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Smart Holiday Food Swaps

Try these Canyon Ranch recipes and serve up healthier alternatives this year
Written by 
Rachel Meltzer Warren, M.S., R.D.N.
Updated on: 
December 3, 2013

Swapping new foods into your holiday menu may not be on your agenda. Though healthy holiday recipes abound, there’s something to be said for the ritual of serving the same classic food preparations year after year (yes, even if they might not be the best for you). Though indulging during your annual feast is perfectly OK, if that is what you desire, you may also want to consider starting some new mealtime traditions. Replace typical dishes laden with fat and calories (and lacking in nutrition) with holiday-worthy, healthy food alternatives that will both nourish your family and tempt their tongues. Eat, drink and be healthy this holiday season by making holiday food swaps using recipes from the Canyon Ranch Kitchen—they may just become your new family favorites.

More: Not-So-Healthy Holiday Foods

For Thanksgiving Dinner

Swap Out: Macaroni and cheese

This year-round kid favorite is often a holiday dinner hit for guests of all ages. But saturated fat-loaded ingredients, like butter and cheese, make it a heart-unhealthy side dish. While preparations that use real cheese get points for being high in calcium, one serving of some recipes can have as much as 1,000 mg of sodium.

Swap In: Pumpkin pappardelle

If a creamy texture and rich flavor profile is what your diners are after when they reach for mac and cheese, they’ll love this low-sodium baked pasta. It’s made with extra virgin olive oil and macadamia nuts, which provide healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats. Bonus: Pumpkin and butternut (or calabaza) squash offer a double dose of vision-protecting carotenoids.

Canyon Ranch’s Pumpkin Pappardelle Recipe

For the Neighborhood Holiday Potluck

Swap Out: Spinach and artichoke dip

Sure, spinach and artichoke dip has two vegetables in it. But the vitamins and nutrients in these picks—between them, vitamins A, C and K, folate, iron and more—are quickly overlooked when you consider that recipes can also call for calorie-dense, saturated fat-rich mayonnaise, cream cheese, sour cream and shredded cheese.

Swap In: Guacamole

Any guacamole recipe is, of course, predominantly composed of avocado—a fruit that is not only a great source of LDL cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fatty acids, but is itself cholesterol free (and important note, given how rich it tastes). A cup of avocado also offers 40 percent of your daily recommended fiber (among other nutrients), so it’s sure to satisfy eaters and fill them up. Avocado is high in fat (the good kind) and calories, however, so be mindful of how many times you dip your chip. 

Canyon Ranch’s Guacamole Recipe
 

For Your Hannukah Celebration

Swap Out: Potato latkes

It’s hard to turn down a food that is made with so much love, but potato latkes (or pancakes) are typically fried in lots of oil. That means that you might consume as much as 16 grams of fat after getting through just one (and that doesn’t include the sour cream on top).

Swap In: Sweet potato pancakes

Our preparation, while still fried, uses just one and a half tablespoons of canola oil; three pancakes contain eight grams of fat. Sweet potatoes also have more antioxidants than white potatoes, and they have a lower glycemic index. That means that they don’t cause blood sugar to spike as quickly as their paler counterparts.

Canyon Ranch’s Sweet Potato Pancakes Recipe

For Christmas Dinner

Swap Out: Green bean casserole

Classic, back-of-the-can recipes take a delicious, good-for-you vegetable and turn it into a dense side dish that masks green beans’ signature snap. Its key ingredient, cream of mushroom soup, contains 870 mg of sodium in just half a cup. And you can’t forget the usual topper, packaged fried onions, which are predominantly composed of fat and have no nutritional value.

Swap In: Green bean and edamame stir-fry

Rather than disguise the fresh flavor and crisp texture of green beans, why not let your veggies be the star? Our stir-fry does that by flavoring green beans with garlic, ginger and chili flakes (and just a bit of salt). It is also a good source of satiating fiber and protein (11 and 16 grams per serving, respectively), thanks to the addition of edamame—something the vegetarians at your holiday table will especially appreciate.

Canyon Ranch’s Green Bean and Edamame Stir-Fry Recipe

For a Sweet Ending

Swap Out:  Trifle

Most trifles alternate buttery pound cake with whipped cream, adding even more heaviness to your already far-from-light holiday treat. One cup of some trifles can pack nearly 400 calories and 20 grams of fat.

Swap In:   Tiramisu

This dessert gives eaters the layers of different flavors that are appealing in a traditional trifle. It’s comprised of lighter whipped custard and airy ladyfinger cookies, which help it ring in at just 145 calories and seven grams of fat per serving. A touch of coffee, marsala wine (yes, wine!) and cocoa add a hint of richness, making this dessert a satisfying note to end your meal on.

Canyon Ranch’s Tiramisu Recipe
 

For Toasting on New Year’s Eve

Swap Out: Champagne

Pop a cork and pour some flutes of bubbly as you count down the last moments of the year, if you like. Just remember that refills can easily catch up to you, and—ideally—you should limit daily alcohol consumption to just a glass or two.

Swap In: Sparkling Fruit Soda

When you’re ready, switch to this equally-as-fizzy beverage, which incorporates fresh mango, berry or papaya puree (your choice) and a homemade sweet and sour “mix.” Guests always love specialty “mocktails.”

Canyon Ranch’s Sparking Fruit Soda Recipe

 

For New Year’s Day Brunch

Swap Out: Belgian waffles

Topped with fruit, whipped cream and chocolate sauce, Belgian waffles scream “celebration”— after all, it’s not every day you’d let something so indulgent pass as breakfast food. Unfortunately, except for the vitamins in the few strawberry slices you may sprinkle on top, the nutritional value isn’t exactly worthy of a party.

Swap In: Fruit-filled orange crepes

You can still enjoy something sweet, like our fruit-filled orange crepes. These ultra-thin, French pancakes are quite a bit lighter than heavy waffles, and the orange juice and berries used to sweeten them add a healthy dose of immune-boosting vitamin C and disease-fighting anthocyanins and other antioxidants.

Canyon Ranch’s Fruit-Filled Orange Crepes


Get more health holiday food swap ideas by exploring the Canyon Ranch Recipe Library.

Remember to consider all elements of your holiday meal when determining its nutritional value.

Reference(s) 
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (July 2005)
Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism (February 2006)
California Department of Health
Molecular Nutrition and Food Research (June 2007)
National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements
United States Department of Agriculture
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
About the author 
Rachel Meltzer Warren, M.S., R.D.N. is a New York-based nutrition writer, educator and counselor, and author of the The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian (Sourcebooks).