Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here


Leaving Website

You are now leaving and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Holiday Food Tips and Tricks

Make smart choices during this season of eating

spinner image Healthy Holiday Choices
Swap out some of your traditional dishes for healthier alternatives at your next gathering.
Robert Daly/Getty Images

Lighten up your pie: Are you planning on making a favorite holiday pie this season? Here is a simple trick to cut your carbs in half. First, take the frozen pie shell in the tin container and let it sit out for 15 minutes. Then turn the tray over, and gently take the crust from the pan and place it to the side. Place your pie filling into the empty tin pan and flip over the bottom crust and use it as your top crust. If you are making your own crust, make only enough for the top crust.

Winter guac: Who doesn’t love chips and dip while watching TV with the family waiting for the holiday dinner to be ready? Instead of sour cream and onion, cool ranch and other carb-filled dips, try a summertime favorite: guacamole. Winter avocados still make a tasty guacamole — just make sure they are ripe. See my recipe below.

Skinny dippers: Instead of using bread as a dip for your homemade or store-bought hummus, grab something lighter. Slice some honey crisp apples and use them as your dipping sticks. It is very delicious!

Rice alternative: If you are feeling festive this season and want to cook some curry, or any other dish that requires white rice, try using Israeli or regular couscous instead. It has a rice-like texture and is a healthier alternative. My Jumbo Shrimp and Israeli Couscous dish will also be a hit.

Chilly-weather chili: Everyone loves a hearty bowl of chili, especially now that it is getting colder outside. Instead of traditional beef chili, try my amazing (and healthier!) Turkey Corn Chili recipe. You won’t even miss the beef.

No-guilt parm: For my eggplant lovers who love deep-fried eggplant parmesan but hate the guilty feeling they get afterward, try my no-fry Eggplant Parmesan with Mozzarella and Basil. You’ll never go back to the fried version.

Simple fish seasoning: I love fried fish — especially on fried fish Fridays — but I am going to make a change this holiday season and make an amazing 7-Season Baked Salmon instead. The best part about this seasoning: It’s tasty on any baked fish, so you can use it often.

Hold the bread: My family loves sandwiches, but the high sodium levels in bread are not healthy for some of us. Instead of lunching on a big bready sandwich, try my Baked Crab Corn Wheat Quesadilla. Wheat tortillas have less than half the sodium of wheat bread per slice.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

7-Season Baked Salmon

2 salmon fillets, skin and bones removed
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 tablespoon ground paprika
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place all dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix well with your hand, whisk or spoon. Rub mixture over salmon. Line a half sheet tray or baking sheet with foil and use the last teaspoon of olive oil to coat the foil. Place salmon on dish and bake for 13 minutes, or until it reaches preferred doneness.

spinner image Healthy Holiday Choices
Use ripe avocados for this winter guacamole recipe.
Getty Images


2-3 ripe winter avocados
1/2 red onion, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1/4-1/2 small jalapeño pepper, diced with seeds removed (depending on the spiciness you prefer)
3 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped (pick leaves off of stem)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 pinches freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 ripe tomato, seeds and pulp removed, chopped
1 teaspoon Tabasco pepper sauce

Cut avocados in half. Remove seed. Scoop out the avocado from the peel and place put into a medium bowl. Using a fork or spoon, roughly mash the avocado — make sure to not overwork the avocado. Add the remaining ingredients except the tomato and fold with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Add tomato right before serving.

Squeeze lime juice on top of the guacamole. Add a piece of plastic wrap directly on the guacamole, covering in entirety. Then add another piece of plastic wrap on top of the container itself. This will help limit the oxidation of your guacamole, and will keep it from turning dark on you.

Serves: 4
Prep time to eating time: 25 minutes

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

Join AARP today for $16 per year. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.

Turkey Corn Chili

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 lb. ground turkey
1 red onion, chopped
1 Spanish onion, chopped
1 jalapeño small, diced (optional)
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes or 3 Roma tomatoes rough chopped (small to medium size)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon fresh or dried basil
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or Liquid Aminos
1 pinch Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 16-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup vegetable stock or broth

See more Health & Wellness offers >

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium to high heat. Place turkey in the pot, and cook until all the raw meat has changed color. Stir in onion, garlic and all remaining ingredients except the kidney beans and cook until tender. Pour broth into the pot. Mix in kidney beans. If you need more flavor, add a teaspoon of dried thyme and rosemary leaves. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes.

