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Healthy holiday ingredient substitutions to try this season

Sticking to a healthy eating routine throughout the holiday season is easier said than done—but it’s not impossible. If you think ahead, you can use healthy ingredient substitutions to enjoy your favorite holiday recipes without getting off track. Here are some ideas to help you create lasting holiday memories without constantly worrying about your healthy eating goals!

Healthy holiday ingredients substitutes

  • Swap out sour cream for plain Greek yogurt. Using yogurt instead of sour cream allows for rich and creamy dishes with about a quarter of the calories!
  • Use low-fat (Neufchatel) cream cheese. Choosing low-fat products will help reduce your risk of heart disease. You’ll barely taste the difference in baked goods or on a bagel!
  • Use olive, grapeseed, or canola oil in recipes instead of butter. Unsaturated fats—like those found in the these vegetable oils—have been shown to decrease cholesterol levels.
  • Try flavoring dishes with fresh herbs and spices. Herbs and spices add flavor without adding sodium, calories, or fat. Skip the butter and use a nice herb blend instead.
  • Substitute stevia or sucralose for half of the sugar in a recipe. This will cut calories from added sugar in half without changing the taste you look forward to each year.
  • If you choose to indulge in alcoholic beverages, try drinking water between them—or even try a mocktail. You will cut the calories in your drinks by about half if you nix the alcohol. Even better? Avoid alcohol and soft drinks altogether. Wash down your meal with water instead of extra sugar and calories.
  • BYOD—Bring Your Own Dessert—to a holiday party! If you’re going to a holiday gathering, bring a healthy dessert with you. That way, you know there will be a low-calorie and delicious option available. If you don’t have any healthy recipes on hand, try this apple-cranberry crisp.
  • Prioritize your favorites. Don’t label any foods as “good” or “bad.” Stay on your healthy path by picking holiday favorites that you can only get during the holiday season. Whether it’s Grandma’s nut roll or Uncle Joe’s pumpkin log, you deserve to grab a plate and enjoy a small serving. Just be sure to account for the extra calories in your meal plan!

Other ways to live healthier this season

  • Plan a family walk after dinner. Start a holiday tradition that revolves around activity instead of food. This article offers some great tips on staying active during the holidays.
  • Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. Get creative and think of ways to recreate your favorite dishes with fruits and vegetables! Making roasted brussels sprouts is a great way to sneak vegetables onto your plate while highlighting classic fall flavors.
  • Manage stress by asking for help with holiday preparations. Use meal and party preparations to spend quality time with loved ones. Teaching others to make their own favorite dishes—or offering help to the person in your life who usually does it—can alleviate everyone’s stress and provide a fun activity to do together.
  • Take some time for you. It’s OK to say no during the holidays. Be assertive about taking time for self-care and drawing boundaries with friends and loved ones. Mental health is important, especially during the busy holiday season! Give yourself the gift of a stress-free holiday.

See? You can enjoy your holiday meals without straying from your wellness journey. Try to make changes that are realistic for your lifestyle. Whether it’s trying these healthier holiday ingredient substitutions or creating a new family tradition like taking a walk, it’s always possible to make healthier choices during the holidays!

If you would like help with healthy lifestyle changes, don’t forget about UPMC Health Plan’s health coaching program. Our health coaches are ready and waiting to give you and your family support in your lifestyle goals!  


Healthy recipes: A guide to ingredient substitutions. Mayo Clinic. October 16, 2019. Accessed November 18, 2019.

Other ingredients to consider. ChooseMyPlate, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Accessed Novemeber 18, 2019.

The nutrition source, Types of fat. Harvard University School of Public Health. Accessed November 18, 2019.

Holiday Healthy Eating. American Heart Association. 2018. Accessed November 18, 2019.

Make healthier holiday choices. ChooseMyPlate, U.S. Department of Agriculture. December 2013. Accessed November 18, 2019.

5 Healthy Eating Tips for the Holidays. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 30, 2017. Accessed November 18, 2019.