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Healthy Food Alternatives for the Holidays

K-State nutritionist Tanda Kidd suggests incorporating healthy food alternatives when putting together the holiday menu.

Lighten holiday gatherings with healthy food alternatives

Low-fat substitutes are easy and don’t change the quality of food, Kidd says

November 12, 2019

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Tanda Kidd says you can have your cake – or your pie, or your mashed potatoes and gravy – and eat it, too.

But the Kansas State University nutritionist says you should also take advantage of healthier versions of the same foods that are popular during the holidays.

“As adults, we like to eat things that remind us of when we were children, and maybe were less stressed in our lives,” Kidd said. “That’s part of eating during the holidays.

“We can still enjoy those foods, but make them a little bit healthier. Let’s say a chocolate cream pie; people often use whole milk or cream to make those chocolate cream pies. You can still enjoy that chocolate cream pie, but you can use low-fat milk such as skim milk, 1%, or 2%. Your guests will be surprised that you can use skim milk and the consistency and texture of the pie pretty much hold up the same. People will not notice a difference.” 

Radio interview with Tanda Kidd:

Kidd has published a fact sheet that outlines many healthier options to traditional holiday foods. The publication is available online through the K-State Research and Extension bookstore.

Some of Kidd’s recommendations include removing the skin from holiday turkey before you eat it, making gravy with low-fat broth instead of the turkey drippings, and making your own cranberry sauce.

“It’s so easy to go to the grocery store and buy the canned cranberry sauce,” she said. “But if people would take the time, you could make homemade cranberry sauce, and control the amount of sugar you put in, making it a little bit more healthy that way.”

Some other tips that Kidd shared include:

  • Substitute low-fat, or skim milk for whole milk. Or use half the amount of whole milk with half the amount of a lower-fat milk
  • Substitute healthier oils for butter. “Look for ways to decrease the amount of saturated fat that you’re putting into the meal,” Kidd said
  • Consider serving pies without crust
  • Substitute angel food cake for cake, or go without frosting on the cake.
  • If buying canned goods, look for versions with low sodium. If you have canned vegetables that are high in sodium, rinse them under tap water before heating
  • If buying canned fruit, look for options packed in 100% juice or light syrup

“If you can turn your holiday gatherings into enjoying the people around you and not so much focus on the food itself, you will find that most people won’t even notice that you have made some healthy substitutes here and there,” Kidd said.


Smaller portions, exercise can help to enhance holidays

Kansas State University nutritionist Tanda Kidd says it’s a good idea to slow down and focus on enjoying friends and family during the holidays.

Eating too much food can often take away from being able to do that.

“Holidays seem to be a time when we go on auto-pilot, and we like to eat most of the foods that are there and available,” Kidd said. “I think one reason we do that is because it’s the holidays; this is not food we traditionally eat throughout the year.”

“When you are in the ‘Season of Feasting’ and you want to sample everything in front of you, just take small amounts of it. It’s okay. You won’t offend anyone. It’s okay to take just a tablespoon or so.”

Kidd suggests starting with your favorite foods first: “That’s when you’re probably most hungry and food tastes the best. You can satisfy your hunger and enjoy your favorite foods.”

Eating too much often leads to needing rest, which she says takes away from the reason for getting together. “You want to be able to enjoy people, but if you over-stuff yourself, you probably just want to be left alone because you need your stomach to settle down.”

She also suggests making time for exercise, whether that be going on a family walk, or participating in a local event such as a Fun Run.

“Do something that your body will thank you for,” Kidd said.

At a glance

K-State nutritionist Tanda Kidd says there are many healthy alternatives to traditional holiday foods

Notable quote

“If you can turn your holiday gatherings into enjoying the people around you and not so much focus on the food itself, you will find that most people won’t even notice that you have made some healthy substitutes here and there.”

-- Tanda Kidd, nutritionist, K-State Research and Extension


Tanda Kidd

Written by

Pat Melgares


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the wellbeing of Kansans.
Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan.