It’s such a wonderful time of the year! But the frenzy that often surrounds the holiday season can wreak havoc on your body, making it harder to reach your goals and maintain the healthy lifestyle that you have been working so hard on all year. While reports of 5 to 10 pounds of weight gain are exaggerated, many studies have found that people, even those being extra cautious, can still gain a pound or two around the holidays and have trouble getting it off later.1,2
Does that mean you can’t enjoy a little treat during this season? Of course not! Here are some delicious recipe ideas for your Christmas dinner that are still packed full of nutrients and will keep you on track (without feeling like you're missing out on the holiday cheer).
How to Keep a Balanced Nutrition During the Holidays
Sticking with a healthy diet during the holiday season may seem like an impossible task, but with a few little tricks and some well-planned ingredient swaps, it becomes less overwhelming and pretty easy. Here are some simple ingredient swaps you can make that will still provide a delicious and special Christmas dinner or any meal throughout the year.
Swap Mashed Cauliflower for Potatoes. Mashed cauliflower blends well into mashed potatoes so you can have a bigger serving without worry about expanding your waistline. Mixing the two helps reduce the carbohydrate content but still provides a delicious potato flavor.
Swap Plant-based Milk for Regular Milk. This works well if you are following a plant-forward or plant-based diet. There are a variety of milk options to choose from including soy-based or nut-based types of milk that are a delicious and healthy substitute for regular milk.
Replace eggs or butter with pureed fruit or vegetables in baked goods. Applesauce, bananas, pumpkin, avocado, and even beets can be swapped in baked goods in place of butter. Use ½ cup of fruit to replace 1 cup of butter. In some recipes, you may also be able to reduce the sugar by ¼ because of the sweetness the fruit provides.
Use chickpea or lentil pasta in place of regular pasta. Love pasta but not all the carbs (or gluten)? An easy way to reduce spikey carbs found in traditional pasta is to use chickpea or lentil pasta instead. Plus, you’ll get the benefit of extra fiber and protein with this swap. You’ll find a variety of shaps in most grocery stores.
Swap brown or wild rice blend for white rice. White rice has most of the nutrients and fiber stripped away during processing. Brown contains the germ, endosperm, and bran and retains most of its nutrients, while white rice is stripped of most of its fiber and the nutrients are added back after processing. In a recent small study, substituting brown rice for white rice resulted in improved Hemoglobin A1C levels (HgbA1C), a measure of blood glucose over time, as well as total and LDL cholesterol levels in people with a high BMI.
Use tofu in place of heavy cream or eggs. Silken tofu can be blenderized with water or soy milk to make a “cream.” This works well in creamy soups, cream sauces, and desserts like mousse or pudding where the cream is an integral part of the recipe. Siken tofu can also replace eggs. Just use ¼ cup of pureed silken tofu in place of 1 egg.
Healthy and Tasty Christmas Dinner Recipes
If you’ve been sticking with your diet and exercise plan throughout the holiday season, you may feel like you deserve a break! A treat here and there is absolutely fine (in fact, we encourage it - moderation is key), but there are ways to enjoy a special, healthy Christmas dinner. Let’s dive into 16-holiday recipes that are festive, delicious, and perfect for your holiday celebration.
Main Course Christmas Recipes
Roast Turkey with Gravy
Roasted turkey with gravy is more than just a Thanksgiving staple. Many enjoy it again for Christmas dinner, surrounded by hearty vegetables, potatoes, and lots of gravy! Turkey (or chicken for a smaller gathering) is lean meat and an excellent protein choice. But, some of the add-ons may cause you to pause.
Gravy adds some much-needed moisture to turkey slices and is a classic with potatoes, but it is often loaded with fat and calories. Instead of using butter and the drippings from the turkey, make your gravy using chicken or vegetable broth. If it needs a little more flavor, add a tablespoon or two of the drippings after you’ve skimmed off the fat.
