Healthy Substitutions to Balance Your Plate This Holiday Season

Since the holiday season calls for delicious and indulgent foods like pumpkin pie, candied yams, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, not surprisingly a person consumes an average of 3,000 calories at Thanksgiving dinner – 1,000 over the recommended daily intake, according to Spoon University.

Billy Edmondson, executive chef with Kent State University Dining Services, says one of the most important things at holiday get-togethers is to provide healthy options to avoid overindulging in sugary, fat-filled dishes.A list of health food swaps for the holidays.

“People often eat and snack even when they’re not hungry,” Chef Edmonson says. “It’s better to have healthy snacks such as fruit or veggies instead of chips and candy.”

Chef Edmonson suggests getting creative with your healthy alternatives, such as roasted wedge potatoes instead of fried potatoes or apples, cinnamon sticks and cranberries steeped in water instead of sodas and ciders.

“You can make all the healthy food you want, but if people don’t want to eat it, it’s pointless,” he says. “Make sure to make it not just healthy, but fun!”

Chef Edmonson created a “healthy cookie,” swapping 50 percent of sugar, flour and butter in a regular sugar cookie recipe for white wheat, English walnuts, crushed rolled oats and diced, dried cranberries.

“With these cookies you can still cut out and decorate them like any other sugar cookie,” he says. “These ingredient swaps help to balance out the sugar and create a healthier version of a holiday favorite.”

Anthony Hamilton, associate lecturer and chef instructor in Kent State’s School of Foundations, Leadership and Administration, says the key to a healthier Thanksgiving is focusing on fresh products not canned food.

“I don’t know if Thanksgiving is necessarily a day I want to ‘cheat’ on,” Chef Hamilton says. “So, instead of worrying about calories, I focus more on whole foods.”

Chef Hamilton suggests making staple foods like cranberry sauce and green bean casserole out of fresh produce instead of canned or processed foods.

“By not using cans, we are dealing with so much less sodium, so much less processing, so much less handling,” he says. “The closer we get from the ground to our table the better off we are.”

Chef Hamilton also recommended these other easy swaps:

  • Apple sauce or other fruit puree instead of oil in salad dressing to lower calorie count and focus on more vitamins and minerals,
  • Nuts instead of croutons, and
  • Cauliflower instead of potatoes for more nutritional value and less carbs.

“Just do the best you can within the parameters you have,” Chef Hamilton says. “If you’re short on time, and need to cut a few corners, just make sure you read the labels and are able to pronounce all the ingredients.”

Simple tasks like buying pre-chopped vegetables still bring fresh produce to the table while saving on time, he says.

“I’d rather eat a whole-food product, such as butter, and deal with the calories and burn them off later,” Chef Hamilton says. “The bigger issue is portion control; just don’t indulge too much.”

Kent State’s Center of Nutrition Outreach offers free, professional nutrition counseling services to students and employees. For more information about the center, visit

For other healthy Thanksgiving recipe ideas, visit

POSTED: Thursday, November 16, 2017 02:58 PM
Updated: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 09:18 AM
Hannah Wagner