Healthful Holiday Substitutions

It’s totally possible to have healthful and fun holiday celebrations.

Just don’t eat everything in sight.

CookiesI know this seems like a no-brainer, but the holidays are all about balance. Overindulgence is the actual pitfall.

What got me thinking about this? Well, I’ve seen several Facebook posts this past week about cookie baking. Two different friends posted photos of their families baking together.

While you may expect me to say “Bah Humbug” to these events, I actually think they’re wonderful. What a great way to spend time together, and what a delightful holiday tradition!

I’m also not going to say “don’t eat those cookies, they aren’t good for you.”

Okay. I admit that that thought did go through my mind, but I’m trying to be realistic.  You can’t give up all your favorites. I’ve seen several articles already recommending that you go ahead and eat some cookies or other holiday treats — just do so in moderation. Feeling like a martyr about food tends to backfire.

Now I’m not suggesting that you make every food “free” or  “no calorie,” but go ahead and have a little bit of your holiday favorites.

And what about the rest of the holiday foods? Well, that’s where substitution comes in.

There are plenty of ways to replace particular ingredients in order to make holiday treats more healthful. With these substitutions, I promise, no one will know the difference. In some cases it’s not even what you’re taking out but what you’re putting in that counts.

Let’s look at an example. A couple of weekends ago, we had some friends over for brunch. The featured item was waffles. These weren’t just any old waffles from a mix, and they were definitely not freezer waffles. Instead, these were yeasted waffles that needed time to rise. You have to wake up early to get them going before your guests get up. The recipe calls for eggs, milk, sugar, flour, yeast, and lots of butter.

I did not destroy these waffles. I did not replace every ingredient. Instead, I made a few slight tweaks. I used skim milk instead of whole milk, and I substituted part whole grain flour for some regular white flour. These waffles were so good that they didn’t need butter or syrup. Instead I topped mine with fresh fruit.

Here’s another example. I recently made stuffing using slightly different ingredients. I began with whole grain bread instead of white bread. Then, instead of the eggs and butter from my mom’s traditional recipe, I tried adding leftover mashed pumpkin.

The stuffing was amazing. The changes I made increased the fiber content of each serving, added a vegetable to the mix, and boosted the flavor too. Who would have guessed that I could make such great changes to a previously fat-loaded family favorite without a single complaint?

Looking for more modifications? Try these…

Replace heavy cream with fat-free half-and-half or evaporated skim milk.

Replace a portion of white flour with 100% whole wheat flour. White whole wheat flour, by King Arthur, has the best results and can almost be replaced 100%.

In most recipes, you can slightly reduce the amount of sugar. Compensate with an extra dash of sweet flavorings like vanilla extract or cinnamon. These give a hint of sweetness without the calories.

Use fewer chocolate chips or substitute dried fruits or nuts instead.

Did you know that two large egg whites can replace one whole egg?

Combine 1/4 cup Greek yogurt with ½ cup butter to replace 1 cup of butter in a recipe.

What else am I up to in our holiday kitchen? Well actually, our family requested a really non-traditional holiday food this year for Christmas. They want low-country  “Shrimp and Grits.”

I’m exploring ways to make this dish a little lighter. Right now I’m planning to use broth instead of butter, more onions, and maybe some celery.  I think I’ll add more seasonings for flavor and use a little less bacon. Of course, there will still be shrimp and it will still be served on stone-ground grits.

There are lots of tips out there for ways to modify recipes, make changes, and eat healthfully, even during the holidays. Be mindful. Just don’t eat everything in sight.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

MyPlate Meal Makeover Handout

Check out this amazing MyPlate meal makeover! I originally kept this handout as an exclusive part of the soon-to-be-released My Plate activity book, but my resolve has crumbled and I can’t wait to share it with you today! If you like what you see, be sure to keep an eye out for the free printable MyPlate handout at the bottom of the post…

Meal Makeover: Use MyPlate to Rearrange This Plate of Fried Chicken

MyPlate Meal MakeoverRevise Fried Chicken:

A typical plate filled with fried chicken and macaroni and cheese weighs in at over 850 calories! That’s way too huge for a single meal. Plus, the plate is full of solid fats and processed grains, with very few nutrients in sight. This is where MyPlate comes in handy. Use MyPlate to rebalance the plate and make the meal more nutritious!

Since filling half the plate with fruits and vegetables is key to MyPlate, start there, replacing half of the chicken and macaroni with steamed corn and green beans. Then keep protein to a quarter of the plate, choosing white meat to cut down on saturated fat. This leaves the dairy and grain groups, which are represented by the macaroni and cheese. Look at the new plate! It’s got only 333 calories, and it looks just as full as the other plate!

Dinner Meal Makeover Details:

Using MyPlate to make over this meal saves you 517 calories!

This new meal is far higher in nutrients, especially fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It’s also lower in empty calories than the first plate.

You could make this meal even better by replacing the refined grain macaroni with a whole grain pasta like whole wheat pasta or quinoa pasta. If you replaced the full-fat cheese with low-fat cheese, you’d take the improvements even further!

