The holidays are almost here and it’s time to start planning what we will eat or cook! Usually when we think of holiday foods, we think of meats, buttery sides, and sugary desserts.
These usually cause stress and anxiety about going to holiday parties (or planning them.) But healthy holiday foods do exist, and it’s possible to learn what foods to embrace and what foods to avoid!
The key is to choose foods that are high in nutrients while being low in sugars and unhealthy fats. You can still nourish your body with the good stuff in December! Let’s take a look at 21 foods to eat this holiday season and the best way to prepare them for maximum impact!
21 Healthy Holiday Foods
1. Sweet potato
A sweet potatoes have some powerful benefits, including a high level of vitamin A that helps skin and eyesight. It also contains fiber for gastrointestinal health. There are naturally occuring sugars in this nutritious food, but thankfully they come in low amounts. Sweet potatoes are great for a holiday dinner because they’re loaded with vitamins A and C, and are fat free.
Preparing: When you’re preparing a sweet potato dish for the holidays, opt for simple. Choose to bake them in foil, which allows people to customize them easily and add their desired amount of butter, salt, or good-for-you toppings.
Watch out for: southern sweet potatoes cooked in loads of butter and brown sugar. Sweet potato casserole is another one to avoid because it often contains added sugar, butter, and marshmallow topping! Yikes!
Turkey is a great choice because it contains nutrients that help improve heart health. The combination of protein and fiber, healthy fats for energy intake, and the high amounts of potassium in it all add up to an excellent choice at your next holiday party.
Don’t forget that turkey contains tryptophan, which can help you sleep, and sufficient amounts of vitamin B6, which helps to control mood.
If you’re cooking for a smaller number of people, chicken is a great substitute.
Preparing: To prepare a Christmas turkey for your holiday table, choose roasting it. (Check out the two turkey recipes here for tasty, low-fat options.) Avoid deep-frying your turkey.
3. Green Beans
Healthy eating for holiday gatherings is very possible with green beans. Green beans contain high amounts of vitamins A, C, and K, which are great for your immunity and eye health. These green vegetables even provide a dose of choline which helps make the cell membranes in your body work optimally. Plus, they’re very low in calories.
Preparing: When cooking your green beans, use onion and some olive oil. Again, simple is better. You can also chop them raw into salads. They’re a fantastic side for your turkey or chicken.
Watch out for: Green bean casserole. The creamy mushroom soup that go into that dish are high in fat and sodium, and the fried onion toppings are also unhealthy.
Cranberries are low in calories and rich in antioxidants like vitamin C. They’re great for our immune systems and, fun fact, they can also help prevent UTIs.
These delicious berries usually take the form of cranberry sauce for Christmas cooking, but there are so many ways to use them. Consider using dried cranberries on tops of salads, or cook your Christmas turkey or chicken with fresh cranberries.
Preparing: Cranberries are super tart, so when you sweeten them, you want to look for naturally occuring sugars like orange juice, maple syrup, or sweeten them with stevia.
Watch out for: Cranberry sauce that comes in a can. These cranberries have been highly processed and stripped of all their nutrition.
5. Brussels Sprouts
Here’s another vegetable that is a fantastic choice for the holiday season. Brussels sprouts provide fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K. They are also high in folate, which helps with fetal development.
Preparing: For the holidays, a great way to cook Brussels sprouts is by first roasting them for an hour. Then add a better oil like olive oil and salt. Try dipping them in whole-grain mustard and balsamic vinegar for a tasty, tangy twist!
Watch out for: Brussels sprouts with tons of sauce – these are high in simple carbs that can cause blood sugar spikes.
Nuts are a great choice for holiday cooking! Some good options are almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts and pistachios. Nuts contain good fats like omega-3 fatty acids and they’re also packed with protein. They can help keep you fuller longer so you won’t overeat.
Preparing: Keep it simple. Roast some nuts with a little salt and some seasoning to give them a great flavor without being too sweet. Use them to add some crunch to a salad!
Watch out for: Pecan pie. It’s packed with sugar and fat. Also, consider your serving size. It’s easy to get too much of this good thing.
Looking for something to naturally sweeten your dishes or desserts? Dates taste delicious and sweet, and they’re very nutritious.
Dates are high in fiber and contain natural sugars. Dates can also provide amino acids to help with the production of muscle which helps your organs function properly. These healthy carbs will also give you long-lasting energy while being low-glycemic index!
Preparing: Dates are best used in clean eating desserts. You can find all kinds of recipes online for desserts that use dates to sweeten them, from protein balls, brownies, and more.
Watch out for: bacon wrapped dates (unless you’re keto).
