Skip to main content Skip to header navigation

How to make your meals healthier this holiday

We all know the holidays aren’t exactly diet-friendly. Meals are bigger (who can say no to two helpings of turkey?), the desserts are more decadent and everywhere you go there seems to be something else to eat. But not every meal has to be unhealthy. In fact, there are several simple ways to make sure what you serve – and – eat this holiday is much kinder to your waistline.

Homemade healthy cranberry sauce

We turned to Adam Bornstein, fitness expert and editorial director for LIVESTRONG.COM, to find out how to make holiday meals a little healthier this season. “The thing about holiday foods is that the devil is in the details,” he tells us. “You can make small substitutions to your favorite recipes that will save hundreds of calories per dish without losing any of your favorite flavors.”



Most turkeys are surprisingly indulgent (about 700 to 800 calories just for a 6-ounce serving). To cut 400 to 500 calories from the star of your holiday table, don’t baste your bird in butter, Bornstein says. Instead, keep the skin on when you cook and add a little bit of lemon juice. This will help saturate the flavor and fat from the skin, he explains. Once the turkey is done cooking, make sure you remove the skin. “Skipping the butter and taking off the skin will save you upwards of 20 grams of fat and hundreds of calories, but the turkey will still be plump and juicy.”

Egg nog

This popular holiday drink might be delicious and seem innocent, but your egg nog cocktail (egg nog with rum) clocks in at about 450 calories — for one glass, Bornstein says. “To put that in perspective, that’s 200 more calories that eating a Snickers.” If you want to enjoy a little holiday cheer, you’re better off choosing a sparkling wine, which can save you up to 300 calories. You can also opt for sparkling water mixed with wine (and a twist of lime) for a refreshing holiday beverage.

Green bean casserole

Just because there are green beans in this traditional holiday side dis, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. “This dish is loaded with butter, sugar and sour cream, which pack in additional calories,” Bornstein says. A much healthier option is to just offer sautéed green beans or steam them, drizzle with good-quality olive oil and finish with fresh cracked pepper. If you still want the casserole, substitute the three ingredients above for low-fat Greek yogurt or low-fat, low-sodium cream of mushroom soup.

Mashed potatoes

Much like the casserole, it’s not the main ingredient (potatoes) that’s the problem, it’s the butter, cream and sometimes cheese we put into this dish. A sneaky way to enjoy the creamy, buttery flavor with fewer calories is to make cauliflower mash, Bornstein says. It has the same consistency as the mashed potatoes, but with a fraction of the calories. “This way, you can still add butter or sour cream and not worry about overloading on carbs and calories.”

Pumpkin pie

This is a timeless classic, but it’s also a 300- to 400-calorie way to end your meal. Bornstein suggests opting for something a little lighter but equally satisfying. His choice? Pumpkin trifle. This dessert mixes canned pumpkin, sugar-free pudding, milk, nutmeg and Cool Whip. “You can enjoy an entire serving of trifle for only 130 calories. And trust me, your sweet tooth won’t be disappointed.” You can check out the recipe here. (Note: In order to view the recipe you need to create a free account. Once you do, you will be automatically redirected to the recipe.)

Cranberry sauce

This one is simple, says Bornstein: Take the canned version out of your holiday repertoire. “It’s loaded with many unnecessary sweeteners, sugars and calories,” he tells us. Instead, you can make your own version in just 5 minutes. Bring water to a boil. Pour in a bag of cranberries. Add orange juice (about 3/4 cup), orange zest, and just a little sugar. Mix until you reach your desired consistency and you have cranberry sauce that’s just 40 calories per serving. But more impressively, instead of having 25 grams of sugar per serving, you’re only eating 4 grams.

Potato pancakes (latkes)

Traditional recipes often call for this holiday favorite to be cooked in oil (about 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup) and prepared with flour. Rather than go that route, Bornstein advises mixing potatoes, egg whites, onions, salt and pepper and cooking with a cooking spray and just one tablespoon of oil. “By cutting down on the oil and removing the flour you’ll save hundreds of calories.”

Top healthy holiday eating tips

Bornstein has two more tips for making the holidays a little less indulgent.

Ditch the guilt: Poor choices for one or two days (say, Thanksgiving or Christmas) won’t derail your diet, he says. But most people feel so much guilt that they give up on eating well for the entire holiday season. “In reality, even if you are a little overly indulgent, if you spend the rest of the holiday season exercising and eating well you won’t even notice a difference.”

Slow down: Most people overeat because they eat so fast that the food doesn’t register. Simply fill one plate with the food it can hold and eat slowly so you don’t rush into a second helping when you don’t need (or even want) it.

More healthy eating tips

Tip for being a Skinny Bitch this season
Fitness fuel: What to eat, when to eat
Holiday diet tips to keep you trim

Leave a Comment