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9 Healthy Holiday Recipes You Can Feast on Forever

Make these flavorful, gut-friendly dishes so you can plow through your annual feast guilt-free.
9 Healthy Holiday Recipes You Can Feast on Forever
Christopher Testani

Remembering to cut your dad's scotch with water. Wearing that hideous sweater your aunt gave you. Using your black-belt-like conversational skills to supplant any “Hillary” or “Trump” talk with “Packers” and “Lions." By the time the feast finally arrives—in all its fatty, wine-soaked glory—the last thing you want to do is sweat over calories.

But here’s the grim reality: Roughly 75% of all the weight we gain over the course of the entire year we gain in November, December, and January, a 2013 study in the European Journal of Clinical Medicine found. “One naughty day of eating won’t derail your health,” says Miranda Hammer, R.D., a registered dietitian based in New York City. “The problem is, the big meal commonly begins a cycle of terrible behavior that can lead to a week, a month, a season of poor eating.” 

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So why not set yourself on a better path from the get-go by, for example, boiling, not roasting, your ham to reduce fat? Opting for butter-free yet still-flavorful brussels sprouts? Or replacing those belly-bloating mashed potatoes with a great-tasting cauliflower mix? (No one will even notice—trust us, it’s an editor’s tried-and-true recipe!) With these gut-friendly twists on classic holiday plates—including three big centerpiece proteins and several sides—you won’t have to surrender flavor to stay fit. And heads up: They make delicious leftovers, too.

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When you’re shopping, look for a bird labeled “pasture raised” and “organic,” because a turkey that’s been raised without hormones, steroids, or antibiotics—and hasn’t been injected with flavor-faking liquids—will taste better. When you prep it, season it with simply salt and pepper, not a slathering of oil or butter. It’s important that the skin be completely dry when you put it in the oven.


1 turkey (12 to 16 lbs) Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 ̊F. Place turkey, breast side down, on a rack in a large baking dish; rub salt and pepper over it. Cover with foil, poke holes in foil, and roast for 45 minutes. Turn breast side up; roast until an instant-read thermometer registers 160°F in the breast and 170°F in the thigh. Let rest for 30 minutes.

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Let’s face it: The most delicious item on the table gets a bum rap. Gravy is essentially just meat stock thickened with roux—a mix of butter and flour—with the bits from the roasting pan dumped in. Too often, though, it becomes a greasy, congealed mess from too much butter in the roux and pan drippings that are 90% fat and only 10% meaty flavor. Here’s your solution: Boost the stock’s flavor and cut out all the grossness by leaving the pan drippings out of it. Voilà: gravy that won’t give you a heart attack.


3 tbsp butter, separated
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
Neck and giblets from turkey
4 cups good-quality low-sodium turkey or chicken stock
1 tbsp soy sauce 
6 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper

Melt 1 tbsp butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, carrot, celery, neck, and giblets and cook, stirring occasionally, until evenly browned. Add stock and soy sauce, bring to a boil, then reduce heat, partly cover, and simmer for 1 hour. Strain; keep stock warm over low heat. In a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, melt 2 tbsp butter; add flour, whisking frequently, until it slowly turns deep brown and nutty- smelling. Slowly whisk in the warm stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook until thick and gravy-textured. Add salt and pepper to taste. (If there are lumps, just whiz the gravy in a blender.)

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Brussels sprouts seem saintly, but it’s easy to pile on the bacon and cream. Instead, use this classic Italian relish to give your holiday plate some balance without unnecessary fat and sodium. Oven roasting gives an appealing crispness with less oil than panfrying.


1/2 cup minced parsley (preferably flat-leaf)
1 garlic clove, minced 2 tsp lemon zest
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 lbs brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, halved lengthwise
1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 ̊F. For the gremolata, in a small bowl, mix parsley, garlic, and lemon zest; add salt and pepper to taste. In a large bowl, toss sprouts with olive oil; spread on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 25 minutes, or until edges are browned. Toss warm sprouts with gremolata.

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Simply ditching the crust means you can make that cherished recipe with no other health hacks needed. But, says Hammer: “Savor it, be satisfied, then get back to eating well and exercising the next day.”


1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1 (12 oz) can low-fat evaporated milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 325 ̊F. In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, milk, eggs, and sugar. In a smaller bowl, stir together the spices, salt, and baking powder, then whisk into the pumpkin mixture. Pour into a pie dish; bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in refrigerator for at least 3 hours before serving.

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The sensible thing to do? Serve steamed green beans in place of your grandmother’s gloppy treat. But hey, the holidays aren’t always about making sense. So if you’re going with this odd but beloved dish, which involves fat-and-sodium-filled canned soup and french-fried onions, swap the soup for a from-scratch sauce and the fried onions for caramelized ones (or baked Lay’s potato chips). “Green beans are loaded with fiber and vitamin C,” says Hammer, “and should occupy a lot of the real estate on your plate.”


