The holidays are around the corner and that means eating tons of delicious ham, pan con pollo, mashed potatoes, plantains, pupusas, rice, beans, pie, cake, tamales — you name it! It also means that you’ll be eating a lot of foods that might not be the best for you in big portions. We’re here to help you out with not overloading on food, regardless of how tempting it might be this time of year.
No one is saying you should sacrifice flavor for healthier options during Thanksgiving or any other holiday for that matter. But we do think it’s possible to make quick and simple changes to your recipes that will be better for your health — in the long run. You can still make those delicious meals your family has been making for generations using healthier ingredients. You’d be surprised how enjoyable these meals can still be even with a few healthy tweaks.
Inspired by the shift the younger generations of Latinxs are making with food towards healthier options — including creating more healthy versions of our classics, and just in time for Thanksgiving, we wanted to share 25 easy, beneficial ingredient swaps for holiday recipes. Enjoy y buen provecho!
Rice is such a staple in the Latinx diet, it’s hard to imagine life without it. While white rice is not the healthiest option, why not consider switching that for brown rice in your next dish? Brown rice offers more fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals than white rice. Or you can even go a step further and choose quinoa, which is loaded with protein, or cauliflower rice.
Several old-school Latinx recipes call for the addition of pork lard, beef tallow, or vegetable lard for homemade dishes. Good alternatives to these fatty ingredients are coconut oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, or butter. Better yet, you can try eliminating unhealthy ingredients in your recipe as much as possible, and see how the flavor holds up. It’s worth a try for the improvement of your health.
Corn, Canola, and Vegetable Oil
We have been raised on the advertising catchphrase “Con Mazola, No Esta Sola!” Although it is often the first cooking oil we want to grab at the supermarket, due to its connection to Latinx pop culture, corn, as well as canola and vegetable oil aren’t the healthiest to cook and fry with. Better options include extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil (make sure to know which oils you should be using for different smoke points, i.e. for frying, or for low-heat cooking).
Sugar is a top ingredient during the holidays, used to add sweetness to beverages, desserts, and more. Healthier options that will still add that important touch of sweetness to your cooking and baking include coconut sugar, vanilla extract, honey, and stevia. You’ll still get all the flavor!
It’s almost blasphemous to suggest anything else as an alternative to tortillas. But if you are watching your carbs, and/or don’t want to use flour or corn-made items to hold all your holiday food goodness, you can always opt for the much healthier lettuce wrap. It won’t hurt to turn down the tortillas once in a while.
Sour cream is so tasty but can feel like a guilty pleasure, especially when you find out how much of it goes into, or onto your favorite Latinx dishes. A delicious, healthier swap, with its own kind of tang, is Greek yogurt.
Too much salt is not good for you, especially if you have high blood pressure. But of course, you want your food to be flavorful. Some great alternatives that are healthier than salt include lemon, cilantro, cayenne pepper, cumin, pepper, basil, paprika, balsamic vinegar, and garlic.
Whether you’re making delicious meatballs for pasta or golden tacos — chances are you are using ground beef. It has been shown that using leaner sources of meat, such as turkey, chicken, or fish is a healthier option. Ground turkey works great as a ground beef substitute in most all of your recipes You can even go vegetarian and do a bean, seitan, or tofu crumble swap.
You may be using bread crumbs to bread meat that will be fried, a la Argentinian milanesa, as part of Thanksgiving stuffing, or to make Brazilian coxinha (chicken croquettes). Did you know that you can grind up nuts to make a healthier yet still crunchy alternative? Try it!
Eggs are a fundamental of many dishes, both sweet and savory. But if you’re vegan, or trying to eat a bit healthier, there are alternatives you can reach for in the kitchen. You can try using just the egg whites, mashed banana, applesauce, chia seeds, ground flaxseed, and more.
If you are lactose intolerant, a practicing vegan or just want to make your holiday recipes including milk much healthier, we have a lot of swaps for you. You can try substituting the following milks: oat, almond, coconut, soy, goat, and rice. Make sure to read the labels, though, to make sure the milk you choose is not overloaded with sugar, or any has any unwanted ingredients.
Can you imagine baking anything without using white flour?! It seems farfetched, but it can be done. In terms of baking, the following flour can be swapped for white: buckwheat, chickpea, oat, amaranth, tapioca, almond, spelt, wheat, and more.
Some recipes call for beer. You may not want to add alcohol or its added calories to your holiday dish, or like its taste, however. You can easily switch from beer to ginger ale, white grape juice, broth, Coca-Cola, apple juice or apple cider, ginger beer, root beer, and more.
With all the food available on a holiday table, you may want to make some of your options lighter and healthier so that everyone can try a bit of everything. Pasta can be a very carb-heavy dish, but is so delicious and pairs well with an array of sauces. Why not swap out actual pasta for spaghetti squash or zucchini version? It’s still super delish!
Soy sauce can be high in sodium, and contain MSG and other undesirable ingredients. If you want that rich flavor, but in a much healthier form, you can try Bragg’s liquid aminos (derived from soybeans), or coconut aminos.
The holidays are the perfect time to pull out all those deliciously sweet dessert recipes. Many will call for chocolate, but instead of using milk chocolate, a much healthier choice is dark chocolate, or cacao nibs (instead of chocolate chips).
Is it really Thanksgiving if mashed potatoes aren’t served?! They have come to represent the holidays and are so good with a drizzling of gravy on top. You can still have that same idea but done in a much healthier way by substituting mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower.
As delicious as butter tastes, and as often as it appears in classic holiday recipes, it isn’t the healthiest ingredient. You can get the same effect in your dishes by opting for applesauce, avocado, ghee, mashed bananas, cooking spray, pureed pumpkin, and more.
Bottled Salad Dressing
Bottled salad dressing can be loaded with a bunch of unhealthy ingredients that take the joy out of its great flavor. You can add fabulous taste to your salads with simple, healthy options, such as vinegar, lemon, and olive oil.
Mayonnaise is made from egg yolks, oil, and vinegar, which means it isn’t the best option to include in recipes if you’re trying to be healthy (not to mention other added ingredients that bottled mayonnaise may contain). If you want something similar to switch out mayonnaise for, why not try mashed avocado, sour cream, greek yogurt, nut butter, mustard, or hummus?
Peanut butter isn’t the only nut butter you can use in your baking and cooking recipes for the holidays. There are several other, healthy options. These include almond butter, pumpkin seed butter, sunflower seed butter, cashew butter, pecan butter, and hazelnut butter.
If you have a vegetarian in the family, are tired of eating chicken all the time, or just want to try something different and healthier for the holidays, you can swap poultry out for tofu or cauliflower. With the right seasoning, sauces, and other ingredients, either can take on the characteristics of traditional chicken dishes.
Whole or Heavy Cream
Does your holiday recipe call for whole or heavy cream? Get the flavor without all the unhealthy richness by substituting cream with skim milk.
For the holidays, are you making a traditional Peruvian lomo saltado, or another dish that includes French fries? Why not swap them out for much-healthier sweet potato fries?
Cheese, Especially Yellow Cheese
The end of the year is the time where we are expected to cheat on our healthy lifestyle and way of eating, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Every bit counts, so even if you’re going to indulge in some cheese (or a lot of it), it’s good to know the following things.
Try to choose white cheese over yellow, since it’s a healthier option, and shred your own cheese instead of buying the ready-made kind at the store (it contains cellulose). If you want to forgo cheese altogether in your dishes, you can swap it for nutritional yeast or make vegan cashew cheese.
Now, go on and try these recipe hacks!