The green beans add 30% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin C and 20% of your DV of vitamin K.

The corn adds 17% of your DV of fiber and 21% of your DV of thiamin.

Like what you see? Here’s a free (and printable!) My Plate handout:

MyPlate Meal Makeover

And don’t miss these other engaging MyPlate materials from the Nutrition Education Store!

MyPlate Coloring Book

MyPlate DVD

MyPlate Floor Sticker

Sneak Peek from the Member Library

Have you heard about the Food and Health Membership program? It’s chock-full of fantastic resources for educators, including…

  • Access to all materials with a comprehensive, searchable database that is loaded with nutrition articles, chef-tested recipes, and engaging handouts.
  • White-label newsletters that you can use to create your own content.
  • Memorable handouts. Access all of these handouts in a library that is categorized for easy use.
  • Presentation and interactive project ideas for wellness fairs, classes, lunch-and-learn sessions, cooking demonstrations, and health fairs.
  • Chef-developed and exhaustively-tested recipes for meals that are both delicious and healthful.
  • The latest food news and scientific research. (Since we don’t accept outside funding or sponsorship of any kind, we can bring you the latest news, free of bias).
  • A translation tool that helps you translate all your articles for non-English-speaking clients. You can copy and paste to create handouts in all languages!
  • A food and health celebrations calendar that features monthly themes, food- and health-related holidays, seasonal produce, relevant clip art, handouts, and more.
  • Satisfaction, guaranteed!


Today I want to share one of those popular articles with you. Lisa C. Andrews, MEd, RD, LD has put together a great guide for throwing and attending healthful holiday parties this year. Here’s what she has to say…

The holidays come upon us fast, and so can holiday weight gain… if you’re not careful. Below are some simple swaps to prevent “a little round belly that shakes when you laugh like a bowl full of jelly.”

1. Serve veggies and dip for appetizers. Pepper strips, grape tomatoes, and cucumbers look beautiful when arranged around a bowl of hummus or dip.

2. Swap plain Greek yogurt for sour cream in your favorite dips. Your guests likely won’t notice the change and they’ll get a nice dose of protein and calcium.

3. Sauté onions and garlic for stuffing in non-stick spray or low sodium broth in place of oil, butter, or margarine.

4. Try mashed sweet potatoes with orange juice, ginger, and cinnamon in place of marshmallows, brown sugar, and butter.

5. Use 1% or 2% milk in mashed potatoes in place of whole milk or heavy cream. This cuts calories and fat from the dish.

6. Keep selzter water on hand for “mocktails”. Pour over ice and add a twist of lime. Voila! No hangover.

7. Use whipped butter or light margarine in place of stick butter. This reduces fat and calories.

8. Use reduced-fat mayonnaise in place of full-fat mayonnaise in dips and dressings. Olive oil varieties provide heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
9. Try a salad dressing spritzer in place of bottled dressings. Blend olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and dijon mustard together for your own dressing.

10. Substitute jarred baby prunes, mashed bananas, applesauce, or plain yogurt for the fat in baked goods (such as quick breads).

11. Split desserts with your spouse, a friend, or other party guests. You may not be hungry for a full piece of pie, anyway.

12. Chop vegetables and add them to soups, stews, salads, and casseroles. This boosts the fiber and nutrient content, and also adds color to your dish.

13. Add seasonal fruit such as apples, pears, or pomegranates to salads in place of dried fruit. This adds texture and taste to your salad while reducing added sugar.

By Lisa C. Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

Remember, this article (and thousands of others) was only available to members until I decided to preview it today. If you liked what you saw, check out what a membership entails or just sign up today!

Oh, and here’s a printable version of the handout Lisa wrote…


And here are some other holiday resources…


Sneak Peek from the Member Site: Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

Today I want to share one of my favorite articles from the member-exclusive October edition of the Communicating Food for Health Newsletter.

In this handout, Hollis Bass, MEd, RD, LD and Lisa Andrews, RD team up to offer fun ways to help your clients improve their eating patterns and eat more fruits and vegetables. Check it out!

Are you in a fruit and vegetable slump? It’s easy to get stuck eating the same things over and over. Green salad, tomatoes, carrots. Apples, bananas, grapes. Sound familiar? It may be time to mix things up!

Make your own salad bar. Buy at least two kinds of salad greens (baby spinach and romaine, for example) and an assortment of other raw veggies. If time is an issue, go with pre-washed, pre-cut items. Every night at dinner, bring out the assortment of greens and veggies and let everyone make their own salad.

Roast and grill. The pickiest of eaters become veggie-lovers when they try something like oven-roasted Brussels sprouts or grilled fresh asparagus. Roasting and grilling bring out flavors and textures that raw or steamed vegetables just don’t offer.

Embrace the exotic. While we usually recommend that you buy local produce that’s in season, there’s a world of produce out there (like cardoon!). Trying something more exotic once in awhile won’t hurt. Ask the produce manager where you shop to point you toward unique items. Stop by ethnic grocery stores to see what they offer. Where I live, there’s a huge grocery store that carries an endless array of fruits and vegetables from all over the world. Take a short “field trip” and bring home something new to try.

