UACES Facebook Healthy for the Holidays
skip to main content


The holidays are known as a time for spending time with family and friends, celebrating, and spreading joy. It is also a time for cooking, baking, and overindulging in family favorite recipes. What you might not know is that the average person gains 7-10lbs between Thanksgiving and Christmas because of the overindulgent culture around this time of the year. Don’t worry, you can make it through the holidays with some simple tips.

There are some things we can do in the kitchen to help save us from the extra pounds. Reduce extra calories, fat, sugar, and sodium without sacrificing flavor by using some of these simple recipe swaps:

  • Use chicken or vegetable broth instead of butter and cream when making mashed potatoes.
  • Substitute unsweetened applesauce, mashed banana, pureed beans, or canned pumpkin for oil, margarine, and butter in baked goods such as muffins, brownies, and quick breads.
  • Try low-fat plain Greek yogurt or reduced fat sour cream in place of regular sour cream and use Neufchatel cream cheese instead of regular.
  • Instead of using only white flour, use half whole wheat and half white, or all whole wheat.
  • Mix dried fruits or dark chocolate chips into quick breads and cookies instead of regular chocolate chips.
  • Use evaporated skim milk in place of heavy cream in pies and custards.
  • Sprinkle salads with chopped nuts instead of croutons.
  • Use cinnamon, orange slices, and cranberries to sweeten apple cider instead of sugar.
  • Drain and rinse canned foods to reduce sodium or buy the reduced sodium versions.
  • Use herbs and spices to season food instead of salt.
  • Instead of season salt, just use the herb by itself, such as garlic powder instead of garlic salt.
  • Use cinnamon, citrus zest, and extracts to give flavor to baked goods and reduce the need for extra sugar.

Other than recipe swaps, there are some actions we can take to make it through the holiday functions. Check out these helpful healthy holiday tips:

  • Go for a walk between meals/activities to not only burn energy but help you feel less sluggish.
  • When fixing your plate, put less food on by making your food not touch each other instead of piling everything up.
  • Try using a smaller plate when possible.
  • Avoid grazing throughout the day or while cooking. We eat a lot of extra calories when doing this.
  • Keep the indulgence for the actual holidays. Sometimes people feel that since it’s the holiday season they can have treats all the time, but save the treats for the actual holiday.
  • Drink plenty of water and skip sugary drinks.
  • Only pick 1-2 desserts or try tiny pieces of everything instead of full pieces.
  • Incorporate games into your festivities in place of eating more. Playing games can be fun and help burn off some of that energy the food is giving us.
  • Have a healthy holiday buddy, which is someone to help keep you accountable. Find someone that can help you or someone who is also trying to stay healthy during the holidays and you can help each other throughout the season.

Healthy foods don’t have to taste bland, this recipe for cranberry pumpkin muffins makes a delicious, yet healthy sweet treat or breakfast on the go you can make the day before:

Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins

Prep time: 15min | Cook time: 25min | Yield:  12 servings| Serving size: 1 muffin

Nutrition Facts: 200 cal per serving | 7g Fat |32g Carb | 3g Protein


  • 2 cups flour
  • ¾ cups sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon allspice
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs (large)
  • ¾ cups pumpkin (canned)
  • 2 cups cranberries (fresh, frozen-chopped)


  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  2. Sift together dry ingredients (flour through all spice) and set aside
  3. Beat oil, eggs, and pumpkin together until well blended.
  4. Add the wet ingredients (pumpkin mixture) to the dry ingredients all at once, stir until moistened. Fold in chopped cranberries.
  5. Spoon into paper lined muffin cups. Bake at 400° for 15-30 minutes.

Adapted from My Family Holiday Dinner Tradition Cookbook by Richland County Oregon Extension Family Nutrition Program

This may be a time of celebrations and holiday parties filled with tasty treats, but it doesn’t have to be a time to pack on the extra pounds. Use any of these tips to help you throughout the holiday season. I hope we can work together to stay healthy during the holidays.

Stay savvy,


Connect with me!

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.