Healthier versions of your favorite holiday foods that you’ll love

Thanksgiving dinner on the wooden table top view

Written by cookandculture | Edited By: Aditi Khandelwal & Carol Coutinho

November 12, 2020

Temperatures are dropping, loved ones are gathering, and the “most wonderful time of the year” is upon us yet again. But just what is it that makes this time of year so wonderful? If you ask us, it’s the return of those beloved holiday foods that have stood the test of time. From hot chocolate and eggnog to pumpkin pie and gingerbread, certain dishes, drinks, and desserts have become just as much a part of the holiday tradition as Christmas tree decorating and menorah lighting. Holiday meals are often seen as the last few “splurges” before a new year of healthy eating, but you don’t have to wait until 2021 to fuel your body with good food. As a matter of fact, most of your favorite holiday foods can be easily modified to make healthier, even tastier versions to bring to the dinner table this holiday season. If guilt-free sweet potato casserole and healthy hot cocoa sound like something you’d like to try this season, keep on reading! Your body – and your taste buds – will thank you.

Eggnog

Who knew that this traditionally sugary, dairy-and-egg based concoction could be made into something healthy? We did! We were, however, surprised to discover this recipe for completely vegan eggnog that tastes out-of-this-world. Substituting heavy milks and creams with a mixture of cashews, water, coconut milk, and dates, this version of the spiced drink is lighter on the stomach than your traditional heavy eggnog. Kahlua and rum are optional additions, though by omitting alcohol, you can keep this drink even healthier, but still tasty, by simply adding a dash of vanilla, nutmeg, and even cinnamon. The Gracious Pantry also offers another great eggnog recipe, and while this one is not vegan, it certainly promotes cleaner eating by eliminating the yolk of the egg and substituting cow’s milk for rice or almond milk. And don’t worry – this recipe can still satisfy your sweet tooth. Rather than heavily processed refined sugars, it calls for a bit of honey. Bonus healthy points if you’ve got raw, local honey on hand!

Hot Chocolate

 

Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows

A childhood favorite that never fails to warm our hearts – a nice cup of cocoa. Like eggnog, the recipe for this sweet, chocolatey drink can also be tweaked to make it healthier. The keys to making a guilt-free cup of cocoa, as seen in health coach Elizabeth Rider’s recipe for healthy hot chocolate, are natural ingredients and dairy-free milk. Oat milk is a great choice in this case, as it’ll still give your hot chocolate that creamy texture without adding any overpowering flavors. Though if you’re a fan of coconut or almonds, feel free to experiment with other plant-based milks! Aside from ditching the dairy, this recipe for healthy hot cocoa utilizes natural sweeteners, such as honey or maple syrup, as opposed to refined sugars. We love Elizabeth’s idea of adding a dash of vanilla to give your holiday drink a rich, gourmet flavor. Most importantly, in place of one of those sugary, processed Swiss Miss hot chocolate packets, this recipe suggests using either unsweetened cocoa powder or, better yet, raw cacao powder – vegan friendly and packed with flavonoids! Think your sweet tooth will still ask for more? We recommend topping your cup with a handful of Dandies all-natural vegan vanilla marshmallows – yum!

Stuffing 

Stuffing

All that carb-filled white bread that goes into traditional stuffing can leave you feeling, well, stuffed. Making your stuffing with higher-quality, hearty breads like sourdough, rye, or multi-grain bread like in this recipe for vegan stuffing will not just fill you up, but also nourish your body at the same time thanks to those healthy grains. Instead of relying on store-bought seasoning packets or even boxed stuffing mixes, use fresh bread and a combination of your own fresh or dried herbs and spices. Take advantage of particularly beneficial herbs and spices like rosemary and thyme, both of which are rich in vitamins A and C. And for our gluten-free friends or our foodies looking to go a more adventurous route with their stuffing this year, this recipe for appetizing quinoa stuffing is a big hit! This colorful side dish incorporates squash, garlic, cinnamon, apple cider vinegar, and a myriad of other wholesome health-boosting ingredients. 

Turkey

Turkey

Next on our list is perhaps the biggest staple of Thanksgiving dinner, though we’ve seen our fair share of whole turkeys at Christmas dinner as well. While it isn’t quite possible to make a vegan turkey recipe – sorry plant-based pals – healthy turkey recipes are certainly out there. The secret is simplicity. Leave out the sodium spiked seasonings and tuck away the deep fryer – you won’t need either when making the world’s simplest Thanksgiving turkey. The outside of this oven-cooked turkey is seasoned with the basics – just salt and pepper – while the inside is filled with aromatic herbs and veggies, like chopped apples, onions, and carrots. While there is some butter-basting involved in this recipe, feel free to use grass-fed butter, butter with added Omega-3’s, or even olive oil. 

