Healthy Hacks for Holiday Snacks


Do you want to have your cake and eat it, too? I sure do! By managing the fat, sugar, sodium, and/or calories in your recipes, you really can enjoy your holiday favorites and still keep health in mind.

Trying new recipes can be fun, but I also enjoy taking my family’s favorites and lightening them up a bit through recipe modification. There are two basic ways to modify a recipe: change a cooking technique or change an ingredient (reduce, eliminate or substitute). It sounds simple enough, but what you may not know is that most ingredients not only provide flavor, they also provide some function in the recipe (i.e. fat can provide a crispy texture or sugar can provide browning). Therefore, when you make changes you might get different results than you expected.

If you like to experiment in the kitchen – go for it! But if that’s not your idea of fun, simply look for recipes that have already been modified by the experts. You can usually find recipes on websites of different sweetener brands or a website of a culinary-minded registered dietitian. One of my favorites is Nutrition Starring YOU by Lauren Harris-Pincus. Here’s one of her recent holiday snack recipes using a low calorie sweetener: Peanut Butter Raspberry Snack Squares.

I recently started collecting some “lightened up” recipes on Pinterest and you could do the same.

If you are up for the challenge and ready to roll up your sleeves in the kitchen, here are some strategies for success:

  • Change one ingredient at a time.  That way, if it doesn’t come out the way you expect, you will know where the problem is. 
  • Accept progress without perfection.  Sometimes there is a delicate balance between fat or calorie savings and the taste or character of the recipe.  You may have an acceptable product, but different than the original. 
  • Consider keeping your recipe modifications a secret until people have eaten it.  This way you avoid feeding into the myth “if it’s healthy, it won’t taste good”.  Many people won’t be able to tell it’s been modified and may even ask you for the recipe!
  • I use this basic chart as a guideline for tweaking some of my family favorites:



Butter, shortening

Margarine (with oil as first ingredient)


1 Tbsp

1 cup

½ cup

Oil (safflower, corn, soy, sunflower):

¾ Tbsp

¾ cup

1/3 cup

or equal amounts of diet margarine

Baking chocolate, 1oz

3 Tbsp cocoa (mix with dry ingredients)

Whole milk, 1 cup

Fat-free milk, 1 cup

Evaporated milk, 1 cup

Evaporated skim milk, 1 cup


1 cup fat-free milk + 1 cup nonfat dry milk powder

Whipped cream, 1 cup

Combine 1/3 cup ice water, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, ¾ tsp. vanilla and 1/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder.  Beat until stiff.  Add 2 Tbsp sugar.

Buttermilk, 1 cup

1 cup skim milk + 1 Tbsp lemon juice or vinegar.

Let stand 5 minutes.  Beat briskly.

Sour Cream, 1 cup

1 cup light or fat-free sour cream


1 cup plain nonfat yogurt


Blenderize 1 cup ricotta cheese thinned with yogurt or buttermilk


Blenderize 1 cup chilled evaporated skim milk with 1 tsp lemon juice

Cream cheese, 1 oz

1 oz light or fat-free cream cheese


Blenderize 1 cup ricotta cheese, add 1 Tbsp of lemon juice and whip until smooth.  Chill.

Egg, 1 whole

2 egg whites


¼ cup egg substitute

Flour, 2 Tbsp

Cornstarch, 1 Tbsp


Use ¼ to 1/3 less


Reduce need for sugar by cutting back on sour or bitter flavors (lemon, vinegar)


Increase the vanilla, cinnamon or other flavorings to give the impression of sweetness


Substitute low-calorie sweeteners for sugar. Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Carolyn O’Neil explains in this video.

If you’re interested in reducing sugar and/or carbs in a recipe, there are many different kinds of low calorie sweeteners you can work with. Just remember, each sweetener has its own “personality” so you want choose the best one for your recipe.

Whether you decide to do some of your own kitchen experiments or try some recipes that have already been modified, I encourage you to try something new! Who wouldn’t want a healthier holiday snack – as long as it still tastes great.