Making Holiday Recipes Healthier

Johanna Hicks

By Johanna Hicks, Texas AgriLife Extension Family & Community Health Agent, Hopkins County

Holiday meals can be made healthier without any significant difference in taste by using some basic recipe substitutions or alterations. According to my colleague, Dr. Jenna Anding, specialist in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at Texas A&M University, sugar, fat and sodium content of many holiday recipes can be easily reduced without a noticeable difference in taste.

If a recipe calls for a half-cup of oil, shortening or other fat, try one-third cup instead. If it calls for one cup of sugar, try using three-fourths or two-thirds of a cup. Another suggestion is to use reduced-fat or non-fat cheese, milk, cream cheese, cottage, cheese, yogurt or mayonnaise instead of higher-fat counterparts. For mashed potatoes, try using defatted broth instead of butter to reduce both fat and calories while still adding flavor. 

Modifying a complicated recipe may not always produce the desired texture, so Anding suggests testing the recipe on friend or family before going “all in” on a holiday meal. Many holiday foods are already nutritious as long as they are not “embellished’ with too much sugar or fat.  he sweet potato, for example, contains fiber a well as vitamins A and C.  A medium-sized sweet potato contains about 100 calories, but many people add brown sugar, butter and other ingredients which really ups the calorie count. A baked sweet potato with a touch of brown sugar and cinnamon is far healthier than one topped with butter, sugar, and marshmallows.

Fresh cranberries are another healthy option for the holiday recipes. Unlike canned cranberries or cranberry sauce, which often contain added sugar, fresh cranberries are naturally healthful. They contain phytonutrients and have anti-inflammatory properties that can promote health and may reduce the risk of disease. Adding fresh cranberries to salads and baked items such as muffins, cookies, and pies is also a good way to sneak in some extra nutrition and flavor.

 For holiday vegetable dishes, the healthiest method of cooking is either steaming or roasting vegetables using a small amount of oil or cooking spray. Add herbs and spices can enhance flavor for many side dishes without adding fat or calories.  You can expect to take in some extra calories during the holidays, but try to plan accordingly so you can keep your calories intake in check. Anding reminds everyone to schedule in some type of physical activity to help burn all those extra calories. Taking a walk is a great way to soak up some sunshine and burn a few calories. 

If you haven’t already signed up for AgriLife Extension’s Dinner Tonight website, take note. Dinner Tonight aims to promote family mealtime by providing quick, easy, healthful and cost-effective recipes. In addition to recipes, the program provides free weekly video demonstrations of cooking tips and techniques along with information on nutrition, menu planning and healthy living.  Go to to sign up for this free resource.  While you’re on the site, be sure to check out recipes such as Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes, Cranberry Crunch Salad, Broccoli Salad, and Cornbread Fiesta Muffins.

Master Wellness Volunteer Training Reminder

We are currently taking registrations for the Master Wellness Volunteer program.  Participants will be trained in the areas of heath, food safety, childhood nutrition, and more.  The training will consist of both face-to-face and on-line sessions.  This is a state-wide cohort, and Hopkins County is proud to be part of the effort.  There are currently 10 active Master Wellness Volunteers in Hopkins County, and we would love to have interested individuals join the force!  Contact my office at 903-885-3443 for more information.

Closing Thought

“If you work on your goals, you goals will work for you.  If you work on your plan, your plans will work for you  Whatever good things we build end up building us.” -Jim Rohn

Johanna Hicks may be contacted at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office in Hopkins County by mail at P.O. Box 518, 1200-B West Houston St., Sulphur Springs, TX 75483; by phone at 903-885-3443 or by email at [email protected].

Author: KSST Contributor

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