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole

While we understand it may be tempting to candy those yams or cover your mashed sweet potatoes with a blanket of marshmallows and brown sugar, there are healthier alternatives to this holiday food that taste just as great, if not better! For instance, this healthy sweet potato pecan casserole from Kristine’s Kitchen Blog incorporates honey and cinnamon for sweetness and spice, as well as pecans for an added crunch and festive look. The casserole can also be made completely vegan by omitting dairy milk and using a substitute such as almond milk instead. The honey can also be swapped for maple syrup if desired. Believe us – your dinner guests will be reaching for second helpings, and maybe even a third, of this scrumptious side dish.

Dinner Rolls

Dinner Rolls

Nothing makes a holiday meal like a warm, toasty bread roll. We’ve discovered some delightful recipes for dinner rolls that everyone can enjoy…that’s right, gluten-free friends! We know gluten-free bread can be a major challenge to get right, but this recipe for dinner rolls from Mama Knows Gluten Free absolutely nailed it. Even if you aren’t gluten-free, we encourage you to try this one out, since excess amounts of gluten can worsen autoimmune conditions and wreak havoc on your digestive system. The recipe incorporates gluten-free flour and xanthan gum to aid in the rising process so you still get those fluffy, cloud-like rolls with volume. For a vegan dinner roll option that’s both buttery and soft, we suggest this recipe from Green Queen that calls for soy milk and vegan butter. Get even more health benefits out of your rolls by spreading them with a healthy homemade chia seed jam instead of plain ol’ butter. 

Gravy

Gravy

Long gone are the restrictive days of making turkey gravy solely from leftover pan juices. We fell in love with this recipe for vegan-friendly gluten-free gravy, simply because it’s as unique as it is delicious. It pairs nicely with turkey, mashed potatoes, and especially that vegan stuffing we mentioned earlier. So what’s in this gravy, you may ask? Potatoes and mushrooms! The secret to making gluten-free gravy thick is to be sure that the veggies you’re using are fully-cooked. This gravy also has a unique, delectable flavor thanks to the inclusion of tamari – a gluten-free soy sauce – and a handful of simple slices, herbs, and olive oil. Don’t believe that gravy without the pan juices could taste nearly as good as kind you’re used to? Try it for yourself and you’ll be blown away!

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce

Ah, yes – cranberry sauce: another one of those holiday foods we just can’t live without. But we can live without all the sugary additives in canned cranberry sauce, and that’s why we’re so thankful we stumbled upon this recipe for healthy homemade cranberry sauce. Don’t worry – this recipe definitely still embodies that sweet-but-tart taste of cranberry sauce that is so widely loved. The best part? It only takes fifteen minutes and just six ingredients to make it! In addition to this, it’s even…you guessed it…gluten-free and vegan! Hooray for inclusion! This sauce is actually a blend of both cranberries and apples, and uses a flavorful blend of vanilla, cinnamon, maple syrup, and orange zest. Is your mouth watering yet? While it complements mashed potatoes and savory sides well, you might even want to make extra to put out for dessert…it’s incredible over light vanilla ice cream!

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie

The Banana Diarie’s healthy spin-off of the classic seasonal dessert is a must-have for the holidays, especially since the health benefits of pumpkin are already so impressive. What makes this pie stand out from others is its flaky vegan crust and unbelievably creamy and rich filling – made with almond milk instead of any dairy. Better yet, as opposed to using refined, granulated sugar for sweetness, more natural alternatives – coconut sugar and maple syrup – are used in its place. Despite the fact that this pumpkin pie recipe is “low in sugar, completely vegan, egg free, gluten free, dairy free, can be made Paleo, and packed with nutrient dense pumpkin puree,” it tastes just as heavenly, if not even more so, than your traditional pumpkin pie. Wondering what to top it with? If you’re feeling ambitious, whip up a bowl of this healthy and fluffy vegan whipped cream. If you opt for a store-bought whipped topping, we suggest non-dairy almond milk whipped cream or even Cocowhip, another delicious dairy-free alternative to whipped topping. 

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies

If you’ve ever purchased one of those pre-cooked gingerbread decorating kits from the store around the holidays, you know those cookie pieces were nearly impossible to bite into, and not all that tasty…nor very good for you. Great news though – these healthy gingerbread cookies are perfect for decorating and snacking on! Using whole wheat flour in place of white flour, coconut oil in place of butter, and vanilla creme stevia for sweetness, this recipe includes a handful of healthy substitutions for its typically-used ingredients. It does take one egg to make a batch, so if you’re looking for an eggless recipe that’s totally vegan, Veg Annie’s vegan gingerbread cookies are to die for. Both recipes are gluten-free and contain all of those yummy spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and of course, ginger) that gingerbread is famous for. Whip up a batch of these for Santa this year, and be sure to save a few (or a whole bunch) for yourself! 

The holidays don’t have to leave you feeling guilty and gluttonous. With these doctored recipes of your favorite traditional holiday foods made healthy, you can enjoy delicious meals and know you’re nourishing your body all the while. If you decide to try out any of these recipes, or come up with some healthy variations of your own favorite holiday foods, we would love to hear about it! Connect with us on Instagram at @cookandculture and let’s bond through the journey of good eating. 

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