Healthy Holiday Swaps

Sara Dow is a ACE Certified Weight Management and Fitness Nutrition Specialist. She is also a ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Small Group Trainer at the Y. Twice a month, her blog posts will feature nutrition education, a healthy recipe she has tried and loves, and tips to help you achieve your health goals, as well as answers centered around a nutrition question from a Y member.

For many people, the holiday season is synonymous with weight gain. The following simple food swaps can help you stay on track with your goals and feel your best over the holidays.

Baking Swaps:

Simply Cut Sugar: You can reduce sugar in most recipes by about 25% without a noticeable difference. For example, if a recipe calls for 4 Tbsp sugar, reduce the amount to 3 Tbsp.   

Try Whole-Grain Flour: In most recipes, you can substitute white whole-wheat flour for all-purpose flour.  Whole wheat flour contains 15% more protein than all-purpose flour and boosts fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Swap Applesauce for Oil: Cut calories while preserving taste and texture by swapping ½ the oil in a recipe for unsweetened applesauce.  For example, if a recipe calls for one cup of oil, use ½ cup of oil and ½ cup of applesauce.  For every ½ cup of oil replaced with applesauce, you save 900 calories! 

Dessert Swaps:

Pumpkin Pie for Pecan Pie. A slice of traditional pecan pie delivers as much as 40 grams of added sugar (80 percent of the USDA’s recommended daily limit for a 2,000-calorie diet!). Swap pumpkin for pecan to cut added sugar by 50%. Pumpkin also provides a rich source of beta-carotene, vitamin E, and iron, which can help boost your immune system through the winter cold and flu season.

Dark Chocolate for Milk or White Chocolate. Dark chocolate is one of the best anti-inflammatory foods around and provides a good source of magnesium, copper, zinc, and phosphorus.  Choose dark chocolate with 70% cacao or higher for 2-3x the antioxidants found in milk chocolate.  White chocolate contains no cacao and lacks the beneficial properties of dark chocolate.

Beverage Swaps:

Almond Milk Eggnog: A standard carton of eggnog is packed with calories, high in saturated fat, and abundant in added sugar.  Almond Milk Eggnog is considerably lighter, with around 50 calories per serving, zero saturated fat, and fewer than 10 grams of added sugar.    

Chocolate Peppermint Tea: Hot chocolate is another holiday beverage often loaded with added sugar.  Add 1 tsp of baking cocoa to 12 oz hot peppermint tea for a healthy alternative. This minty-chocolate drink has only ten calories and provides 2g of fiber and a host of inflammation-fighting antioxidants.

A Healthy Holiday Recipe…

Pecan Pie Bites by Deryn from Running on Real Food. Reprinted with permission.


  • 1 cup Medjool dates, pitted
  • 1 cup pecans
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt


Combine ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Roll into 1” balls.  Store in the refrigerator for three days or in the freezer for up to a month. Yields 16-20 balls.

Tip: If your dates have been sitting in the refrigerator for a few weeks, they may become dry and wrinkled.  To rehydrate, soak for 10 minutes in hot water.  Drain and pat dry to avoid excess moisture in your recipe.  Be sure to remove the pit!  

Nutrition Information:

Pecans provide a solid source of healthy fats and fiber and contain moderate amounts of protein, all of which can help you maintain a healthy weight. Medjool dates are high in fiber which helps regulate blood sugar levels and supports digestive health.  Enjoy this no-added-sugar treat for Thanksgiving or year-round!

Check out this Resource…

For more healthy holiday swaps, check out this Food Swaps infographic written by a registered dietitian and Tips for Healthy Holiday Parties from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Holiday Grocery Store Tour…

November kicks off my Holiday Guided Grocery Store Tours at Metro Market!  Join me for these interactive tours and explore simple holiday swaps to keep your health on track through the holidays.  Stop by member services for dates and times.

About Sara Dow

Hi, I’m Sara and I am passionate about helping people improve their quality of life through the knowledge and practice of good nutrition.  

In 2018, I was inspired by the YMCA community to go back to school and pursue my dream of becoming a registered dietitian. I am now in my senior year, double majoring in Nutrition and Dietetics at Kansas State University.  I am excited to share with you what I am learning. 



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