Serves: 4
Prep time to eating time: 50 minutes

Baked Crab Corn Wheat Quesadilla

1 spinach or wheat tortilla
2 slices low-fat pepper jack cheese
8 oz. of fresh lump, jumbo lump or backfin crabmeat
2 oz. fresh cilantro, chopped (approximately 1/8 cup)
1/2 teaspoon jalapeño pepper (depending on the spiciness you prefer)
1 tablespoon scallion (green onion), chopped
1/4 cup canned corn, drained
1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
2 pinches of Old Bay Seasoning
Cooking spray
Aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place foil on cookie sheet pan and lightly coat with cooking spray. Lay the tortilla on a cutting board. Mix all ingredients (other than the cheese) in a mixing bowl. Fold and mix together lightly. Place crab mixture on half the tortilla. Sprinkle cheese over the crab mixture. Once finished, fold the empty tortilla half over filled half. Place quesadilla on the greased foil and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven. Cut into 4 pieces and serve.

Serves: 2
Prep time to eating time: 30 minutes

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

Join AARP today for $16 per year. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.

Thai Curry Coconut Sauce over Sautéed Jumbo Shrimp and Israeli Couscous


Thai Curry Coconut Sauce
1/2 cup scallion (green onion), chopped
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 small white onion, diced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 13.5 oz. can coconut milk
1 oz. canned red curry paste
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon orange zest
2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground or cracked black pepper

Sauce Recipe
Heat extra-virgin olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, ginger and scallion. Sauté for 4 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook for 6 minutes longer.

Shrimp and Vegetable Mixture

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
1 cup scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
6 large shrimp, deveined (the black line down the back of the shrimp is removed)
6 string beans cut into 1-inch portions
1 pinch kosher salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon curry powder
Chopped fresh mint and cilantro leaves, for garnish
Lime wedges, for serving

Shrimp Recipe
Lightly coat a large nonstick skillet with the extra-virgin olive oil and add onion and scallions. Cook until translucent and beginning to brown, about 7 to 9 minutes. Add the shrimp and string beans. Season with a pinch of kosher salt and pepper and stir in curry powder. Sauté shrimp until tender. Pour the Coconut Curry Sauce over the shrimp and vegetables and stir gently. Cook for about 4 to 5 minutes and thicken slightly.

Israeli Couscous
Cook the Israeli couscous according to bag or box instructions. Drain and spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray so it does not stick, and set aside.

On a medium size plate, transfer 2 oz. couscous to the center of the plate. Add 3 shrimp with the vegetables over the couscous and spoon the sauce over it. Garnish with cilantro and 2 wedges of lime on the plate.

Serves: 2
Prep to eating time: 45 minutes

Non-Fried Eggplant Parmesan with Basil, Fresh Mozzarella & Tomato Sauce


6 1/2-inch slices of eggplant
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup shredded provolone cheese
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes in juice
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Sauce Preparation:
Heat extra-virgin olive oil in a medium sauce pot over medium heat; add onions and garlic. Sauté for 3 minutes and then add remaining ingredients from the tomato sauce list. Bring to a simmer and taste. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush eggplant slices lightly with the 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Coat a baking dish lightly with cooking spray. Spread enough tomato sauce to lightly cover the bottom of the dish. Lay 2 pieces of eggplant down first; neatly top with the 2 cheeses. Add another layer of eggplant to the top of the other eggplant very carefully and gently and add cheese to the top. Repeat with one more layer of eggplant and cheese. Bake 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and on two plates add 2 ounces of sauce to the center of each plate. Carefully with a spatula place the three-layer eggplant-and-cheese combination on each plate. Top with 2 more ounces of sauce on top of the eggplant letting the sauce drip down the sides. Garnish with plenty of basil on top.

Serves: 2
Prep time to eat time: 45 minutes

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

Join AARP today for $16 per year. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.