With heavy holiday meals on the horizon, here are some healthy holiday food swaps to keep you energized and feeling good while still enjoying delicious recipes.
With Thanksgiving, Christmas and holiday parties in the air, I want to arm you with some healthy holiday food swaps so you can enjoy every occasion without feeling deprived.
The Big Three Healthy Food Substitutions
I’m going to narrow it down to the big 3 that you see at most holiday meals, and that are also the most likely to slow you down and give you digestive trouble.
Those three are:
Sorry that it’s not fruitcake, eggnog, and jello salad (or are those just the dishes I dislike at the holidays?).
Fear not, I have some ways to cut down on some of these ingredients in your holiday meals, without losing any fabulous flavor.
Healthy Holiday Food Swaps
Go Gluten Free (yes even at the holidays)
Why am I making you give up gluten, and during the holidays no less? Gluten is hard for many of us to digest.
The wheat in the US and many other places is often sprayed with chemicals and then heavily processed before it takes the form of bread, flour, or cereal. Our bodies aren’t equipped to digest these products. I am NOT thankful for gluten in my food.
The good news is that there are many easy (and delicious!) gluten free workarounds these days.
Of course, you can always swap wheat based bread and flour for gluten free bread and flour, but I also want to offer you some unprocessed ideas as well. The more simple the ingredient, the easier it is to digest. And with all the components that go into Thanksgiving dinner and holiday recipes, simplicity is your friend!
Gluten Free Swaps
Stuffing usually has bread in it but you can use gluten free bread or completely omit it for a full-on vegetable stuffing. I like to add a little coconut flour to the veggie mix, which crisps up and gives it some nice texture and chew. Check out my grain free sweet potato sausage stuffing for a full-on paleo Thanksgiving side dish.
Gravy is usually thickened with flour, but you can make it gluten free by using tapioca flour. This flour comes from cassava, a common plant in South America. You can mix 2 tablespoons of ghee with 2 tablespoons of tapioca and 2 cups of stock to get an easy, velvety gluten free gravy.
For baked goods you can use nut flours or coconut flour in place of white flour. Not only will these gluten free, grain free flours be easier to digest, they’re also higher in fiber and protein, so you’re getting more bang from your buck. I’ve got some grain free paleo pumpkin apple muffins for you to try out here.
To omit gluten from your leftover turkey sandwiches, try wrapping all of your ingredients in a lettuce leaf. Or my personal favorite is to use a coconut wrap. I love these gluten free, dairy free turkey tzatziki wraps after Thanksgiving is over.
Dairy is another category of food that has been giving people digestive trouble since more mass production of the product began.
Many cows are given hormones to increase their milk production. Those hormones often make them sick. Then the cows are given antibiotics to get better. And since you are what you eat, and you are what you eat, eats, we often get a dose of antibiotics with any mass-produced dairy that we consume. Not the holiday bonus you were looking for I’m guessing.
Like gluten, luckily we now have many dairy free options on the market. You can make your own “milk” out of almost any nut or seed. It just involves some soaking and blending of the nuts like with my homemade almond milk or coconut milk. You can also buy many nut and seed milk alternatives in the store. Just be sure to avoid added sweeteners and a bunch of words that you can’t pronounce.
Dairy Free Swaps
Mashed potatoes are a Thanksgiving day staple. Instead of adding milk or cream, try adding coconut milk or coconut yogurt to give it nice texture, not to mention taste. Coconut will give a bonus of additional, natural sweetness, without too strong of a taste. I have a cauliflower – parsnip puree that’s creamy and delicious with no added dairy. It’s a great swap for mashed potatoes. Or you can try my paleo mashed cauliflower kale to get some more greens in your system.
Swap ghee for butter. Many who have sensitivities to dairy, like me, can tolerate ghee but not butter. The milk solids and lactose are removed from butter to make ghee. This makes it easier to digest for many. Miyoko’s also makes a great vegan butter out of coconut oil.
