Now that the holidays are upon us, so is all of the delicious foods that come along with them. It can be tough to resist celebrating by indulging, especially when gathering with friends and family after possibly missing festivities last year due to the pandemic. At the same time, most people are concerned about staying healthy. We know that one of the best things that you can do to protect your health is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. But don’t worry! You can still have your cake and eat it, too! There are some simple food swaps you can make when you are hosting or attending holiday gatherings to make your meals, snacks and desserts a little healthier. Check out these food swap ideas to get you started!

5 Ridiculously delicious holiday food swaps

1. Don’t drink your calories.

It can be tough to resist getting in the holiday spirit by picking up a peppermint mocha while out shopping, or having some eggnog when decorating cookies. But keep in mind that beverages like these often contain well over 300 calories in just one serving. Also, liquid calories don’t make us feel full, so you are better off not drinking them. Instead, opt for water, seltzers, or even black coffee. If you do need a latte or are craving a festive drink, opt for skim milk over almond or soy, as nut milks often contain added sugars (which adds even more calories).

Don’t drink your calories! These holiday drinks are made with seltzer and a little juice vs. rum or higher-calorie beverages.

2. Use fruit as a topping on your favorite dip

When making your favorite dip, for veggies or chips, boost the nutrition in the snack by adding some freeze dried fruit, like Crispy Green’s Crispy Fruit. You can crush them up to add a little bit of crunch to your dish while adding in nutrients. Just be sure to add the fruit right before you serve it, as freeze dried fruit tends to retain moisture once it is exposed to the air.

Guacamole is packed with nutrition and healthy fats. Fruit dips made with yogurt and fresh and frozen fruit are other good healthy food swaps.

3. Charcuterie boards aren’t just for meat

Charcuterie boards with beautiful arrays of meats and cheeses are a hit at holiday parties, but why not food swap out some (or all) of the meat for veggies instead? You can use a mandoline slicer to (carefully) slice a variety of different veggies up and then fold them into beautiful shapes. This is a great way to show off your creativity, and also make your holiday appetizer dish healthier. Feel free to sub in some color and crunch Crispy Fruit as you see in this Smart LifeBites story  Get “On Board” With Charcuterie.

Load up the veggies on your charcuterie and you won’t miss the salami.

4. Swap some protein powder for sugar when baking

When doing your holiday baking, remember that you don’t need to follow every recipe exactly as it is stated. There is room to freelance! One thing that you can do to boost the nutritional value of your cookies or cakes is to swap out some of the sugar for protein powder instead. If you take ¼ cup of sugar out of the recipe and replace it with protein powder, it is doubtful that you will even notice it when eating. But you will have the added benefits of extra protein and less sugar, which is a winning combination. Try this  recipe for Protein Banana Bread with Collagen.

This banana bread is made with protein powder, reducing the overall sugar count. The added protein will also give you an added energy boost.

5. Skip the pie and grill some fruit instead

Everyone loves apple pie, but the added sugar and calories can make it a disaster for your diet. Instead, get the warmth and goodness of pie by grilling up some apples. If you steam sliced apples in some water to soften them, then put them on the grill, you can get the same yummy apple taste the with natural sugars in the fruit coming out in the grilling process.


If you’ve never tasted grilled fruit before, you’re in for a treat. Grilling fruit elevates its sweetness. Pair grilled peaches with a scoop of ice cream or a low-fat yogurt.

This season, try incorporating some of these ideas into your holiday meal prep. Every little place that you can make your diet healthier counts, as it all adds up over time. You can still enjoy the holidays and all of the delicious foods that come along with it, but by making small changes to your everyday routine you can enjoy these things without the guilt!

— Nicole Avena, PhD

Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and a pioneer in the field of food addiction. She’s also the author of “What to Eat When You’re Pregnant: A Week-By-Week Guide to Support Your Health and Your Baby’s Development.” Her seminal research work jump-started a new field of exploration in medicine and nutrition.  Learn more about her at her website

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