Making Over Holiday Favorites: Easy Healthy Cooking Substitutions

Published: Wednesday, November 24, 2021
Morgan Ivey, RD, LD
Registered Dietitian with NGMC

There are many reasons to love the holiday season, including all the delicious foods and recipes you crave all year long. While many of these seasonal staples may taste great, some of them aren’t exactly great for your heart health. Luckily, there are a few easy tweaks you can make to get the best of both worlds – enjoying all the traditional favorites of this time of year, with a few healthy (and easy) cooking substitutions.

We know what you’re thinking: Won’t these healthy changes sacrifice some of the flavor? In most cases, no. Trading out one ingredient for another is often barely noticeable, particularly when the ingredient is used for texture, rather than flavor.

Some easy swaps that you may be familiar with include using dried fruit instead of chocolate chips, or swapping our whole-wheat flour for classic white flour in baking recipes. Additionally, here are a few other heart-healthy cooking substitutions you can put into action this holiday season:

When Your Recipe Calls for Sour Cream

Use low-fat Greek yogurt instead. Sour cream is often used as a base for dips and sauces, or a way to add a creamy texture to something like mashed potatoes. Greek yogurt can do the same.

If you trade in plain Greek yogurt, you’re giving your health a double boost—you’re reducing your intake of calories and saturated fat while also getting a dose of probiotics and protein.

When Your Recipe Calls for Oil

Use unsweetened applesauce instead. Yes, you read that right! When the recipe for your favorite holiday baked good includes oil or even butter, swap it out.

You can replace it 1:1 with applesauce, which serves the same purpose as oil in adding moisture to the recipe. Or you can experiment some and switch out half or a quarter of the amount of oil called for. Mashed bananas can also work in a pinch.

(If you’re cooking for someone with an egg allergy or who is following a vegan diet, both applesauce and bananas can be used in place of eggs, too. Use a quarter cup of applesauce or half a medium banana per egg in the recipe.)

When Your Recipe Calls for Heavy Cream…

Use low-fat milk or a dairy alternative like soy milk or almond milk instead. When you make this healthy cooking substitution, you’ll reduce the number of calories and fat in the recipe without altering the flavor profile or making it less creamy.

This swap works for both baked goods and heartier foods like soups and casseroles that use cream in the recipe.

When Your Recipe Calls for White Bread…

Use wheat bread instead. Seems simple enough, right? Even if you don’t love the way wheat bread tastes in a sandwich, you likely won’t notice the swap in a recipe.

When you’re making Grandma’s famous stuffing recipe, use whole grain bread (or even a sprouted version) for more fiber, fewer calories, and every bit of the flavor of the original!

When Your Recipe Calls for French-Fried Onions…

Make your own instead. While you can’t exactly make french-fried onions healthy, you can make them a little healthier by using homemade “fried” onions instead of the kind you buy at the grocery store.

Top your green bean casserole with this version for a healthier take that’s oven-baked rather than fried. You can also trim down your holiday favorite—but not the flavor—by using a low-sodium, fat-free version of cream of mushroom soup and low-fat milk.

A Recipe For Lasting Heart Health

As the state’s most forward-thinking heart and vascular program, Georgia Heart Institute is reimagining the patient experience, integrating services across all heart and vascular specialties and incorporating innovative breakthroughs into the care our experts provide every day. Ultimately, our impressive team of cardiologists, surgeons and highly-trained specialists is doing whatever it takes to keep patients’ hearts at their healthiest. We’re here to save and improve lives for generations.