The end of the year is a special time. The weather cools down, and excitement is in the air about the holidays approaching. Everyone is looking forward to gathering with family (even if it’s virtual this year), spending time together, and, most importantly—sharing their favorite meals.
Indulging (and sometimes overindulging) in rich, flavorful foods has become a staple of the holiday season, as memories and time spent with others compel people to dig into their favorite comfort foods.
While there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to your classic comfort foods every once in a while, having a diet that consists of only “guilty pleasures” can lead to weight gain, dental issues, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up your favorite meals, though! We’re sharing some nutritious swaps that you can do to make healthier versions of some of your favorite comfort foods. With these, eating your guilty pleasures won’t make you so guilty anymore!
HarborChase Senior Living, with independent living, assisted living, and memory care communities throughout the U.S., celebrates senior living and healthy aging. We hope these healthy alternatives will inspire you and your family to get in the kitchen!
Instead of → Buttermilk Pancakes with Syrup
Try → Banana Oat Pancakes
There’s nothing like a slow Saturday morning spent enjoying a perfect stack of pancakes dripping with syrup and butter. However, after eating a stack, you’ll likely find yourself crashing or hungry again in a short time. This is because pancakes consist mainly of refined flour and sugar, both simple carbohydrates. That, along with syrup that includes high-fructose corn syrup, makes pancakes a not-so-healthy breakfast option.
Instead, try banana oat pancakes, which only include three ingredients: banana, eggs, and oats. Oats are rich in fiber and protein, giving you longer-lasting energy than regular white flour. You can also top these healthy pancakes with cinnamon, fresh fruit, or pure maple syrup for a sweeter option.
Instead of → Frozen or Delivery Pizza
Try → Homemade Pizza
Everyone loves pizza, and popping a frozen pizza in the oven or calling in delivery is an easy dinner option when you’re not in the mood to cook. The problem is that most frozen pizzas (and all delivery pizzas) are high in calories, fat, and sodium.
Not all pizzas have to be unhealthy, though. When you make homemade pizza, you can add fresh and nutritious ingredients like chicken, fresh spinach, peppers, tomatoes, or other fresh vegetables. Plus, you get to customize it however you want—and it’s fun!
Instead of → Traditional Mac and Cheese
Try → Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese is one of the most beloved American classics. Creamy, gooey, cheesy, what more could you want? Unfortunately, as comforting as it is, the dish has little nutritional value since it consists mainly of butter, milk, cheese, and pasta. However, there are plenty of ways to alter this recipe that make it more nutritious while still providing all the comfort and indulgence that you love.
Butternut squash macaroni and cheese uses blended squash (you can also include carrots and potatoes for an even more nutritious approach), skim milk, and whole wheat pasta to create a creamy and delicious pasta dish that provides extra nutrients.
Instead of → Mashed Potatoes
Try → Baked Sweet Potato
Mashed potatoes are a staple at every holiday meal. While potatoes themselves are not necessarily bad for you, the extra additions—butter, sour cream, cheese, or bacon—can make this classic side dish unhealthy.
Instead of traditional mashed potatoes, try a baked sweet potato. Sweet potatoes are a more nutritious option than their white counterpart, loaded with vitamins, fiber, and other health benefits. Instead of bacon or sour cream, top your baked sweet potato with black beans, avocado, or cottage cheese.
Instead of → Cake
Try → Banana Bread
One of the best parts of holiday food is the sweets. Cakes, candies, pies, cookies—they’re all delicious, and sometimes the hardest thing to avoid. While it’s certainly not harmful to indulge now and then, eating too many sweets (which is easily done during the winter and holiday season) can be detrimental to your health.
Of course, you don’t have to deprive yourself of a yummy after-dinner treat completely, you just need to make sure you’re making smart choices. If you love baked goods and cakes, banana bread is a great alternative that still gives you the moist texture and sweetness of cake, without the excessive sugar and calories. Banana bread can use ingredients like greek yogurt, pure maple syrup or agave, and applesauce to create a more nutritional baked good. If you need to satisfy your sweet tooth even more, you can also add some dark chocolate chips to the mix.
Healthy Eating and Healthy Aging
Trying to eat healthier doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite foods, especially the hearty comfort foods you love sharing with family and friends during the holidays. By simply swapping out a few things and focusing on fewer, more wholesome ingredients, you can enjoy your favorite comfort foods while earning some health benefits!
At HarborChase Senior Living, we know the importance of a well-balanced and nutritional diet for healthy aging. We encourage our residents and all adults to focus on their overall health and wellness through diet, exercise, and mental well-being. We hope you and your family have a healthy and safe holiday season and enjoy your favorite comfort foods!
For more tips surrounding health and the holidays, or to learn more about HarborChase’s independent living, assisted living, and memory care communities, we encourage you to check out our free resources!