honest… we deserve a little treat after this last year. But, while a treat may be in order this season, it's essential to prioritize your health and moderate what you indulge in.

When celebrating with family and friends, food is important, and your health and wellbeing even more so. To help you out, we've compiled a list of tips and tricks along with our favorite recipes so you can balance indulgence, tradition, and good health this year.  

Helpful Healthy Tips for The Holidays

The next few weeks are likely to be a whirlwind, so it can be challenging to stay healthy. But whether you're attending a holiday party or hosting your own, it's not impossible! Here are some helpful tips: 

If You're Going to Be a Guest This Year

people greeting each other at Christmas Eve
  1. Make sure to stick to your usual eating schedule. Eat breakfast as you usually would, or wait until later to eat if that is your regular routine. Don't skip meals to "leave room" for holiday treats. Switching things up last minute will only encourage sugar cravings and overeating later in the day.
  2. Bring a healthy dish to add to your host's table. Try to create something in the holiday spirit that contains nutrients and fiber. Your host will appreciate the effort you put into the meal, and you will have something that you can add to your plate that you know will fit your dietary needs.
  3. Go easy on the alcohol. Some alcohol, especially mixed cocktails and beer, can be high in sugar and carbohydrates.
  4. Focus on socializing and having conversations away from the table. After all, the holidays are all about the people you're with. By keeping conversations away from the spread, you will be able to prioritize catching up with your loved ones. 
  5. Ask someone you would like to catch up with if they would like to go for a walk before or after eating. This will help stimulate your metabolism and prevent blood sugar spikes after a rich meal. 
  6. Prioritize the order in which you eat your food. By consuming protein, healthy fats, and fiber before eating carbohydrates, you will promote a healthier, more stable blood sugar response. 

If You're Going to Be a Host This Year

two people cooking
  1. Again, make sure you stick to a regular eating schedule. With the stress of hosting a big event like a holiday dinner, it can be easy to stress-snack on unhealthy foods or forget to eat. Set your alarm for mealtimes so you don't overindulge because you missed a meal. 
  2. Take advantage of the fact that you're the host and plan some healthy food options for your party. This doesn't mean getting rid of holiday traditions—just put out some dishes that align with your health goals alongside traditional foods. Scroll down for some of our holiday favorites if you're stumped for ideas. 
  3. Make substitutions to your traditional recipes to reduce calories, carbohydrates, sugar, and excess fat.
  4. Schedule a short walk for your guests before or after your meal. If you have the space in your yard, plan some yard activities and party games to get everyone up and moving. 
  5. Keep a pitcher of water next to your appetizers, on tables where your guests might hang out, and on the dinner table. Staying hydrated can reduce your cravings and your temptation to overeat.
  6. Avoid shopping for holiday treats or planning the menu for your holiday meal when you're hungry. If you're hungry you'll be more likely to add unhealthy options to your cart and eventually the table, that you may not have otherwise.

Substitutions For Some Commonly Used Holiday Ingredients

a bowl of fruits and a bread with seeds

Are you wondering whether there's a way to make your holiday meals just slightly healthier without sacrificing too much on the taste? Try some of our favorite hacks:  

  1. Refined Fats: If your recipe calls for shortening, refined vegetable and seed oils, try switching to grass fed butter, extra virgin olive oil, and avocado oil. Not sure which would be best in what recipe, try them beforehand as they all have a slightly distinct flavor profile.
  2. Sugar: If your recipe calls for sugar, try halving the amount and adding stevia, allulose, or monk fruit for the other half. Coconut sugar is also a good substitute just keep in mind that it may still raise your glucose levels.
  3. Sour Cream: If your dish calls for a lot of sour cream, try substituting it with plain full fat Greek yogurt.
  4. Cocktail Mixers: Some types of alcohol are already significantly sugar-rich and carb-heavy, but once you mix in fruit juice or sodas, the sugar content soars. Try mixing your drinks with soda water and a little bit of citrus instead. 
  5. Mashed Potatoes: Depending on your family and how traditional they want to stay with this dish, you could try a cauliflower mash or mashed sweet potatoes. We think they both taste delicious! 
  6. Vegetable Casseroles: If this isn't the star of your meal, you could try substituting a casserole with a vegetable dish like sautéed Brussels sprouts or grilled zucchini. 
  7. Meat & Cheese Platters: Meat and cheese platters are delightful—and you don't have to omit them! Simply add fresh fruit and vegetable crudités to the spread and use seed or nut based crackers instead of wheat.
  8. Gravy: Gravy is a dish that will likely stay on your table if your whole family isn't willing to substitute it. But not everyone is as attached to gravy! Consider adding an alternative like pesto or seasoned yogurt to the table if you're not too attached to the traditional sauce.

Our Favorite Holiday Recipes

a person reading a recipe

Scouring the web for some last-minute dishes to make next week? We've got a few go-to favorites that we're adding to our tables over the holidays. Try them as is, or put your own unique spin on them for a personalized holiday meal this season:

Brit+Co's Romanesco Holiday Trees With Parmesan Snow

a plate of Brit+Co's Romanesco Holiday Trees With Parmesan Snow

If sides are your favorite part of the holiday meal, you will love this recipe from Brit+Co. Add these ingredients to your list, and visit their blog for directions to the delicious, festive side dish: 

You will need: 

  • 1 large head of romanesco
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • A pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • A small lump of Parmesan cheese to shred when serving

We love that this dish is aesthetically pleasing while adding a vegetable and protein to your table. Follow the directions here

Cookie & Kate's Savory Mashed Sweet Potatoes

a pot of Cookie & Kate's Savory Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Can't stand the idea of a cauliflower mash on your holiday table? Don't worry, there are other alternatives! This recipe from Cookie & Kate is the perfect substitution for creamed potatoes or mashed potatoes this year.

You will need: 

  • 4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 7 small-to-medium), peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • ⅓ cup finely sliced green onion, mostly green parts (from 1 bunch)
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 small-to-medium garlic clove, pressed or minced
  • ¼ cup sour cream* [We recommend using our dietitian-approved tip to substitute Greek Yogurt for Sour Cream here]
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cubed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

You may be used to adding sugar and marshmallows to your sweet potatoes, but this recipe is truly delicious! Follow the directions here

The Cooked Carrot's Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Pesto

a pot of The Cooked Carrot's Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Pesto

We love this simple, colorful, and healthy dish from The Cooked Carrot. It may seem like more of an autumn recipe, but we're carrying it into the holidays; that's how much we love it! It's a healthy side, and it's also a pretty addition to your table! 

You will need:

Carrots

  • 2 bunches of whole rainbow carrots with tops
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Pesto

  • 2 ½ cups carrot top greens
  • 1 cup cilantro
  • ½ cup pepitas
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 lime juiced + zested
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • Salt + pepper to taste

You could try store-bought pesto if you're in a hurry, but this recipe makes a delicious one. Besides, it's fun to try new recipes if you have the time. Follow the directions here

Every Last Bite's Cauliflower Stuffing

a baking tray of Every Last Bite's Cauliflower Stuffing

Don't turn your nose up at this one from Every Last Bite because it has cauliflower in the title—it really is delicious. You can make it vegetarian if you're not a meat-eater, or add a different type of meat depending on your preferences. 

You will need:

  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 onions finely diced
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 3/4 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 5 cups cauliflower florets
  • 1 1/2 cups ground pork
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh sage
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

This is one of our favorites. Stuffing is usually one of the highest calorie and carbohydrate content dishes. This version is not only healthier, but it's also delicious. Follow the directions on their site.

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