Ack, the holidays: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, even the Super Bowl... The months-long celebration is often met with dread. What a shift from childhood days when the Christmas countdown began in, well, June and couldn’t arrive soon enough. But these days, that childlike magic has worn off, and the season swoops in earlier each year—right along with an abundance of unwanted calories, waste, and stress. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We spoke with four culinary experts—a vegan, a raw foodie, an omnivore whose husband is vegetarian, and a restaurant chef—to glean tips on how to entertain your guests in a healthy and eco-friendly way. The happy bonus? There’s nary a word about deprivation. Also, see page 30 for each chef ’s go-to recipes for healthy and delicious appetizers—from warming soups to nibble-worthy olives.
Tip #1: Think sustainably, eat healthily Enjoying the celebration is absolutely paramount, says Art Eggertsen, renowned vegan chef and founder of ProBar, a line of organic and vegan snack bars. “Holiday meals are going to be there, and we need to participate,” he says. “But if we are well-fed, well nourished, and we’ve flooded our body with nutrition, we’re less likely to indulge.” Maintaining even blood sugar levels is key in helping us offset temptation (when hungry or deprived, the body craves quick, easy energy like sugar and fat). To accomplish this, Eggertsen recommends keeping lots of fruit and vegetables on hand, and even adding periodic juicing (fresh juices made with nutrient-dense superfoods and green supplements) to your daily routine. When it comes to the holiday meal, Eggertsen goes a step further. “The greenest thing we can do—greener than driving a hybrid—is to eat lower on the food chain,” Eggertsen explains. Case in point: In comparison to the land, the feed, and the polluting waste that goes hand-in-hand with raising animals, plant-based foods use far less energy to grow and harvest. And, bonus for guests and hosts alike, the most sustainable food choices are also the healthiest. It’s also easy enough, says raw food author Ani Phyo, to work in nutrient dense, earth-friendly raw foods— without calling attention to them—for your carnivorous, cooked-food friends. “Guacamole, salsa, and gazpacho are already raw, and so are many dips,” she explains. “All raw food is a composed salad, combined in a different way.” Aside from being green, the benefit here is that raw foods contain the greatest amount of nutrition—so they fill you up faster, and they’re digested efficiently so the body runs cleaner and clearer. This doesn’t mean forfeiting your once-a-year turkey and gravy, it’s simply a reminder to be vigilant: Survey the holiday feast before filling your plate. Dish yourself larger servings of plant-based dishes (these are almost invariably healthier for you and the earth) and smaller amounts of the more problematic items such as meat. As a host, you can further enable this by roasting a smaller, certified-organic turkey and intentionally plumping the table with more veggie-focused offerings.
Tip #2: Remember the vegetarians Ivy Manning, Portland-based author of Farm to Table Cookbook (Sasquatch Books, 2008) and The Adaptable Feast (Sasquatch Books, 2009), believes it’s important to honor and respect others’ dietary decisions. “I always make something special for my husband [who is a vegetarian],” she says. “If I just served him sides, he’d be in a carb coma.” For special occasions, she creates dishes such as a riff on beef Wellington (called “beet Wellington”)—roasted beets and goat cheese wrapped in puff pastry—or a hearty posole.
Tip #3: Think ahead, avoid stress Manning, who has become an expert in cooking meals that are ingredient-flexible, makes her beet Wellingtons in advance and freezes them until the day of. In fact, she does much of her cooking beforehand to help manage last-minute stress and avoid purchasing processed foods. “I try not to buy boxed stuff or prepared items because that’s where you find sodium and trans-fats,” she says. “I like to make my own crackers, dips, and gougères—and then freeze them.” Chef Jeff Osaka, who owns the sea sonally focused Twelve Restaurant in Denver, Colo., says that every day he plans ahead. Be it at home or in the restaurant, tasks like braising meat or making soup ahead of time bring big dividends by imparting more flavor, and freeing up time. Osaka also says there’s no shame in asking for assistance—especially during the holidays. “A lot of people think they can do everything themselves,” he says. “But most people don’t mind helping out.”
Tip #4: Invest in the good stuff Keeping things simple—even when it costs a little more—is something that appeals to both Manning and Osaka’s cooking and entertaining styles. “Buy the better Brie and put it out with nice veggies. Put out a nice bowl of olives instead of the usual grocery store brand,” Manning says. Osaka agrees, “Start with something good, and there’s very little you have to do with it.” Better ingredients also tend to yield healthier dishes—which can be a secret weapon during the holidays. Osaka uses a few easy tricks to impart flavor without a lot of fat. He incorporates mushrooms into dishes demanding meatiness, and he roasts chicken bones for his stock instead of automatically turning to richer beef stocks. He also finishes his dishes with a judicious amount of fat. “When I finish a sauce, I’ll add a pat of butter or a swirl of olive oil,” he says. “It’s the last-minute influences of flavor that make the biggest difference.”
Tip #5: Love those leftovers Don’t forget about leftovers, many of which taste even better the following day. Sending your guests home with a few nibbles is an excellent way to both reduce waste and continue the festive feel. Phyo packages food in clean, reusable glass jars and containers—sometimes she even makes stickers to add a personal touch. And last Christmas, when Manning served homemade tamales for her holiday feast, she gave her guests several (wrapped in recyclable aluminum foil) to take home. “Tamales are time-consuming but the message is this: “These are for the people I really love, they’re special, and I only make them once a year.”
Five Rules for the Green Hostess
1. Use cloth, not paper With the average American using the equivalent of seven trees in paper, wood, and related products each year, setting the table with cloth napkins instead of paper is an easy sell. Check out FiberactiveQuilts. com for certified-organic napkins that are hand-dyed in just about every gorgeous shade you could ask for. Bonus: They’re hand-sewn in North Carolina.
2. Forgo the flowers Rather than a flower centerpiece (read: expensive, temporary, and rarely grown organically), set the table with a collection of scavenged winterberries and dried leaves. They’ll keep for weeks, and give the house a cozy feeling. Compost afterward. For Christmas and the New Year, pile a beautiful platter or bowl with organic and festively colored apples— and make a pie or applesauce later that week.
3. Pass on paper In lieu of mailing paper invitations, invite party guests via email (we love the clean look of PaperlessPost. com’s offerings). Likewise, send holiday postcards instead of traditional cards requiring envelopes. Paperculture.com has never let us down—and they print on 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. We also like VerTerra biodegradable party plates—they’re made from fallen leaves and have a gorgeous design (verterra.com).
4. Eat lower on the food chain The more plant-based dishes on the holiday table, the healthier the meal and the lower the environmental impact. For example, mushrooms’ deep, earthy flavors lend themselves to hearty vegetarian dishes. Roast or sauté and add to risotto, soup, gravy, or polenta in lieu of meat.
5. DIY, baby! Make your own gifts such as jams, chutneys, or breads. Tie with raffia and include a handwritten recipe on recycled holiday cards from last year. Done and done.
Recipes for the Healthy Entertainer (search our "recipes" option)
Turkey Meatballs with Mint-Yogurt Sauce
Warm Marinated Olives
Vegan Crab Cakes
Red Pepper Hummus