Wild rice stuffing
Stuffing is delicious, but can come at a high-calorie price without may health benefits.. Try a rice-based stuffing instead. You can saute celery and onions, add a little apple for sweetness, and the same spices you would use in your regular stuffing mix. Cook up some brown and wild rice and mix it all for a delicious wild rice stuffing. The rice base adds complex carbs, a little protein and fiber, all of which can help delay a blood sugar spike.
Mashed Potatoes and Cauliflower
The ultimate comfort food - mashed potatoes! But can you still enjoy them while watching your blood sugar? You sure can! An easy way to add some extra nutrition to your mashed potatoes and lighten them up by adding a cauliflower puree to your potato mix. You’ll be able to enjoy the potatoes while cutting back on your calorie intake and getting some extra antioxidants from the cauliflower. A win-win!
Pumpkin or Squash Soup
Soup is a delicious way to start a meal and a rich and creamy squash soup is comforting on a chilly Christmas night. Butternut squash or pumpkin is full of beta-carotene and antioxidants. Try using pureed silken tofu to thicken it and give it that rich and creamy texture everyone loves to as a healthy addition to your holiday table. Sprinkle it with some roasted pumpkin seeds to get some extra fiber and a little crunch!
Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Brussels sprouts have been the “in” veggie for a few years now and with good reason. They are a cruciferous vegetable that hails from the same family as kale and broccoli. They are low in calories and fat, but rich in fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C, and folate.
To make roasted Brussels sprouts, cut them in half and trim the ends. Toss them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast on a sheet pan at 425°F for 15 - 20 minutes, until browned and the edges are crispy. Toss them with a little balsamic vinegar and chopped walnuts for some added flavor!
Prefer a nice Italian-style meal for Christmas dinner? Pasta Bolognese is an easy dish to make and using chickpea, llentil pasta, or whole grain pasta will add extra fiber and protein to your meal, helping to minimize blood sugar spikes. A bolognese sauce can be made with ground turkey or chicken, or a blend of ground turkey with lean ground meat to help reduce the fat content.
Hearty Green Salad with Fruit and Nuts
Who doesn’t love a festive side dish that won’t send your blood sugars soaring? A hearty green salad made with baby kale and spinach, topped with sliced apples, goat cheese, pomegranate seeds, and chopped pecans fits the bill nicely. Top with a light vinaigrette dressing. Colorful, festive, and delicious!
Healthy and Low-Sugar Christmas Dessert Recipes
The main meal may be easy to navigate, but desserts are harder to pass up. Whether platters of Christmas cookies or your beloved holiday triffle, it can be hard to turn down the holiday goodies. There is no need to deprive yourself of dessert after Christmas dinner. Here are a few healthy and delicious Christmas dessert recipes to try.
Spiced Carrot Cake
While carrot cake carries a bit of a health halo, it can be loaded with calories and fat. The cream cheese icing alone may add an extra 200 calories per slice! But the good news is that you can make some simple swaps to make this delicious cake a winner even for those watching their fat and sugar intake.
This recipe is a perfect one to use applesauce in to replace part of the oil or butter. Its mild flavor won’t overpower the carrots and it works well with the spices in the cake. The cream cheese icing can be made with vegan cream cheese. It’s so good, you and your guests won’t be able to notice the difference!
Red Velvet Chocolate Cake
Now let’s talk decadent - a Red Velvet Cake. Something like this just can’t be made to be healthy, can it? Well, you’d be surprised! Substituting beets for butter is what sets this recipe apart. Beets not only provide moisture and some sweetness, but they give the cake its beautiful red color minimizing your need for added red food dye! This allows you to cut back on the butter and sugar in the cake recipe. The cocoa powder covers up the beet flavor. For the cream cheese icing, just like the carrot cake, try vegan cream cheese to cut back on the saturated fat in it and just cover it with a light layer of icing instead of piling it on.
Dark Chocolate Cherry Christmas Pudding
Dark chocolate with cherries - yes, please! This classic combination is easy to lighten up without losing the silkiness or flavor. Start by pureeing silken tofu with cocoa powder or melted dark chocolate in a food processor. Mix in some chopped cherries with a sugar substitute like monk fruit with stevia. This no-cook, dairy-free “pudding” can be placed in small ramekins and stored in the refrigerator to chill. Before serving, sprinkle each with mini chocolate chips for a little crunchy, sweet treat.