1 1/2 lbs fresh green beans, trimmed and halved crosswise
2 tbsp butter, separated
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
8 oz mushrooms, chopped coarsely
1  onion, chopped coarsely 
2  garlic cloves, minced 
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup milk
3 tbsp flour

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add green beans, cook for 5 minutes, then drain and cool. Melt 1 tbsp butter in a pan over medium heat, add sliced onions, salt lightly, and cook until onions are browned. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large pan, add mushrooms, chopped onion, garlic, and 1 tsp salt; cook for 10 minutes over medium heat. In a separate saucepan, bring stock and milk to a simmer; add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Add stock mixture to mushrooms; bring to a boil, stirring until thick. Put beans in a baking dish, add mushroom mixture, and top with the caramelized onions; cook for 15 minutes.

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Who says you can’t bust out your grill for the holidays? Not only is your backyard smoker perfect for firing a hearty leg of lamb, it’ll also free up your oven for side dishes. But to do it right, be sure to have the lamb butter-flied, or cut in such a way that it “unfolds” to a uniform thickness. (Your butcher can do this easily for you.) And while most marinade recipes for lamb contain tons of olive oil, opt for ours, which cuts it out completely. That makes for pure protein flavor and about 1,000 fewer calories. You’re welcome.MAKES: 12 SERVINGSINGREDIENTS2 lemons2 tbsp fresh rosemary8 garlic cloves, peeled1 tbsp salt1 boneless leg of lamb, about 6 lbs, butterfliedINSTRUCTIONSIn a food processor, puree lemons—skin and all—with rosemary, garlic, and salt to a paste. Rub the paste into the lamb and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. Heat a charcoal or gas grill to a medium-high temperature. Laying the lamb flat, grill until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 125°F—about 15 minutes per side—then remove to a platter. (Alternately, roast the lamb uncovered in a 425°F oven for about 45 minutes.) Loosely cover with foil and let rest for 20 minutes. 

Sweet potatoes are already decadently sweet and silky, so that popular topping of mini marshmallows and brown sugar? Serious overkill, dude. “Instead, add fruit for more natural sweetness,” says Hammer. “You’ll get added nutritional mileage from the fruit, avoid processed sugar, and gain extra vitamins, minerals, and fiber.” We recommend going with bananas, to boost both the sweetness and the creaminess, and apples, whose natural acidity will brighten the sweet potatoes’ naturally deep flavor.


2 lbs sweet potatoes, pricked with a fork
2 ripe bananas
1 cup all-natural applesauce
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper Sugar

Preheat oven to 375°F. Roast potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet for 40 minutes, then add bananas (with peel on) and cook for another 15 minutes. When potatoes cool, split lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a bowl; peel bananas and add with applesauce, honey, and cinnamon, then season with salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Mash well with a potato masher, or whip with an electric beater. Transfer mixture into a buttered baking dish; bake for 30 minutes, or until heated through.

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Truth is, ham is a pretty lean, healthy meat. It’s the salty cure, layers of skin and fat, and, usually, sticky-sweet glaze that ruin it. But if you boil the ham rather than roast it, you’ll cut much of the salt and fat but keep it as moist and tasty as ever. And instead of lathering on a sugary honey-baked glaze, we recommend this thin coat of spicy Sriracha—balanced with honey— which will deliver a delicious, more complex punch to the already-rich meat.


1/4 cup honey 3 tbsp Sriracha sauce 1 tbsp soy sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 “city ham” (5 to 7 lbs; wet-cured and smoked, as opposed to dry-cured, prosciutto-like “country ham”)

In a small bowl, mix together honey, Sriracha, soy sauce, and lime juice; set aside. Place ham in a stockpot; add water to cover. Bring to a boil, then discard and replace the water and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat; simmer for 15 minutes per pound. Drain and remove the skin and external fat. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place ham in a shallow baking dish, brush with the glaze, and bake for 30 minutes. Let rest for 20 minutes.

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One cup of regular mashed potatoes has 240 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 35 grams of carbs. Thankfully, when you’re pureeing the potatoes, you can cut it in half with cauliflower and no one will know the difference. Plus, “cauliflower is rich in antioxidants and vitamins C and K,” Hammer says. It retains the richness of the potato while giving a lighter texture and more complex flavor. (For bonus flavor: Try it with a few carrots or turnips as well.)


1 lb potatoes (russet or Yukon Gold), scrubbed, peeled if desired, and quartered
1/2 head cauliflower, core removed and chopped coarsely
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
Salt and pepper

Place potatoes in a large saucepan; cover with water by 3 inches. Bring to a boil. When potatoes are almost tender (a butter knife can almost but not quite go through them easily), add cauliflower; cook another 10 minutes, or until the potatoes and cauliflower crush easily with the back of a spoon. Drain, return to the pot, and mash well with a potato masher. Stir in olive oil and yogurt; add salt and pepper to taste.

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