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8. Shrimp Cocktail
Here’s an hors-d’oeuvre that is the perfect low-calorie pre-dinner food. Shrimp don’t have many carbs, but offer a good dose of protein and healthy fats. Even the cocktail sauce is a reasonable choice because it’s vinegar based and low in calories.
Preparing: Look for shrimp cocktail with wild caught shrimp that hasn’t been treated with tons of chemicals.
Watch out for: Processed shrimp food like canned, breaded or creamed varieties contain tons of unhealthy fat and salt.
Blackberries, like many other berries, are antioxidant powerhouses! They’re rich in fiber which helps the digestive system work properly. Berries are frequently considered the most nutritious fruit.
Preparing: Use them in low-sugar desserts baked with almond flour. (Try this blackberry cobbler, or this one.) You could even toss them in a salad.
Watch out for: blackberry desserts loaded with sugar.
Olives contain healthy fats, fiber, and an antioxidant which is called oleuropein. These fatty acids help to lower LDL cholesterol levels, while the antioxidants help to fight against infections and viruses.
Preparing: Serve in salad, cocktails, or by themselves before or during your dinner meal.
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11. Pickled Veggies on a Charcuterie Tray
With pickled vegetables, the acidity of these liquids locks in all the good stuff – like minerals, fiber and even essential vitamins. They are also full of probiotics which are good for gut health and mental health, so don’t cook them (which is why sauerkraut is healthier for you when it’s raw)!
Preparing: Find some high quality pickled veggies from your favorite farmer’s market and put them on a charcuterie tray with some uncured meats and high quality cheese.
12. Red Wine
Red wine’s antioxidant properties make it excellent for heart disease prevention, in moderation, of course.
Preparing: No preparation needed! Take your favorite red to any holiday party!
13. Roasted Carrots
Carrots have a high amount of vitamin A, which helps to improve eye, hair and teeth health as well as maintain skin health. They also reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and certain cancers due to their healthy level of polyphenols.
Preparing: Roast them with onion or garlic, a little oil and salt. Add sage or rosemary for extra flavor.
14. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is a great choice for dessert. You can use it in recipes for desserts that are low in sugar, but even better, just eat it by itself! Dark chocolate is surprisingly high in nutrition, from fiber to minerals like copper, iron, and magnesium.
Preparing: Get your favorite dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cacao. Alter Eco is my personal favorite.
Watch out for: milk chocolate (loaded with sugar), or desserts with dark chocolate that are also very sweet.
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15. Collard Greens
Growing up, we never ate collard greens. Many people don’t know these delicious vegetables exist. In the same family as cabbage, collard greens contain vitamins and minerals, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. They also help to regulate blood sugar levels and can be a healthy ingredient in any recipe.
Preparing: Use this recipe with olive oil, lemon, and garlic.
16. Apples with Cinnamon
What is Christmas without some apples or apple pie? Apples are low in fat and super easy to cook in a pot with a little water, a teaspoon or so of sweetener like honey or maple syrup and some cinnamon. Cinnamon is also great for your health as it can lower blood sugar.
Preparing: Try this recipe for Paleo Cinnamon Apples.
17. Quality Cheese
Cheese is chock full of protein. It also has some naturally occurring fats that help keep you fuller longer. It’s not “light” or diet when you’re eating high quality cheese, but it’s a good choice in moderation.
Preparing: select your favorite fancy types and slice them up for a charcuterie board to have before dinner. Serve feta or parmesan in your salad.
Watch out for: too much brie and crackers! Moderation is key!
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18. Winter Squash
Winter squash or pumpkin is a great addition to your holiday meal. These gourds are super nutritious without being too starchy.
Preparing: Cube your winter squash or pumpkin and roast it with a little oil, salt, and herbs, if you wish.
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19. Roast Beef
Another meat that’s good for you would be roast beef. Beef is not as lean as chicken or other poultry, but it still has high nutritional value. If it’s roasted with vegetables, even better!
Preparing: Try this low calorie recipe cooked in the crockpot.
If you want to make a healthy choice, you usually can’t go wrong with simple mashed potatoes or baked potatoes.
But potatoes are pretty starchy (read: tons of carbohydrates), so don’t go overboard!
Watch out for: Mashed potatoes that are loaded with bacon, sour cream, cheese, or other fatty or sugary toppings.
My whole family loves cauliflower. Cauliflower is high in fiber and antioxidants and it’s easy to adapt for different dishes because its flavor absorbs the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with.
Preparing: Try this soup recipe with asiago cheese or serve it roasted.
These healthy holiday foods are delicious, full of nutrition, and you’ll find something everyone in the family likes! (And hopefully the kids clean their plates!)
Keep all the taste and keep it festive!
What are you cooking this holiday season?!
Drop a comment below!