General News

Heart-Healthy Holiday Meal Makeovers

Posted on Dec 13, 2016

With the holidays right around the corner your children may be tempted to overindulge in traditional holiday meals and desserts - many of which contain ingredients that are high in fat, sodium and sugar. However, there are ways to help kids enjoy their holiday favorites by taking a different spin on old recipes, which can help provide your child with more heart-healthy food choices.

The American Heart Association recommends that children eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugars to maintain good cardiovascular health. With picky eaters, sometimes choosing the right foods can be difficult, but Sarah Krieger, M.P.H., a registered dietitian and nutrition instructor with Fit4AllTeens and Fit4Allkids at All Children's Hospital, recommends taking an old recipe and changing one ingredient at a time. For instance, if a recipe calls for a lot of added sugar, salt and fat, decrease or replace one at a time to see how the taste and texture turn out. You may not be able to do this with every holiday meal you plan to serve your family, but this small step can help make an improvement in your child's overall nutritional goals.

Giving your typical holiday dishes a heart-healthy makeover can be easy - just take a look at some of the suggestions below:

Main Dishes

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

  • Try replacing half of any high-fat dairy product with a lower-fat version. By replacing part, but not all of the dairy, no one should notice a texture or taste difference.
  • Replace cream soups with either a stock thickened with cornstarch or flour or add low-fat mashed potatoes, pureed vegetables or a reduced-fat soup already prepared.

Use lean protein as much as possible: 90 percent lean meats, turkey bacon and pork loin. Also, aim for sautéing vegetables in wine, broth or fruit juice (apple cider is a great choice) to increase flavor.

Baked 'Goods'

Most of the calories in baked goods come from added sugar, fat and are low in fiber or whole grains. Fat creates an even texture and provides moisture, but also may add cholesterol and saturated fat. In fact, much of the real tastes of these foods come from the spices and flavorings.

  • For cakes and quick breads, make from scratch to control the added sodium, sugar and fats. Try swapping oil or butter for pureed pumpkin, banana, yogurt or applesauce. Try adding half the salt that is in the recipe to see how it affects the taste, then go heavy on spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger - and remember - fresh spices provide the best flavor!
  • Light margarines are loaded with water and may evaporate in a bread or cake. Stick with oil or half butter and half fruit puree for best texture and taste.
  • Replace half the all-purpose flour with whole wheat or use ¾ of the flour as all-purpose and ¼ of it as a nut flour (almond, coconut, chickpea or soynut).
  • Ever try making chocolate chip cookies with oil instead of butter? You can do it, but just remove the cookies a few minutes before they are done so they don't get too crispy.


Portions of rich desserts should be small. If you modify a recipe to save fat and sugar calories, eating more of it than usual will not help. Enjoy a small dessert as part of a meal INSTEAD of a meal. Try these tips:

  • Replace traditional pie crust with a graham cracker crust to save added fat and salt from your diet.
  • Reduce added sugar by 25 percent. For example, instead of adding a cup of sugar, add ¾ cup then increase the spices such as vanilla, almond or cinnamon.
  • Use less chocolate chips, nuts and coconut - up to 50 percent less. Better yet, toast the nuts and coconut for added flavor without added calories and use really good chocolate (look for 60 percent cacao or higher) for the best taste.

In addition to the heart-healthy recipe makeovers above, you can also modify other recipes in your kitchen with a heart-healthy ingredient that saves saturated fat calories:


Instead of Try Fat Calories Saved
1 cup whole milk 1 cup skim 72
1 cup heavy cream 1 cup evaporated skim 792
1 cup sour cream 1 cup plain nonfat yogurt 432
1 cup grated cheddar 1 cup low-fat cheddar 120
8 oz. cream cheese 8 oz. light cream cheese 432
½ cup oil ¼ cup applesauce, ¼ oil 486
1 cup chocolate chips ½ cup chocolate chips 225
1 cup walnuts ½ cup walnuts 315
1 cup coconut ½ cup coconut 233

For more heart healthy holiday recipe makeovers visit our Fit4Allkids page

News and Articles from Johns Hopkins All Childrens Hospital RSS 2.0

More Articles