15 Substitutions to Make Your Holiday Recipes Healthier

When the winter holidays roll around, sometimes it seems easier to just surrender to all the tasty but calorie-rich foods and drinks.

But whipping up healthier versions of your favorite holiday recipes can be easier than you think, says Kathy Levin, registered dietitian at Memorial Medical Center.

Here are 15 substitutions from the American Heart Association that can help you reduce the calories, sugar, salt and fat from your favorite recipes.

  • Instead of butter, substitute equal parts cinnamon-flavored, no-sugar-added applesauce.
  • Instead of sugar, use a lower-calorie sugar substitution.
  • Instead of whole or heavy cream, substitute low-fat or skim milk.
  • Instead of using only white flour, use half white and half whole-wheat flour.
  • Instead of adding chocolate chips or candies, use dried fruit, like cranberries or cherries.
  • Use extracts like vanilla, almond and peppermint to add flavor, instead of sugar or butter.


  • Use vegetable oils such as olive oil instead of butter.
  • Use herbs and spices, like rosemary and cloves, to flavor dishes instead of butter and salt.
  • Use whole-grain breads and pastas instead of white.
  • Bake, grill or steam vegetables instead of frying.
  • Instead of whole milk or heavy cream, substitute low-fat or fat-free/skim milk.


  • Instead of alcohol in mixed drinks, use club soda.
  • Instead of adding sugar to mixed drinks, mix 100-percent juice with water or use freshly squeezed juice, like lime.
  • Instead of using heavy cream or whole milk in dairy-based drinks, use low-fat or skim milk.
  • Instead of using sugar to sweeten cider, use spices and fruit, like cinnamon, cloves and cranberries.

Instead of your favorite green bean casserole, which can be high in fat and sodium, try this recipe for Green Bean Salad Vinaigrette.

Healthy Holiday Recipe: Green Bean Salad Vinaigrette

1 quart water for fresh green beans or ¼ cup for frozen
1 pound fresh or frozen green beans
1½ tablespoons raspberry vinegar or red or white wine vinegar
¾ to 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
½ teaspoon finely snipped fresh thyme or 1½ teaspoons dried, crumbled
½ teaspoon honey
½ medium garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper, or to taste
1 medium red bell pepper, cut lengthwise into thin strips
½ to 1 small red onion, cut lengthwise into thin strips
¼ teaspoon grated lemon zest

In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the beans. Boil for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with cold water. When the beans are ready, drain them in a colander, then plunge them into the cold water to stop the cooking process and cool quickly. Once the beans are cold, drain well and pat dry with paper towels.

While the beans are cooling, in a separate large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, thyme, parsley, honey and garlic. Slowly whisk in the oil, continuing to whisk until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the salt and pepper.

Add the green beans, bell pepper and onion to the vinegar mixture. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Just before serving, sprinkle with the lemon zest.

Serves 12. 1 serving = ½ cup. Calories per serving: 29. Total fat, 1g; polyunsaturated fat, 0.5g; monounsaturated fat, 0.5g; sodium, 52g; carbohydrates, 4g; fiber, 2g; sugar, 1g; protein, 1g.