Healthy Christmas Beverage Recipes
It wouldn’t be the holidays without some festive beverages, but there is no need to overdo it. Whip up some fun mocktails, enjoy a warm cider, or chai latte instead of the alcohol-heavy drinks to help you stay on track while enjoying the festivities. Here are 6 healthy Christmas recipes for festive holiday beverages.
A pot of steaming hot cider on the stove will fill the house with the aromas of Christmas. Pour cider into a large saucepan to heat. Add a cheesecloth bag filled with a cinnamon stick, some whole cloves, dried orange, lemon peels, dried ginger, and star anise. Heat it over low heat to warm it and fill the house with a natural fall aroma. Scoop it into mugs for everyone to enjoy.
Non-alcoholic Christmas Punch
A bubbly Christmas punch is the perfect beverage to toast to the holiday season. You can make this easy mocktail with pomegranate or cranberry juice, a sugar-free ginger ale made with stevia, and a sprig of rosemary and pomegranate seeds. If anyone wants a little kick, they can add a splash of champagne to their glass, but it’s bubbly and festive enough without it!
Nutmeg and Orange Coffee
Think you can only get flavored coffee at a coffee shop? Not so fast, these are easy to make at home, and you’ll be able to skip the sugar-heavy syrup. Add some grated nutmeg and orange zest to your coffee grounds before brewing. Then, let the hot water flow - you'll have a flavor-filled, steaming cup of coffee. It’s a perfect morning wake-up or after-dinner coffee - use decaf if you are caffeine sensitive! If you need to sweeten it up, add a low-calorie sweetener and your milk of choice.
While a store-bought chai latte can top over 200 calories, you can easily make a healthier version at home.
Chai tea is made with a blend of black tea, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, cardamom, and cloves. If you don’t want to blend your own spices, look for pre-made chai tea bags that have the right spices mixed in. Steep the tea and while it is steeping, froth and heat your favorite milk (regular or plant-based). Sweeten the tea with sugar-substitute and pour it into a mug. Add the milk with some foam to the top. If you want to be fancy, sprinkle a little ground cinnamon on top.
Sugar-Free Hot Chocolate
Craving a cup of creamy hot cocoa after a day of caroling or a good old-fashioned snowball fight? A steaming cup of hot cocoa brings out the kid in all of us but the sugar content may be something that causes you to take a second look. Making hot cocoa sugar-free isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Blend some unsweetened cocoa powder with a sugar-substitute blend made for baking. Gradually whisk in your favorite milk and heat it gently on the stovetop or in the microwave.
Just like pumpkin spice lattes are all around during the fall it seems like you can’t get away from gingerbread lattes during the Christmas season. While a medium size gingerbread latte may pack in over 250 calories from your local barista, you can make a slimmed-down version at home. Before brewing your coffee add a little ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger to your coffee grounds. Brew your coffee as you normally would. Steam some milk and froth it if you can. Fill half to ¾ of your mug with the coffee and add the milk with a dollop of foam on top. Sprinkle the top with a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger for an extra boost of flavor.
Eat Nutritious Foods this Holiday Season
Sticking with a healthy eating plan is possible by making some simple and smart ingredient swaps. While occasional treats and splurges are ok, sticking with your healthy eating and exercise plan is the best way to prevent blood sugar spikes and support your metabolic health. You can still enjoy your favorite foods and flavors of the holiday season with a few small tweaks to your favorite recipes and meals.
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Topics discussed in this article:
- Díaz-Zavala, R. G., Castro-Cantú, M. F., Valencia, M. E., Álvarez-Hernández, G., Haby, M. M., & Esparza-Romero, J. (2017). Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review. Journal of obesity, 2017, 2085136. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/2085136
- Bhutani, S., Wells, N., Finlayson, G., & Schoeller, D. A. (2020). Change in eating pattern as a contributor to energy intake and weight gain during the winter holiday period in obese adults. International journal of obesity (2005), 44(7), 1586–1595. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-020-0562-2