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Smart Swaps During the Holidays

During Thanksgiving, an average American will eat more than 3,000 calories for dinner. The table is packed with appetizers, high-calorie dishes, snacks, and perhaps, alcohol. The endless options of food are tempting, but with a few swaps, staying on track with your fitness goals is possible.

With a few tweaks to the menu this year, you can indulge in a traditional holiday meal without sacrificing it altogether. In addition, practicing mindful eating can assist in healthful dietary changes.

Being mindful of the food you eat helps gain awareness of the experience of eating. Treating yourself to tasty food is OK because it will not ruin your diet completely. Here are some healthful food swaps to keep to calories down this holiday season.

Swap Veggies and Dip for Chips and Dip

Forget the chips this year. Try a colorful tray of fresh vegetables paired with a light dip. The vegetables provide your body with lots of essential nutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and fiber (which also keeps you feeling full).

Swap Roasted Brussels Sprouts for Green Bean Casserole

Green bean casserole may be easy to make, but it is not easy on the stomach. This dish is packed with sodium, fat and calories. Stay on track with a more healthful vegetable dish by roasting some Brussels sprouts with olive oil. This dish also can be used with other vegetables such as asparagus or broccoli.

Swap Pumpkin Pie for Pecan Pie

Treat yourself to a slice of pumpkin pie this year! Pumpkin pie will help you meet the daily recommendations for vitamin A, fiber, calcium and iron. Although  pecan and pumpkin pie include fatty ingredients, pumpkin pie is lower in calories and fat than pecan pie. A slice of pecan pie has 550 calories and 22 grams of fat, while pumpkin pie has 325 calories and 13 grams of fat per slice.

Swap Healthier Ingredients for Dessert Ingredients

Making homemade desserts gives you the opportunity to make them more healthful. Reducing calories in classic holiday treats is easy. Here are a few ingredient substitutes:

  • Save calories by using applesauce instead of oil.
  • Add flavor and some antioxidants by using maple syrup instead of sugar.
  • Add fiber by using whole-wheat flour instead of white flour.
  • Save calories by using avocado instead of butter.
  • Save calories by using Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.


By Hannah Volk, Community Nutrition Intern, NDSU Extension

Reviewed by: Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist



10 Tips: Make Healthier Holiday Choices. (July 25, 2017). Retrieved from

Cox, J. (March 13, 2019). Healthy Baking Alternatives. Retrieved from

Robbins, O. (Oct. 31, 2018). 5 Easy Food Swaps for Healthier Holiday Nelson, J.B. (2017). Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectrum30(3), 171–174.

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Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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