Find fancier frozen veggies. If your freezer is full of peas, carrots, and corn, branch out to other vegetables! Again, this is where an ethnic grocery store comes in handy. They might have things you don’t usually serve. Some specialty stores, like Trader Joe’s, have items like frozen grilled cauliflower. Give these new tastes a try!

Get out of your fruit and veggie slump today by trying something new!

By Hollis Bass, MEd, RD, LD

BONUS: Kids in a Slump? Getting Your Kids to Eat More Fruits & Veggies

We asked Lisa Andrews, a registered dietitian and mother of two, how she gets kids to eat more produce. Here are a few of her tips:

1. Take your kids when you buy food. While most parents cringe at the idea, it’s important for kids to know where their food comes from. Take them to farmer’s markets and have them help select beans, tomatoes, corn, peaches and other seasonal fruits and vegetables. They may be more likely to try it if they picked it themselves.

2. Invite your kids to help you cook. Kids can clean and snap beans or rinse fruit to be served. This may help them become more confident in the kitchen and more likely to eat food they have prepared themselves.

3. Don’t force food. Encourage your child to try one bite to see if he/she likes it. Don’t reward with treats as it may set up emotional eating later, or your child may feel obligated to eat the new food just to get to dessert.

You can find more from Lisa at Look for her on Facebook ( and Twitter (@nutrigirl).

Here’s a free PDF handout of this article that you can use however you’d like!


There are lots of great materials that would work in tandem with this article. For example, check out this Rainbow Salad Health Fair Display Kit — it’s a perfect way to capitalize on this lesson and get your clients to make healthful choices!

Here are a few items from that kit…

Nutrition Posters for the Workplace

My team and I have created tons of posters over the years, and some of my very favorite ones teach lessons that are important to showcase in the workplace.

We have posters that are designed to bring “better numbers like blood pressure, cholesterol, and BMI” or to motivate in a fun way like the food art posters. There are also ones that teach great nutrition lessons and promote positive reinforcement and education.

Let’s take a tour through some of the best options, shall we?

Top Heart Posters:

Top BMI Poster:

Best Nutrition Lessons:

Favorite Motivational Posters:

And of course there is our entire collection of over 150 posters. Which ones will best brighten up your workspace?

And, as a special bonus because I love ya, here’s a free copy of the printable PDF handout that accompanies the Fabulous Fruits and Vegetables poster.


Substitute a Fruit for a Fat

I’ve been looking for more ways to modify recipes to make them more healthful.  This quest started as part of my recent Heart-Healthy Cooking class, but it has continued as part of my regular life. Revising recipes to make them better for your health can be an objective for anyone who wants to eat a little less fat, cholesterol, and sugar.

Prunes in BlenderLet’s start small.

Two great replacements for butter, oil, and sugar in baking projects are applesauce and prune puree.


Well, both applesauce and prune puree can replace half of the fat in many recipes. So if the recipe calls for 1 cup of oil, you can use ½ cup of applesauce and ½ cup of oil. You may also need to reduce the baking time by up to 25%. Watch your baked goods closely and pull them out as soon as they’re cooked through.

So why do applesauce and prunes make decent fat replacements in recipes? The answer lies in the fruit. You see, the fruit provides both moisture and structure to the baked goods. That’s why this substitution is best for foods like apple cakes or brownies, though it works well in cookies and cakes too.

Let’s take this a little further. There are other benefits to these substitutions.

For example, when you add applesauce or prune puree to a recipe, you may be able to reduce the amount of sugar. The natural sugars in the applesauce and prune puree provide additional sweetness, which can be balanced by a reduction in the sugar you add to the recipe. To avoid over-the-top sugar content, be sure to purchase unsweetened applesauce.

By making this substitution, you’re also adding a little more fruit to the recipe! Yay! That’s more fiber and nutrients than you would have gotten with the original recipe.

So, how can you put this plan into action?

You can buy ready-made prune puree or just make your own by combining six tablespoons of hot water and eight ounces of prunes (about 23) in the blender. This makes about ¾ cup of prune puree.  Note: for diabetics, this approach does increase the carbohydrate count in the end product.

And of course, you can make your own unsweetened applesauce or pick up a jar at the store.

Brownies, ReimaginedSubstitution Tips:

Applesauce seems to go best with lighter colored and flavored products. Think apple cakes or oatmeal cookies.

The prune’s flavors and colors go well with chocolate and spicier treats like gingerbread, spice cake, and brownies.

These substitutions do work with box mixes, but you have more control over the other ingredients if you make the entire recipe from scratch.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Yes, there’s totally a free handout too. Check it out!

Healthful Holiday Baking

There are tons of other ways to make your holiday celebrations more healthful! Check out these wonderful holiday education resources

Holiday Challenge Kit

Holiday Challenge Kit

Holiday Secrets Book and Cooking Demo Program

Holiday Secrets Book and Cooking Demo Program

Holiday Poster Value Set

Holiday Poster Value Set

Holiday Fruit Lights Cards

Holiday Fruit Lights Cards