Healthy for the Holidays

YOUR GUIDE TO EATING LEANer + CLEANer this holiday Season

Let’s get one thing straight – “healthy for the holidays” does not have to mean “deprived of the holidays.

While I get that there are many traditional dishes that have been in the family for years and which you look forward to enjoying that once or twice a year, you can still make it through the holidays without throwing your efforts toward good health right out the window.

Here’s how (and I’ve even included a nice little bonus at the bottom for you).

1. Skip: Dinner rolls served ahead of the meal

This only encourages people to consume them as an appetizer, setting the tone for a heavy, high-calorie meal.

Try This Instead:

Set out a tray of low-calorie, high-nutrient fruits & vegetables (raw or grilled) and some simple sauces for dipping.  Avoid the high-fat/high-calorie/high-sugar dressings and dips.  Instead, serve hummus, salsa, or a simple homemade blend.

This will help you get your meal off to a clean start that will also help you feel more satiated and provide your body with what it needs to break down that holiday fare more efficiently.

2. Skip: Canned Cranberry Sauce

From a can or made from scratch, cranberry sauce is generally loaded with sugar.  If you must have cranberry sauce, please make your own with organic sugars/sweetener.

bowl of cranberry dessert with lemon slice and chopstick

Try This Instead:

Keep cranberries on the menu by serving them in a delicious salad with dried cranberries or by adding them to butternut squash chunks, diced onion, sage, salt, and pepper and baking at 375 for 30 minutes or until squash is caramelized.

3. Skip:  Sausage Stuffing

A typical helping  (yes, one serving) of stuffing generally consists of 3-5 slices of white bread tossed with sausage or beef and cooked in turkey drippings (adding further to the fat content).

Try This Instead:

If you’re going to have the stuffing anyway, replace sausage, white bread and butter in stuffing with nuts, whole grains and broth or water.  If you can’t give up the sausage, opt for the turkey or chicken version or vegan-friendly variety.  I buy a “Breakfast Sausage” seasoning blend that I add to lean ground turkey to make a better alternative to the traditional stuffing of my husband’s side of the family.

A growing trend is to add a side of wild rice stuffing.  There are many recipes available to provide you with a delicious, satisfying dish that will present beautifully and easily make itself at home alongside traditional holiday fare.  If all else fails, you can enjoy some of this first and allow yourself a smaller serving of the stuffing after you’ve enjoyed this cleaner option.

4. Skip:  Spuds in a Box

White potatoes in and of themselves are generally blander in taste.  Because of this, people often load them with milk, butter, salt and possibly cheese or other flavor additives.  Getting the potatoes out of the box to begin with only detracts from any potential they once had.

potatoes beside stainless steel cooking pot

Try This Instead:

Add to the beautiful colors of your holiday spread with sweet potatoes.  Choose sweet potatoes with cinnamon and spices (you can maybe even add a drizzle of maple) over scalloped white ones with butter and cream.  They are chock full of nutrients and naturally have far more flavor than any other potato.  This means you can get away with adding less and still enjoy them more.  Try them mashed, scalloped, or cut into wedges and baked with your favorite spice blend.  So much flavor.  So many possibilities.  Total Win-Win!

5. Skip:  Eggnog

egg nog bottle near cupcake red berry fruits and ice cold drinks

This holiday favorite packs an average of a whopping 343 calories and 11 grams of saturated fat per serving.  Yowsers!

Try This Instead:

If you are set on having that noggy flavor, try my “Rawnog” recipe or reach for a super satisfying Hot Cacao made with Raw Cacao, a delicious superfood chock full of energy, nutrients and mood enhancers.

6. Skip: The Old School Version of Green Bean Casserole

Traditional Green Bean Casserole is made with heavy creams and lots of fatty fried onions.  A lot of people even used canned green beans which severally deprives this dish of flavor and nutritional value.  While this used to be one of my favorite dishes, it could certainly stand to improve in regards to its nutritional profile.  If you’re going to make green bean casserole, at least try making it with a low-fat/dairy free sour cream.  If you must use the fried onions, only use them on the top.  Those incorporated into the dish will just become soggy anyhow.  You might as well substitute those for sautéed or roasted onions.

Try This Instead:

Try baking fresh green beans with sautéed sweet onions and a mixture of your favorite mushrooms.  Lightly toss with a little extra virgin olive oil and a touch of sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper and you’ll have a dish loaded with flavor and nutrition.

7. Skip: Kraft Mac’n’Cheese

Brands like craft are made with white pasta and coated in a powdery mixture loaded with harmful dies and artificial additives.  Certainly less than ideal for any occasion.

Try This Instead:

If you’re reaching for the box on this American family staple, look for organic brands such as Annie’s.  Even better: learn to make it from scratch using quality pastas, real cheese (or learn to make your own cheese substitute).  You can even find recipes that incorporate cauliflower or butternut squash for an even healthier alternative.

close up photography of baked mac

8. Skip: Grave-diggin’ Gravies

Gravy is traditionally made by mixing animal fat drippings with flour.  This does a major number on the system and totally sabotages your waistline.

Try This Instead:

Look for mushroom gravies, or at the very least, jarred organic gravies.  If you are making your own and must have the chicken, turkey, or beef varieties, be sure to start with an organic broth.  If making your own broth, be sure to chill and skim the hardened fat from the broth prior to making your gravy.

