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Heart-Healthy Holiday Meal Swaps

It’s easy for families to overindulge in traditional holiday meals and desserts, many of which contain ingredients that are high in fat, sodium and sugar. However, there are many ways to help kids enjoy their holiday favorites by taking a different spin on old recipes. Megan Armstrong, R.D., L.D., registered dietitian for Fit4AllTeens and Fit4Allkids at All Children’s Hospital, shares ways to create tasty, heart-healthy holiday foods.

Main Dishes

Many casserole-type meals or appetizers require creamed soups, cream, lots of cheese, bacon, mayonnaise, sour cream and cream cheese, which equal saturated fat, calories and unwanted weight gain.

Try this:

  • Replace half of any high-fat dairy product with a lower-fat version. Nonfat Greek yogurt is a great sour cream substitute that adds protein and probiotics.
  • Replace cream soups with a stock thickened with cornstarch or flour, or add low-fat mashed potatoes, pureed vegetables or a reduced-fat soup already prepared. Add cornstarch or flour mixed with a small amount of cold liquid first, then gradually pour into hot soup to avoid clumping.
  • Use lean protein such as 90% lean meats, turkey bacon and pork loin, then sauté vegetables in wine, broth, apple cider or fruit juice to increase flavor. Olive oil is also a great substitute for butter.


Baked goods are low in fiber and whole grains, and most of their calories come from added sugar and fat. Fat creates an even texture and provides moisture, but also may add cholesterol and saturated fat.

Try this:

  • Consider using oats. You can blend plain oatmeal or quick oats at home. They are a whole grain that increases the fiber and slows down absorption, making it less impactful on blood sugar.
  • Instead of pies, try fruit-based desserts (bananas, berries, apples) topped with a light layer of crumble (oats, cinnamon, butter) and served with a scoop of nonfat plain Greek yogurt mixed with honey for an extra touch of sweetness.
  • Make cakes and quick breads from scratch to control the added sodium, sugar and fats. Swap oil or butter for pureed pumpkin, banana, yogurt or applesauce. Add half the salt, then go heavy on spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
  • Use oil or half butter and half fruit puree for best texture and taste. Try making chocolate chip cookies with oil instead of butter, but remove the cookies a few minutes before they are done so they don’t get too crispy.
  • Replace half the all-purpose flour with whole wheat or use ¾ all-purpose and ¼ nut flour (almond, coconut, chickpea or soynut).
  • Make pie crust with a graham cracker crust to avoid added fat and salt.
  • Reduce added sugar by 25% and increase spices such as vanilla, almond or cinnamon.
  • Use up to 50% fewer chocolate chips, nuts and coconut. Toast the nuts and coconut for added flavor without added calories and use 60% cacao chocolate or higher.

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is dedicated to creating healthier communities through support from Kohl’s Cares for its Fit4Allteens program. For more ideas on healthy cooking, check out Johns Hopkins All Children’s free virtual cooking classes by emailing

About the Author: Megan Armstrong is a registered dietitian currently serving her community through her role as an in-patient clinical dietitian and community health educator at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from Texas Christian University and completed their Coordinated Program in Dietetics to become a registered dietitian. Her years of experience come from working in community centers and working directly with food insecurity at a local food bank. Her love of working in patient care comes from her lifelong passion for helping others. She believes nutritious foods should be available to everyone and loves teaching people new recipes and introducing them to new foods.


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