How to Pick Healthier (But Still Great Tasting) Foods This Easter

Whether you're planning a menu or choosing chocolate from an Easter basket, here are your best diet-friendly options

When you shop through retailer links on our site, we may earn affiliate commissions. 100% of the fees we collect are used to support our nonprofit mission. Learn more.

Easter meal iStock-176864672

With increasing numbers of people receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, Easter dinner may be one of the first holidays celebrated around the table with a few family members or friends in quite a while. The desire for tradition may be strong, but when you're planning your menu you can lighten up Easter foods without sacrificing flavor and boost the nutrition if you make some smart picks.

Leg of Lamb vs. Spiral Ham

Winner: Leg of lamb. Both of these traditional Easter foods are lean cuts of meat. The lamb has 180 calories, about 7 grams of fat, and about 2 grams of saturated fat in 3½ ounces. The same amount of ham has 139 calories, 5 grams of fat, and less than 1 gram of saturated fat.

More on Healthy Eating

You get more iron, vitamin B12, and zinc from the lamb, but what really gives it the edge is its very low sodium count, just 66 mg. The ham provides 977 mg, 42 percent of the maximum amount you should have in a day (2,300 mg).

Like all meats that have been smoked, cured, or salted, spiral ham is a processed meat. Processed meats contain nitrates and nitrites that interact with the protein in the meat, creating compounds called nitrosamines that can raise cancer risk. Research suggests that eating even small amounts of processed meat on a regular basis can contribute to the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Fresh ham, on the other hand, isn't salted or cured and can be a good option if you prefer pork. A 3½-ounce serving has 210 calories, 3 grams of saturated fat, and 64 mg of sodium.

Green Beans vs. Asparagus

Winner: Asparagus. Though both are good choices, cup to cup, asparagus is higher in folate, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K, and iron. These two side dishes have about the same fiber count.

To preserve the nutrients, color, and texture, cook asparagus until it's just tender. You’ll see it turn bright green, and if you pick up a spear, it should bend just slightly.

Rice Pilaf vs. Roasted Red Potatoes

Winner: Roasted red potatoes. The nutritional makeup of rice pilaf depends on the ingredients it contains, but one cup (cooked) of a typical packaged rice pilaf has 352 calories. The potatoes have fewer calories—151 for a medium potato—and twice the fiber, and they supply vitamin C, iron, potassium, and niacin.

Toss them in olive oil before roasting, and instead of sprinkling with salt, season them with fresh chives or rosemary.

Lindt Gold Milk Chocolate Bunny vs. Lindt Gold White Chocolate Bunny

Winner: Tie. First thing to know: One bunny does not equal one serving, yet the nutrition information provided is per serving. If that fact escapes you and you eat the entire bunny, you may not realize the true amount of calories, saturated fat, and sugars you've consumed.

A 3.5-ounce white chocolate bunny has 4 servings, Lindt says. Each serving has 120 calories, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and 12 grams of sugars. A whole bunny has 480 calories, 18 grams of saturated fat, and 48 grams of sugars.

That's only slightly better than the stats for the same size milk chocolate bunny. That has 2.5 servings, Lindt says. One serving has 220 calories, 8 grams of saturated fat, and 22 grams of sugars. A whole bunny has 550 calories, 20 grams of saturated fat, and 55 grams of sugars.

Bottom line: Whichever flavor you prefer, it's best to split your bunny with a friend.

Fruit Danish vs. a Waffle

Winner: Waffle. For Easter brunch, a waffle and a fruit Danish pastry are about the same size (about 2½ ounces). The pastry has 263 calories to a typical waffle's 277, and about 13 grams of fat vs. the waffle's 14 grams. What makes the waffle a better pick is its lower amount of sugars. There are 19 grams in the pastry but just 6 grams in the waffle.

This assumes, however, that you don't pour syrup over your waffle. Just a tablespoon of maple syrup adds 52 calories and 12 grams of sugars, putting it about on a par with the Danish.

As an alternative, try eating your waffle with fresh fruit, such a strawberries or blueberries, instead of syrup. You'll add fewer sugars, plus you'll be adding all the fiber and nutrients that fruit provides.

To make a healthier waffle, try this recipe:

Whole-Wheat Waffles With Wheat Germ
2 cups white whole-wheat flour
¼ cup toasted wheat germ
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon canola oil

Mix the flour, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs, and oil.

3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix with just a few strokes until the batter is evenly moistened.

4. Heat a nonstick electric waffle maker. Spray lightly with cooking spray. Scoop batter onto griddle (about ¼ cup per waffle, depending on the size of the waffle maker). Let waffle cook until the indicator light on the waffle maker turns on.

Makes about 14 waffles, depending on the size of the waffle maker.

Nutrition information per waffle: 120 calories, 3 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 5 g protein, 17 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 2 g sugars (0 g added), 10 g sodium.

Best Waffle Makers From CR's Tests

In our tests, in addition to rating these appliances for how well they cook and brown waffles, we evaluate them for their ease of use, including whether there are seams and crevices that batter can get stuck in, which can make them harder to clean. Here are three top performers, listed in alphabetical order.

Trisha Calvo

I've covered health and nutrition my entire career, so I know how to separate science from hype. Whether it's about food labels, sunscreen, or food safety, my goal is to deliver information that makes following a healthy lifestyle easier. Healthy cooking is a favorite hobby, and friends think I'm crazy, but I can happily spend hours grocery shopping. Follow me on Twitter. (@TrishaCalvo)