5 Holiday Eating Dilemmas, Solved

Have a dietary restriction? Celebrate stress-free with these smart feasting strategies.

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During the holidays, no one should have to forgo their everyday eating plan—and possibly sacrifice their health—for a meal. The truth is, many of us have specific food preferences, and whether our way of eating is for medical or personal reasons, there’s no reason we can’t enjoy appetizing holiday entrées and desserts that complement our lifestyle.

Read on for a few fuss-free meal modifications for five common groups of eaters.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.



There’s no need to worry about skyrocketing blood glucose levels, along with unwanted weight gain, this holiday season. For example, popular dishes like beef tenderloin can be enjoyed with a smaller side of potatoes made partly with pureed cauliflower. Instead of traditional macaroni and cheese, opt for a lower-carb pasta—perhaps made from chickpeas or protein-rich quinoa—with reduced-fat cheese and fat-free evaporated milk. If you and your family indulge in the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, add a heart-healthy fish to the mix, such as salmon, cod or halibut. Also, casseroles and roasted veggies can be livened up with a topping of breadcrumbs made from crushed fiber cereal.

Got a sweet tooth? Go for sugar-free desserts, such as pudding and Jell-O. Top fruit with whipped cream and warm up with a cup of sugar-free hot cocoa. And if a recipe for baked goods calls for oil, replace it with applesauce and buttermilk.



Whether you’re following a gluten-free eating plan due to celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, the supermarket shelves are stocked with plenty of flour substitutes.

Fried or baked chicken can be coated with gluten-free all-purpose flour mix, which can be made from a blend of millet flour, rice flour, potato starch, garbanzo bean flour and/or sorghum flour, as well as others. Puffed brown rice can serve as breadcrumbs. Gravy for meat dishes can be thickened by using either corn starch, potato starch or arrowroot. And many companies make gluten-free pasta (including lasagna) which can be mixed with other pasta substitutes, like spaghetti squash.

And flours made from almond meal, coconut, pea or soy work well for baking breads, cookies, muffins and cakes.



Modifying recipes with lower-fat and lower-calorie foods will make your heart happy this holiday season. Snack on appetizers with either breadsticks, whole-grain crackers or low-sodium saltine or soda crackers. Regular beef, which is the main ingredient in meatloaf, can be swapped for either lean beef or ground turkey. Italian dishes can be made with low-fat mozzarella or part-skim ricotta, and you can drizzle your salad with a homemade dressing made from lemon juice and wine vinegar.

Choose a lighter dessert. The American Heart Association recommends angel food cake, or cookies and pies made with unsaturated oil or soft margarines, egg whites or egg substitutes and fat-free milk. Ice cream lovers can satisfy their craving with sorbet, sherbet or low-fat frozen yogurt.



Contrary to popular belief, animal products are not necessary for creating mouthwatering holiday dishes. Hearty soups can be made with vegetable broth instead of chicken or beef broth, nuts or beans can take the place of meat in stuffing and stews, and portobello mushrooms can be used as an alternative in beef dishes like Beef Wellington. If a recipe calls for eggs—depending on the dish—substitute with an egg replacement, applesauce or 1/4 cup of pureed tofu for each egg.  

And yes, vegans can enjoy desserts, too! Coconut oil or vegan margarine may be substituted for butter, and almond milk, soy milk and coconut milk can be an alternative for cow’s milk. 



If you’re allergic to dairy, lactose intolerant or have stopped consuming cow’s milk in order to add more plant-based foods into your diet, the options are endless. Focus on hearty dips made from pureed sweet peas and ground, cooked chickpeas—like hummus. Oat milk or rice milk serve as flavorful alternatives in creamy soups, sauces and mashed potatoes, and a combination of almond milk, flour, oil, vinegar and nutritional yeast can produce “ricotta cheese” within minutes for lasagna. Cacao butter, cocoa butter, coconut butter and almond butter—as well as dairy-free margarine—are tasty alternatives for baking, while coconut milk (the full-fat version) can take the place of heavy cream in desserts.

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