9. Skip:  Holiday Ham

Ham is generally full of fat which is marbleized in its flesh to the extent that you’re hard pressed to remove much of any of it.  Additionally, many people like to coat hams in blends of sugars and spices loaded with preservatives and anticaking agents.  Moreover, hams are often brined which greatly increases the sodium content with bad salts that wreak havoc on your health.

Try This Instead:

If you’re going to have meat, keep it lean by roasting your own whole turkey or chicken.

Refrain from smothering it in butter.  Instead, you can make a marinade of coconut oil (no, it won’t make it taste like coconuts; that is, unless you use extra virgin coconut oil which may impart a bit of flavor) and herbs.  Fresh Rosemary and thyme can easily be tucked in and easily removed immediately prior to serving.

10. Skip:  Cakes & Cookies

photo of berry pie on top of wooden chopping board

Cakes and cookies generally start with 3 main ingredients – flour, sugar and oil.  While there may be some small benefit when using whole grains and healthier fats, this is not generally regarded as the healthiest option.

Try This Instead:

Fruit pies are easy to make and at least have the added health benefits lended by the fruits.  While they contain complex carbs, this is generally far less than that found in cakes and cookies.  Pumpkin, apple, pear and many others can at least offer something in the way of nutrition. Try subbing out some of that sweetener for an alternative such as monk fruit that cuts the excessive calories while not imparting the nasty flavors of some other artificial sweeteners.

More Tips for a Healthy Holidays Season


As a guest, you can make healthy choices and still have a great time:

  • Going to a party? Have an apple or a cup of soup while you’re getting ready. Don’t skip meals beforehand, thinking you’ll “bank” all your calories for the main event. This only makes you overly hungry and leads to serious overeating.
  • Socialize away from the buffet table or the bowl of chips.
  • Use a small plate. Put your food on it instead of nibbling right from serving trays.
  • Think control, not deprivation-even with dessert. You may take a moderate spoonful or narrow slice of foods you want to try without having to break the bank and go all-in.
  • Drink sparkling water, plain, or flavored with a splash of orange or cranberry juice.
  • Avoid alcohol. It adds calories and may lower your resistance to overeating.
  • Put down your fork while the evening is still young. Late-night eating gives you less of a sense of fullness than eating earlier in the day and can result in a larger daily food intake.
  • Bring a healthy dish to share that you also enjoy eating. That way, you’ll have an alternative if the table is loaded with high-fat foods.


When you’re in charge of the menu, you can call the shots:

  • Break free from white breads.  White breads (except homemade with organic, unbleached flour) are terrible for your body and are especially bad for blood sugar levels.
  • Buy whole wheat or whole grain breads and always organic when possible.  Watch for companies that try to dupe you into buying their junk in disguise by saying “all natural” or “made with whole grains” on the packaging.  100% Whole Grains/Wheat is what we’re looking for here.  Check the label.  If it says “enriched flour,” a good portion of it is likely made with bleached white flour with a little wheat flour added to change the color/texture and make you think you’re getting a healthy loaf.  Outsmart their ads!  Read the label!  Beware of GMO’s.  Corn is a holiday staple.  It’s sweet, kindly crunchy and taste pretty good.  Unfortunately, roughly 90% of all corn is genetically modified.  So, be sure to purchase all corn products (whole corn, cream corn, corn meal, cornbread, corn chips, etc.) organic.  Same goes for products containing soy in any form.
  • Cook the stuffing outside the bird to lower fat content. Add chopped spinach and spices such as fennel or sage instead of meat.
  • Season cooked broccoli, collard greens and asparagus with fresh lemon juice or fresh herbs.
  • Purée potato/bean-and-vegetable mixtures to use instead of cream sauces.
  • Stop by the supermarket for quick and healthy prepared foods: vegetables, salsa, low-fat dips (check for synthetic additives) and baked, organic whole grain chips that have not been made with canola oil. Skip the potato and macaroni salads.
  • Beware of foods marked with labels such as “low-fat,” “gluten-free” or “reduced sugar.”  Companies often add unnatural substances to these foods to make up for the reduced sugar or fat content or to make up for the difference in consistency where gluten is removed.  It is better to eat real fat than faux fat.  It is better to have real sugar than toxic artificial sweeteners.  These will ultimately only counter weight loss efforts when your body stores many of those toxins in fat cells to protect your body as much as it can from the harmful effects of the man-made junk.
  • Instead of baking dozens of cookies or having a dessert potluck, make a small batch and share, so the sweets don’t stay around the house for long. If your idea of a happy holiday includes a bake-fest with relatives or friends, don’t go overboard. Pick out one or two dessert offerings.  This way you can enjoy less kitchen time/less mess and more time with your loved ones.
  • Eat breakfast. People who lose weight and keep it off eat breakfast every day.
  • Take a walk before the guests arrive or after meals. Give yourself the gift of a little time to think, relax and rejuvenate.


Even if you slip up once or twice, it’s not the end-of-the-world, or the end of your ability to make wise eating choices again. Balance low and high calorie foods; set your own traditions with healthier recipes; take short walking breaks for yourself; and have fun this season!

And remember:  Holidays are a good thing…They’re not just about eating.  They’re about getting together with the people we love.

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