5 Ways to Lighten Up Holiday Side Dishes

By: Bambi Turner

Thanksgiving dinner can yield more calories than you should have in one full day. And Christmas dinner can be even worse. See more Thanksgiving turkey pictures.

Did you know that the average Thanksgiving meal contains about 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat, and the traditional Christmas dinner can top 7,000 calories [source: American Council on Exercise]? With experts recommending no more than 2,000 daily calories for adults, it's no surprise that Americans gain about a pound a year during the holidays. Over the years, these pounds can add up to significant weight gain that can affect your health, as well as your level of body satisfaction [source: National Institutes of Health].

Besides the obvious health and weight impacts of over-eating, these high-fat, high-calorie meals can zap your energy. Lightening up on holiday meals can allow you to actually enjoy the rest of the day, instead of feeling sluggish and uncomfortable. To make your holiday meals healthier, try these tips to cut calories and fat in your favorite side dishes.


5: Bread and Rolls

Bread and rolls offer some of the easiest opportunities to lighten up your meal without changing the flavor of your favorite dishes. Swap high-calorie white flour for wheat to create healthier homemade bread. Use egg substitutes in place of whole eggs in rolls, and you'll cut about 60 calories and 5 grams of fat per egg [source: USDA].

Some of the biggest culprits for hidden calories are muffins or corn bread, which are loaded with oil and sugar. Replace oil with nonfat yogurt or applesauce to keep your baked goods moist while dramatically reducing their fat content [source: Cain]. Try using low-calorie sweeteners instead of sugar to eliminate empty calories. For a healthier alternative to these sweet treats, try banana bread. It's naturally sweet because of its fruit content and contains plenty of heart-healthy fiber.


4: Candied Yams

Syrup and honey take this dish over the edge.
Syrup and honey take this dish over the edge.

Candied yams are a classic holiday favorite for many families. Unfortunately, this dish is often drenched in syrup and honey, or even topped with miniature marshmallows for extra sweetness. All of this sugar is loaded with empty calories and makes it impossible to even distinguish the naturally sweet taste of the yams.

To lighten up your candied yams, try adding only half as much butter as the recipe calls for. Skip the marshmallows and use fruit juice or chunks of real fruit for added sweetness. Reduce or eliminate honey and syrup in favor of low-calorie spices like cinnamon and nutmeg [source: Reader's Digest]. Better yet, try wrapping an undressed yam in foil and baking it like a regular baked potato. Enjoy the full flavor of these holiday favorites, and save room for dessert.


3: Vegetables

We all know the importance of eating our veggies, but excess butter and salt can make your vegetable dishes more fattening than a slice of pumpkin pie. Rather than covering them with butter, use herbs and spices to season vegetables, or grill a selection of your favorite vegetables in olive oil. You can also add fruit to complement the vegetables' natural flavor without adding fat. Try carrots and dried cranberries or squash and sliced apples for a unique and delicious combination [source: Cain].

Consider swapping the classic peas or corn with vegetables that are rich in flavor. Squash, zucchini and peppers often taste great on their own, eliminating the need for butter and seasoning. To lighten the traditional green bean casserole, bake chopped onions to create your own low-fat crispy topping and replace creamy soup with reduced calorie-broth.


2: Stuffing

Add more vegetables to your stuffing to healthy it up.
Add more vegetables to your stuffing to healthy it up.

Whether served as a side dish or baked with your holiday turkey, stuffing is a staple at most holiday meals. It's also loaded with butter and salt, and surprisingly high in fat and calories. Lighten up your favorite stuffing recipe by replacing a portion of the breadcrumbs with chopped onions or vegetables. You'll cut empty calories while adding fiber and nutrients [source: Cain].

Instead of loading up on salt and butter for flavor, try adding cranberries, apples or dried fruit to create a naturally low-fat dish that guests will love. If your recipe calls for chicken stock, try switching to vegetable broth or low-fat chicken broth to keep your stuffing moist and flavorful.


1: Mashed Potatoes

What would a holiday meal be without the mashed potatoes? Yes, they're delicious, but because of their high milk and butter content, they're also one of the most fattening dishes on your holiday table. To cut fat without sacrificing flavor, try switching from whole milk to skim, or use equal amounts of each. Consider using fat-free sour cream in place of butter to create a creamy texture and add flavor. Swap butter and salt for fresh garlic or Parmesan cheese to create a unique taste with a fraction of the calories [source: Cain].

To really lighten up your holiday mashed potatoes, switch your plain white potatoes for a healthier alternative. Mashed sweet potatoes or cauliflower will have a similar taste and texture, but are lower in calories and contain higher levels of nutrients.


Lots More Information

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  • American Council on Exercise. "ACE Offers Healthy Tips to Stay Fit Through the Holidays." November 17, 2004. 9/9/09.http://www.acefitness.org/media/media_display.aspx?itemid=205
  • American Council on Exercise. "Stuff the Turkey, Not Yourself on Thanksgiving." Date Unknown. 9/9/09.http://www.acefitness.org/article/2511/
  • Cain, Sandra Kelly. "Lighten Up Your Holidays." For Better Living. December 18, 2007. 9/9/09.
  • National Institutes of Health. "Holiday Weight Gain Slight, But May Last A Lifetime." March 22, 2000. 9/8/09.http://www.nichd.nih.gov/news/releases/holidayweightgain.cfm
  • Reader's Digest. " Candied Yams and Apples." Like Grandma Used to Make. January 13, 1997. 9/7/09.http://www.rd.com/thanksgiving-recipes-candied-yams-and-apples/article13910.html
  • US Department of Agriculture. "How to Buy Eggs." February 1995. 9/7/09.http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3022056
  • Women's Health. "The 942-calorie Thanksgiving Dinner." Today Show. November 18, 2007. 9/8/09.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21870864/