Healthy Food Alternatives for the Holidays

‘Tis the season for holiday party after holiday party. While these get-togethers are a great way to celebrate the joys and blessings in our lives, they can be extremely anxiety provoking to anyone struggling with finding healthy food alternatives to the standard holiday fare. The sheer volume of food that is on hand this time of year is gluttonous and maintaining willpower in the face of cookies, cakes, fried foods and calorie-laden beverages is exhausting.

On a positive note, it does seem that many people are shifting to a healthier trend when it comes to their holiday party menus. Greek yogurt-has replaced sour cream in many a dip recipe. Greasy chips have been swapped out for sliced vegetables and seltzer has switched places with soda. There is a plethora of healthy appetizer and entrée recipes to choose from that are deliciously satisfying and won’t leave you feeling guilty and bloated.

Here are some healthy food alternatives to consider:

  • A glass of eggnog can have upwards of 250 calories, and more than half of your daily recommended dose of saturated fat. Reach for a glass of hot apple cider instead, and save 100 to 150 calories and all the fat.
  • A can of jellied cranberry sauce is full of sugar, corn syrup and other added sweeteners. A fourth of a cup can have more than 100 calories. Make your own cranberry relish and cut out some of the sugar for a healthy holiday side dish.
  • Instead of serving candied yams, which have over 200 calories per half-cup, try oven-roasted sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving and other meals. A 3/4-cup serving of sweet potatoes brushed with a little heart-healthy canola or olive oil is only 100 calories and is full of nutrients and fiber.
  • It’s hard to resist holiday desserts from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, but you can save about 200 calories by choosing pumpkin pie (300 calories a slice) over pecan pie (about 500 calories). Neither is exactly eating healthy, but with the pumpkin you’re getting lots of vitamin A, calcium, and iron.

Looking for a delectable and low-calorie appetizer recipe to make for your next holiday party? Here are two for you to choose from.

Gingery Shrimp Salad Bites


  • 2 teaspoons dark sesame oil, divided
  • 8 ounces peeled and deveined medium shrimp
  • 2 teaspoons minced peeled ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons canola mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha
  • 32 (1 1/2-inch) chive pieces (optional)


  1. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil; swirl. Add shrimp; sauté 2 minutes. Add ginger and salt; sauté 2 minutes or until done. Cool slightly. Coarsely chop.
  2. Combine mayonnaise, Sriracha, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon oil. Add shrimp; toss to coat. Spoon about 1 tablespoon shrimp mixture into each of 16 Chinese soup spoons; top each with 2 chive pieces, if desired. Recipe courtesy of Cooking Light Magazine.

Garlic & White Bean Dip


  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed (see Tip)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice


To prepare poached garlic & garlic oil: Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat, add garlic cloves and stir to submerge. Let stand until the garlic skins are softened and cool enough to handle, about 50 minutes. Strain the garlic, remove the skins and cut off the hard nub where the clove was attached to the head.

  • Place the garlic, canola oil and olive oil in a medium saucepan; bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Reduce the heat to low and maintain a very gentle simmer (it may be necessary to slide the pan to the edge of the burner). Simmer until the cloves are golden and very soft when pressed with a fork, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes.
  • Transfer the cooled garlic to a sieve to drain, reserving the oil. Transfer the garlic to a food processor and puree until smooth, scraping down the sides occasionally. (If it makes more than 1/2 cup, store the extra in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.)
  • To prepare bean dip: Combine 1/2 cup of the reserved garlic oil, onion and salt in a large skillet. Cook over medium heat until the onion is softened but not browned, 6 to 9 minutes. Stir in beans and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the food processor, add lemon juice and puree with 1/2 cup garlic puree until smooth. Serve warm or cold. (Store extra garlic oil in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.)

Make Ahead Tip: To make ahead: Cover and refrigerate garlic puree for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 6 months; refrigerate oil for no more than 1 week. Cover and refrigerate the dip for up to 3 days.

Tip: While we love the convenience of canned beans, they tend to be high in sodium. Give them a good rinse before adding to a recipe to rid them of some of their sodium (up to 35 percent) or opt for low-sodium or no-salt-added varieties. (Our recipes are analyzed with rinsed, regular canned beans.) Or, if you have the time, cook your own beans from scratch. Recipe courtesy of