Happy, Healthy Holidays

The holiday season is the highlight of the year for many people. It's time to be around family, spend time with loved ones, take some time off work, exchange gifts, laugh, and of course, eat.
By Brooke Holmgren

Delicious holiday-inspired meals are often devoid of important nutrients and full of fat, sugar, and excess calories. The combination of holiday stress and unique, savory food often ends in a nutritional disaster and a wider waistline. However, there are a few small steps you can take in preparing traditional holiday foods to boost nutrition, allow for filling and delicious meals, and keep you from loosening your belt after New Year’s Day.

First of all, not all holiday foods are as bad as they’re made out to be. Eating healthy doesn’t mean a holiday of asceticism; you can still enjoy good food! In most cases, eating well simply means preparing food with more wholesome ingredients or completely swapping out nutritionally defunct foods for food that is sustaining.

Pot roast, Christmas ham, and prime rib are common for holiday dinners, yet are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Poultry is an ideal alternative. For example, take turkey; it’s a white meat (as opposed to red meat like beef), is high in protein, relatively low in fat, can be high in omega-3 fatty acids (depending on how the turkey was raised), and contains tryptophan, an amino acid the body uses to produce niacin and serotonin. White meat is leaner than dark meat, so opt for a slice of white. Pork tenderloin is another tasty option.

Sweet potatoes, another staple of Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, are abundant in beta-carotene and vitamin A. In addition, the more purple-hued sweet potatoes contain anthocyanins, which give this tuber a ton of antioxidants. While most other produce loses its antioxidants in the cooking process, sweet potatoes retain their anthocyanins during cooking. Try swapping baked, mashed, or cheesy potatoes for sweet potato-based recipes.

Fruit salads laden with heavy whipping cream, marshmallows, and egg yolks are about as low as you can get, nutritionally speaking. Opting for fresh fruit mixed with plain yogurt is a wholesome yet sweet way to sneak in B vitamins. In addition, plain yogurt (with live and active cultures) has been shown to ward off common illnesses and lower LDL cholesterol.

Pecan pie is the major delicious downfall of many holiday meals; just one slice can have up to 500 calories. While pecans are nutritionally sound, the combination of butter, sugar, and salt outweighs the high fiber and vitamin content of the pecans. Opt for pecans as a snack and replace the pecan pie with a pumpkin pie. Pumpkin is chock full of beta-carotene, a plant carotenoid that becomes vitamin A when eaten.

Love it or hate it, cranberry sauce always seems to make an appearance at holiday meals. And it’s usually the canned kind that comes out in one lumpy chunk. Not only does this can-shaped food look unappealing, it’s loaded with extra sugar. If skipping out on cranberry sauce is a no-go, a delicious homemade recipe that can be made with a sugar substitute is included further down this page.

Holiday meals typically include an odd assortment of vegetables buttered, dipped, covered in sauce, or drowned in sodium-rich cream-of-mushroom soup. Simply put, any method of preparation that avoids the aforementioned ingredients is a healthier way to eat.

But what about appetizers and snacks? Replace the meat and cheese tray with a vegetable tray; instead of chips and dip, serve pita and hummus; ditch the bowl of chocolates and fill it with a variety of unsalted nuts.

Remember, the holiday season is a time to relax and spend time with family, not to undo a year’s worth of good habits.


Herb-Baked Turkey

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 cups water 11/2 cups aromatics (onion, apple, lemon) cut into 2-inch pieces
1 10- to 12-pound free-range, organic turkey
1/4 cup fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, marjoram
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon salt

Place oven rack in lower third of oven. Preheat to 475 degrees. Prepare turkey: Place it breast-side up in a roasting pan. Pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Mix herbs, oil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Place aromatics and a few sprigs of herbs inside the turkey’s cavity and onto breast meat. Rub herb mixture over the turkey. Tuck wing tips under the turkey and tie legs together. Add water and remaining herbs to pan.

Roast turkey approximately 45 minutes until golden brown. Remove turkey from oven. Cover turkey with a double layer of aluminum foil. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Place turkey back into oven and roast for 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours. Add more water to the pan if necessary. Turkey is done when thermometer reads 165 degrees while inserted in the thickest part of the turkey. Place turkey on serving platter. Keep covered with foil for 20 minutes. Carve and serve hot.


Maple Wheat Dinner Rolls

1 1/2 cups warm water
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 .25-ounce package dry yeast
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white flour
Extra oil for brushing

Mix water and maple syrup in a large bowl. Add yeast to dissolve. Cover with a clean towel and let sit until bubbly. Stir in oil, whole-wheat flour, and salt. Knead on a floured surface. Gradually cut in white flour. Dough should feel a bit sticky. Cover and allow to rise for 30 to 60 minutes. Dough should double in size. Divide dough into 12 to 16 small rolls. Place on an oiled pan. Brush tops of rolls with oil. Allow to rise. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.


Frozen Pumpkin Mousse Pie

30 organic ginger-snap cookies (about 7 1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoons organic raisins
1 tablespoon organic canola oil

1 cup canned organic pumpkin puree
1/3 cup packed organic brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 pints organic vanilla ice cream, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch deep-dish pie an with cooking spray. Combine ginger-snap cookies and raisins in food processor until finely chopped. Add oil and pulse until blended. Press evenly into pie pan. Bake crust for 10 minutes. Combine pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Mix well. Add ice cream and stir. Spoon the mixture into the cooled pie crust and freeze until firm, about two hours. Let the pie soften in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.


Chunky Homemade Cranberry Sauce

makes 2 1/4 cups

12 ounces whole cranberries
3/4 cup water
1 orange or tangerine, for 1/4 cup of juice
1 teaspoon citrus zest
1 cup evaporated cane juice crystals (or equal amount sugar or sugar substitute)

Rinse and wash fruit. Juice and zest citrus. In a medium pot, pour water, cane juice crystals, and citrus juice and stir. Add cranberries when sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. Cover; stir occasionally. Add citrus zest; stir. Remove from heat when cranberries burst and mixture forms a thick consistency. Pour into serving dish. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.


Wild Rice and Mushroom Dressing

6 ounces wild rice
1 cup cranberries
4 tablespoons butter
3 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced and de-stemmed
10 ounces white mushrooms, sliced
2 cups long-grain white rice
15 ounces low-sodium chicken broth

Combine wild rice with water in a small pot. Boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes. Mix in cranberries and let simmer for 1 minute. In a separate pot, cook white rice. Saute carrots, celery, and onion in butter. Cook until tender. Mix in salt, thyme, and pepper. Cook an additional minute. Transfer to medium bowl. Saute remaining mushrooms and butter. Mix in medium bowl with carrots, celery, and onions. Add in white rice. Stir in broth. Combine all ingredients together in a 3 1/2 quart baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes.