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Healthy Eating at the Holidays? – Forget About It

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One of my least favorite lessons to teach as a Health and Food Safety Extension Agent is K-State Extension’s “Focus on the Stars: Cooking Healthy for the Holidays.” This is not because there’s anything wrong with this lesson. In fact, it’s won both regional and national awards. And it’s not because I don’t like this lesson, either. Truth is, this happens to be one of my favorite lessons due to its easy suggestions for making minor modification to traditional holiday recipes to make them healthier without sacrificing a ton of flavor.

But over the years, I’ve come to dread teaching this lesson for I have learned that most people have no interest whatsoever in modifying their longstanding holiday recipes. Period. Few things are stronger than tradition, and this seems especially true for holiday feasts. One can feel the excited expectancy surrounding the upcoming days of gorge when certain recipes only appear this time of year, and asking folks to just use one stick of butter in the mashed potatoes instead of two is almost akin to asking them to slap their grandmothers. People just aren’t going to do it.

However, if you are in the mood for holiday fare without the guilt and are curious about some tasty recipes that highlight seasonal ingredients and invoke all the festive feels, I would invite you to try any of the recipes below from the K-State Extension lesson. They may not be suitable replacements for the big traditional holiday menu, but they are delicious in their own right, and they’re probably healthier, too.


Pineapple Sweet Potatoes

Makes 4 servings.

• 4 small fresh sweet potatoes or yams

• 1 cup (about 12 ounces) pineapple tidbits or

crushed pineapple, in juice, drained

• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 2 teaspoons margarine

• 3 tablespoons chopped pecans, optional

1. Scrub sweet potatoes and cut each into 4 pieces.

In a covered saucepan, boil sweet potatoes in just

enough water to cover. When they are fork-tender

(about 15 to 20 minutes), drain. Remove skin and

any bad spots.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an oven-proof dish

with non-stick cooking spray.

3. Mix pineapple and cinnamon. Put half of the

pineapple mixture in a dish and then half the sweet

potato pieces over the pineapple. Repeat. Place

margarine on top of potatoes, sprinkle with nuts,

and bake for 45 minutes.


Nutrition per 3/4-cup serving (without pecans):

160 calories, 2 g fat, 0 cholesterol, 90 mg sodium, 34 g

carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 12 g sugar, 2 g protein.


Yogurt Mashed Potatoes

Makes 10 servings.

• 4 cups potatoes, peeled, cut into eighths

(about 2 pounds as purchased)

• ¼ cup fat-free milk

• 1¼ cups plain fat-free yogurt

• ½ to 1 teaspoon garlic powder, or desired seasoning

• Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place potatoes in microwave-safe dish. Add milk.

Cover tightly and cook on high until potatoes are

tender but not mushy, about 12 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, combine yogurt and

garlic powder in a bowl.

3. Remove potatoes from microwave, add yogurt

mixture, and mash roughly.

4. Season with salt and pepper.

Nutrition per ½ cup serving (without added salt):

70 calories, 0 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 25 mg sodium,

16 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 3 g sugars, 3 g protein.


Crustless Pumpkin Pie

Makes 8 servings.

• ¾ cup granulated sugar

• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• ½ teaspoon salt

• ½ teaspoon ground ginger

• ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

• 2 large eggs

• 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie


• 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated fat-free milk

• Reduced-fat whipped topping, optional

1. Spray 9-inch round glass pie dish with nonstick

cooking spray. Preheat oven to 325°F.

2. Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and cloves in

small bowl.

3. Beat eggs in large mixing bowl. Stir in pumpkin

and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in

evaporated milk. Pour into pie dish.

4. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until knife inserted

near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for

2 hours. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate.

Top with whipped topping if desired.

Nutrition for ⅛ of recipe (without topping): 140

calories, 1.5 g fat, 55 cholesterol, 210 mg sodium, 28 g

carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 26 g sugar, 6 g protein.


Slow Cooker Baked Apples

Makes 9 servings.

• 6 large baking apples (Granny Smith, Jonathan, or

Jonagold work well)

• 3 tablespoons brown sugar

• ½ teaspoon nutmeg

• 1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Quarter apples and remove core. Place in slow


2. Mix sugar and spices and sprinkle over apples.

Cover and cook 4 hours on low or 2 hours on high,

stirring once after juice begins to form to more

evenly distribute seasonings.

Nutrition per 1⁄9 of recipe: 110 calories, 0 g fat, 0 mg

cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 27 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber,

21 g sugar, 1 g protein.

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