If you’re baking, banana, avocado, and applesauce are all great dairy free swaps for butter or cream. They add a nice richness with real, unprocessed food. I have a chocolate mousse recipe that slips in some bananas and avocado for some sweet and creamy texture.
Cheese is always a tough one, but there are really good nut cheeses on the market. I have a few vegan cheese recipes too that was easy to make like my smoky cashew chipotle cheese and this fermented walnut cheese. Miyokos also has a good line of nut based cheese.
Say Goodbye to Sugar
When your body has excess sugar in it from grains, legumes, sweets, processed food and even alcohol, your system is constantly working to process it. There’s usually too much to burn so it gets stored as fat, in addition to causing a host of other mental and physical issues. Reducing your sugar intake allows your body to burn fat for fuel, which can help your waistline, energy, and brain power.
You’re probably thinking, but giving up sugar at the holidays is downright cruel. I’ll reply to that, enjoy a few select goodies in moderation. Better yet, make some healthy holiday food swaps, and you may not miss a thing.
Refined Sugar Swaps
Sweet potatoes have a nice, all natural sweetness to them. Not only that, but they’re high in antioxidants, Vitamin C, fiber, and even a little protein. You can’t say any of that about refined sugar. You can mix some mashed sweet potatoes with coconut milk and a little cinnamon for a naturally sweet treat. My sweet potato pumpkin fritters will also make a nice fall snack or healthy dessert.
There are also some healthier alternatives to refined sugar that don’t spike your insulin levels so dramatically. Dates and honey are natural and easier for most people to digest. I use a little Stevia from time to time to sweeten desserts. Stevia comes from a plant that is simply dried and ground. Be sure to look for organic, whole green leaf, which is the least processed.
Using spices can also help things taste good. A dash of vanilla or sprinkle of cinnamon can brighten up many dishes. Cinnamon has been shown to actually lower blood sugar so it’s a nice addition to dessert.
If you love your apple pie, look at grilling fruit with a little dash of that healthy cinnamon. Or try my grain free, gluten free, sugar free apple cobbler recipe here.
Dark chocolate with over 80% cacao is high in antioxidants and can help quench your sweet tooth while giving you some added health benefits. My chocolate coconut cashew balls are also a great holiday treat.
Hopefully you realize that doing any of these healthy holiday food swaps doesn’t mean depriving yourself. You can still enjoy real food and great flavors with a few easy substitutions.
All that said, if there’s a must have dish that you eat every year and it contains gluten, dairy, AND sugar and there’s no way you’re giving it up, then by all means, enjoy it. But maybe you cut down on your portion size. And perhaps you evaluate the other things on your plate so they’re more balanced and healthy.
And of course when you do decide on exactly what you want to eat, make sure to enjoy it. Don’t beat yourself up when you’re eating it. That would defeat the whole purpose.
You just want to make sure you choose mindfully and don’t fall into a food trance where you’re shoveling green bean casserole unconsciously into your mouth until the dish is empty.
My Holiday Gift to You
As a gift to you my dear reader, I’ve created a special holiday coaching package.
I know how difficult the holidays (and beyond!) can be from an emotional standpoint as it pertains to food as well as family drama and overbooked schedules. As a Certified Transformational Health Coach, I help people feel better in their bodies. If your mindset, diet, and food choices are not making you feel good, then let’s fix it! I can custom create an individual plan for you to get you feeling balanced and energetic so you can rock this life.
Don’t let the holidays overwhelm you so that you’re in a panic when January 1 hits. I can help you stay centered during this hectic time by offering some meditation and breathing tips to relax when things around you are a little hectic. I can also assist with healthy recipe ideas, best choices when dining out, or even with any mental shifts you’re looking to make around food and lifestyle.
We can meet via skype or phone from wherever you live. Take the first step by scheduling a free 20-minute discovery call to discuss your needs and how I can help. Read more here.
All you have to do is send me an email so we can get the ball rolling with a free, no-obligation call.
I’m wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday!