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How to Make Your Favorite Holiday Treats a Little Healthier

Dec 16, 2019

Indulging in your favorite holiday foods (Nana’s sugar cookies! Egg nog!) is perfectly healthy. But with over a month of work parties, family dinners, and Secret Santa celebrations, those extra “treat yourself” moments can leave you feeling less than joyous. It’s no wonder that January is notorious for packed gyms and crash diets (that don’t work!). Thankfully, we’ve got a two word solution to guilt-free indulging: stealth health. “Stealth health is the inclusion of healthy ingredients into dishes in hidden ways,” says Dr. Brooke Scheller, DCN, MS, CNS. “This not only increases the nutritional value of the dish, but may be also used to swap out certain foods, like dairy, or to reduce fat or sodium.” We suggested how to make some of your favorite seasonal treats more nutritious (and equally tasty): 


Most creamy dips are made with unhealthy ingredients like mayonnaise and sour cream. But you don’t have to skip it altogether. Just replace a portion of the creamy ingredients with plain, low-fat Greek yogurt, which provides protein that can aid in satiety.  Dairy-free spreads like hummus are also nutritious alternatives. Feeling fancy? Whip up a simple tapenade with olives and other Mediterranean ingredients like capers, lemon juice, garlic, and herbs. Olives provide healthy monounsaturated fats that help keep you full and satisfied for longer.

Baked Treats 

Stealthy, nutrient-rich ingredients like applesauce, mashed bananas, or canned pumpkin puree can easily be added to bread or muffin recipes to replace butter or oil. Plus, swapping in these produce purees help get you closer to your daily goal for fruits and vegetables. Their natural sweetness and moisture can help reduce the amount of sugar you need too. Use a one-to-one ratio when substituting mashed bananas, pumpkin, or avocado for butter. For fruit purees use about half a cup for each cup of butter and cut back on the amount of sugar. For a higher fiber treat, replace refined white flour with a whole grain version like oat flour. To reduce carbs (or go grainless), try an almond flour or coconut flour, which tend to work better in tender baked goods thanks to their high fat content. 

Appetizer Snack Mixes  

A holiday party wouldn’t be the same without that iconic bowl of crunchy, seasoned snack mix on table. But they’re often made with ultra-processed ingredients and refined flours like crackers, chips, cereals, and pretzels—all cooked together in margarine or butter. Instead, make your own with your favorite mix of nutrient-dense, whole food ingredients. Toast up a batch of spicy nuts by mixing 2 cups of almonds, walnuts, or pecans (or all three!) with 2 tbsp of olive oil, sea salt, and warming spices like cayenne, cinnamon, and ginger. Bake at 325 degrees for 10-15 minutes stirring halfway until fragrant.

Hot Chocolate 

The pre-made powdered stuff may be convenient, but it is made with ingredients like corn syrup solids and hydrogenated oils and contains 23g of added sugar, on average—that’s almost as much as your entire recommended daily limit before even adding marshmallows. And forget about the coffee shop version, where you’ll often wind up consuming a hefty 400 calories and 43g of total sugar in a medium sized version. Instead, whisk a tablespoon of raw cacao and add a touch of maple syrup and vanilla extract with a cup of your favorite unsweetened milk with and heat gently on the stovetop. Raw cacao is a good source of antioxidants, iron, and magnesium, a mineral that can help you unwind after a stressful day. 


Latkes, another name for potato pancakes, are a classic Hanukkah staple. Make a more nutritious batch by switching up the mix-ins: Add riced cauliflower and gruyere cheese to the mix. Or, substitute up to half of the potatoes with peeled and shredded carrots or beets to add some vibrant color and natural sweetness. Top latkes with Greek yogurt instead of sour cream for extra protein and less calories, and finish them off with chopped fresh herbs like parsley or dill. Pro tip: Use less oil and drain the mixture well by squeezing out excess moisture with a clean kitchen towel for a crispier cake. Better yet, take a page out of the Freshly chefs’ playbook and bake them instead of frying—simply place patties on a baking sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven, flip patties halfway until crisp and browned. 

Black-Eyed Peas and Greens

Sometimes referred to as “hoppin’ john”, this classic southern dish enjoyed on New Year’s day is believed to bring good fortune. It's made with simple, nourishing ingredients like black eyed peas, rice, and greens, and delivers big on flavor thanks to smoky ham hocks, pork sausage, or bacon. To kick off 2020 on a healthier note, replace the fattier cuts of meat with just a link or two of spicy, lean chicken sausage or a few slices of center-cut bacon. Or, skip the meat and keep the flavor with lots of bold spices like smoked paprika and cayenne pepper. Serve with an extra helping of greens and try a side of sweet potatoes instead of white rice to add color to your plate.


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How to Make Your Favorite Holiday Treats a Little Healthier