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    Healthy food changes (and recipes) for the holiday season

holiday dinner table with healthy food

This is the time of year when many people struggle to maintain their health and weight.  The holidays often encourage individuals to overindulge and exercise less.

“The challenges include the bombardment of advertisements to eat more and more of many high-calorie items, the plentiful amount of holiday goodies to entice us to eat everywhere we go, and even our own family traditions with high-fat, high-calorie recipes that are difficult to change,” says Eileen Dutter, a Mayo Clinic Health System registered dietitian. “Then, there can be the lack of exercise brought on by the colder weather and daylight saving time.”

Dutter says looking at the facts around specific calorie budgets shows a woman who weighs 150 pounds would need about 1,500 calories a day to maintain her weight without exercise, and a man who weighs 225 pounds would need about 2,475 calories each day. She points out that if there are 3,500 calories in a pound of body fat, the holidays easily can be a source of additional calories.

“Unfortunately, added weight can cause issues with your health,” says Dutter. “Keep in mind, the average calories consumed on Thanksgiving can be well over 6,000 in a single day. Even as little as one hour of walking each day can add approximately 300 to 450 calories to your maintenance budget. This is only one way to offset the potential high caloric intake for the day. Therefore, if you spend your calories wisely, making a few changes from your holiday traditions may be worth celebrating in a healthier way.”

Dutter suggests these holiday recipe makeovers:

  • Instead of dark turkey meat at 65 calories per ounce, try white meat, which has 50 calories per ounce.
  • Replace canned cranberry sauce (400 calories per cup) with a homemade version at 44 calories per cup. See recipe below.
  • Instead of stuffing in the bird at approximately 500 calories per cup, make the low-calorie, tasty version at 150 calories per cup. See recipe below.
  • Instead of traditional gravy, which can have as many as 800 calories per cup, there are many low-calorie options to choose from to lower your calories and not compromise taste.
  • Replace the traditional green bean casserole, which can pack between 300 to 400 calories per cup, with this lower-calorie, tasty alternative (See recipe below.) and you won’t even notice the difference for a mere 100 calories per cup.
  • Instead of pumpkin pie with the crust, which is where most of the calories come from at 80 calories per ounce with an average slice weighing 5 ounces or 400 calories, try the delicious crustless pumpkin pie recipe below. It’s only 24 calories per ounce — or 120 for a 5-ounce piece of pie.

It’s important to remember the reason for the season is to get together and celebrate your family and friends with food to nourish your body, not abuse your body.


Fresh Cranberry Sauce

Start to finish: 15 minutes
Servings: 4

3 cups water
12-ounce bag of cranberries
1 large box of sugar-free cherry gelatin

Boil water and add cranberries. Gently boil for about 10 minutes. Add gelatin and cool.
Nutrition information per serving: 44 calories


Start to finish: 30-45 minutes
Servings: 10

½ cup wild rice
¼ cup white rice
3 cups croutons
1 cup fat-free chicken broth
Mushrooms, sliced
Salt and pepper

Approximately 1–2 cups of vegetables, including carrots (shredded), green peppers (julienned), celery (chopped) and onion (chopped)

Boil wild and white rice, and then drain. Add vegetables to the cup of chicken broth, and cook until tender. Add rice and mushrooms to vegetable mixture. Add croutons to vegetables and rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Nutrition information per serving: 150 calories

Creamy Green Beans and Mushrooms

Start to finish: 30 minutes
Servings: 4

3½ cups green beans, washed and trimmed
1¼ cups fresh mushrooms, washed and sliced thin
1/3 cup low-fat cream of mushroom soup
1/3 cup skim milk
2 tablespoon green onion, minced fine

Steam green beans in steamer until crisp, but tender (three to five minutes). Place mushrooms, soup, skim milk and green onion in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook briefly for two to three minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Add green beans, and heat thoroughly.

Nutrition information per serving: 100 calories

Crustless Pumpkin Pie

Start to finish: 70 minutes
Servings: 8

1 15-ounce can pumpkin
1 12-ounce can evaporated skim milk
1–2 eggs or ¾ cup egg substitute
½ teaspoon salt
1–2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup of sugar substitute appropriate for baking

Combine all ingredients, and beat until smooth. Pour into a 9-inch pie pan sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 400 F for 15 minutes; reduce temperature to 325 F, and bake for an additional 45 minutes. The pie is done when the knife comes out clean.

Nutrition information per serving: 120 calories*

*Optional: Add 2 tablespoons of whipped topping for an additional 50 calories.

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