Healthier twists on holiday foods from around the world

Healthier twists on holiday foods from around the world

What if you could swap a few simple ingredients for a healthier version of some of your holiday favorites? Let’s take a trip around the globe for some healthier alternatives of holiday foods enjoyed by various cultures.




Every year during the holiday season, Latino families gather for Tamalada, a tamale-making party [1]. In Mexico, traditional tamales are made from pork or beef chunks. In the southwestern state of Oaxaca, tamales are wrapped in plantain leaves rather than corn husks. They are then filled with chicken and onions and flavored with mole negro, a sauce made of poblano peppers and chocolate. Tamales of all kinds can be cooked in steaming pots, rice cookers, or even in the microwave. Tamales are also traditionally made with lard, a soft white fat from pigs. The following recipe substitutes lard for vegetable oil and uses beans as the filling for a healthier holiday favorite.


  • 2 ½ cups of corn flour
  • ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cups vegetable oil
  • 1 ¾ cup of warm chicken broth
  • 2 cups of reduced-sodium refried beans (or filling of your choice)
  • 16 large corn husks plus more for the steaming pot.


  1. Place the cornhusks in a large pot and cover them with hot water. This will soften them.
  2. Leave the husks there for at least 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in the vegetable oil.
  4. Pour in the warm chicken broth. Mix with a spatula until you form the dough with a creamy texture, similar to soft ice cream.
  5. If the dough doesn’t look creamy, add a little more broth, a tablespoon at the time.
  6. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the dough on the corn husk using a spoon or spatula.
  7. Top with 2 tablespoons of the refried beans.
  8. Fold the left side of the husk to the center. Then fold the right side to the center.
  9. Finally, fold the end toward the center of the tamal. Place the tamal on a tray while you finish assembling the rest.
  10. Add a couple of hot cups of water to the steamer and line the steamer rack with corn husks.
  11. Place the tamales standing up. Cover the tamales with the rest of the corn husks, a clean dishtowel, and the pot lid.
  12. Cook for 60-75 minutes over a medium heat.
  13. While cooking, add more hot water to the pot if needed. Be careful with the steam while removing the lid.
  14. Remove one of the tamales to check if they are ready. If the corn husk can easily be removed from the dough, they are done. The tamales will firm up after cooked.

Makes 8 servings

Serving size = 2 tamal

Original recipe source: Mexico In My Kitchen



Cauliflower Latkes


The potato latkes we know today originally began as Italian pancakes make with ricotta cheese, originating way back in the 1200’s [2]. These fried cheese pancakes combined two traditional foods associated with Hanukkah —  fried foods and dairy foods. Potato latkes came about after a series of crop failures in Eastern Europe. People started planting potatoes because they were cheap and easy to grow. It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that potato latkes gained popularity.

Using cauliflower instead of potatoes can reduce the number of calories in your latkes. Swapping white flour for whole-wheat flour will add fiber and other nutrients.


  • 1 16-ounce package riced cauliflower* (approximately 4 cups)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg white or 3 tablespoons liquid egg whites
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ cup reduced fat (2%) cheddar or Mexican blend shredded cheese
  • 1 large scallion, chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
  • ¼ cup white whole-wheat flour
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided


  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl except oil. Mix well.
  2. Heat a large sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil.
  3. Pack a ¼ cup measuring cup with cauliflower mix, add to pan and gently flatten. (Cook 4 pancakes at a time in the pan)
  4. Sauté for a few minutes until the bottom is browned and holding together. Gently flip pancakes. Cook second side until nicely browned.
  5. Remove pancakes from pan and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain.
  6. Repeat for the remainder of the cauliflower mix.
  7. Serve with sour cream, Greek yogurt, or applesauce. For an extra kick, add some sriracha or red pepper flakes.

Makes 12 servings

Serving size = 1 latkes

Original recipe source: Food and Nutrition Magazine


United States

Green Bean Casserole

green beans

Green bean casserole is a classic dish for Christmas. It combines cream of mushroom soup, green beans, and other tasty ingredients for a smashing side during the holidays. However, it can be high in saturated fat and sodium if you’re not careful. The following recipe uses low-fat dairy products and a low sodium cream of mushroom soup and soy sauce for a healthier alternative to this holiday favorite.


  • 1 can low sodium condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1⁄4 cup low-fat milk
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 cups green beans, cooked
  • 2 tablespoons fried onions, crushed


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Stir all ingredients except the fried onions together in a mixing bowl.
  3. Add the mixture of a casserole dish.
  4. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes.
  5. Take the casserole dish out of the oven. Sprinkle the casserole with two tablespoons of crushed fried onions.
  6. Put the casserole dish back in the oven. Bake for 5 minutes or until the onions are golden brown.

Makes 6 servings

Original recipe source: UGA SNAP-Ed

Original photo sources

Holiday decorationsTamalesLatkes | Green beans


[1]New York Times, 2012

[2]PBS, 2011

For recipes and more: