I don't know about you, but this cold snap in the Fort Collins weather has finally gotten me into the holdiay spirit. I am craving hot chocolates, carriage rides, friends, family, and FOOD! Lot's of rich, delicous food, to be exact.
Traditionally, for many of us, the holidays have been a time to let loose, and eat whatever, whenever with no cares and to deal with the consequences after the holidays.
That has been me most of my life. What I discovered is that, in the end, I felt like crap, and didn't "recover" after the new years. It became a perpetual cycle, just another yo-yo diet. I've changed my holidays for the better and so can you. Now, I know what you are thinking right now, "I am all for being healthy, but I want to ENJOY all the foods of the holidays." Oh, my friend you can do both! Trust me! By making some very simple changes to the traditionally holiday foods we already eat, we can improve the nutritional density and overall health of the the foods we love and our bodies, and maybe leave the holidays feeling better, not heavy and bogged down.
I want to break this down into a traditional holiday meal and show the heavy, sugar laden, traditional recipes and how you can change them to keep flavor and up the health benefits, a little before and after.
The Traditional Holiday Dinner
Holiday dinners look very different for everyone. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (yes, this is a thing), one thing we all have in common is a winter holiday feast with the best foods the season has to offer, shared with friends and family.
For most of us, the holiday meal looks like this:
Quick Tips to Keeping the Holidays Healthy
There, that doesn't seem too hard, right? Now, lets see it at work in the recipes below.
Turkey - The Centerpiece of the Holidays
The traditional roast turkey, is actually a pretty healthy option. Make sure to choose a quality raised bird. You can also substitute a chicken for a smaller family, or even some small cornish game hens...if you are hunter, think of doing a goose, duck, or even grouse. One of the new popular ways to do a turkey is to deep fry it. This may taste delicious, but the high temperature frying process can create carcinogenic chemicals in the meat. Stick with traditional roasting methods.
Choose fresh herbs, and save the giblets for the gravy.
Turkey and Meat Recipes to Try this Holiday
What is roast turkey wihtout stuffing! Most of us, guilty, don't make stuffing from scratch, we buy the bagged stuff we have to add a few things to, right? As long as you are following the above guidelines, this should be no big deal.
Many of the popular stuffing mixes are full of preservatives, and added gunk. So, learn to read labels. If you are a family that makes, from scratch stuffy, which I have and love, good for you.
Not going to lie, I actually got sick writing down all the ingredients in stove top...holy cow! I know it was bad, but GOO! Lets break it down
Stuffing Ideas to Try this Holiday
One of my stuffing secrets for added nutrition....add the giblets! My mom always added the liver, gizzard and heart to the stuffing (and gravy). Boil is to make the juice for the gravy, and then finely chop it and add in. No one will know if you don't tell them. Organ meat is a meat source that we rarely consume in american, and because of it, we find it harder to maintain certain nutritional levels (B12, Vitamin D, E, K), which are found in LARGE amounts in the organ, along with other nutrients such as CoEnzyme Q10.
I also like the Arrowhead Mills Stuffing Mix, if you are looking for an alternative to Stove Top
Those who know me know, I am not anti any food. I think they all have their place, if treated and cooked properly. Potatoes are one of those foods. They have gotten a really bad wrap over the years because of their starch content. But did you you they also contain more potassium than a banana, other minerals (manganese, magnesium, iron, B Vitamins (B6, Folate, Niacin, Thiamin) and phytonutrients that inbibit the carcinogenic chemical produced when you cook meat at high temperatures? Yes, there is more to the lowly potato. The trick is to make sure to keep the skins on.
Red potatoes are more nutrient dense than russets, and contain more antioxidants in the skin. They are also creamier.
By adding the potatoes with the skin, we automatically increase the nutrient density of the recipe.
Grass-Fed Butter is rich in good cholesterol, fat soluble vitamins A, E, D, K, and Omega 3 fatty acids...leaps and bounds over conventional butter.
Adding in somehting green, like kale, parsely, and chives, addes some more Vitamin K, mineras (magnesium, iron, zinc, calcium), and phytonutrients that increase immunity, prefect for the winter cold season.
Full fat milk, preferably grass fed, give the potatoes a creamy texture, and gives you more of those great fat soluble vitamins (D), and another nutritional fat called Conjugated Linoleic Acid, which signals the body to convert fat into muscle.
Also, use good quality olive oil, instead Full Fat Milk, if you are trying to reduce your dairy.
Potato Recipes to try This Holiday
Let's be honest, no dinner that involved Turkey, Stuffing, and Mashed Potatoes is complete without GRAVY. Now, many people out there use gravy packages...you know that powdered stuff you mix with water to make "gravy." Okay, I come from the south-ish, and we LOVE gravy...and the packaged stuff is just wrong. Real gravy is super simple to make, so easy, that once you make it, you'll never buy the packaged stuff again.
Not to mention the amount of preservatives and additives in the packaged powdered gravy mixes.
So, many of the ingridients in the this common gravy mix we talked about above...but we have a couple of new players in the party.
Gravy Recipes to Try This Holiday
Oh those giblets! I know you are all trying to ignore this little tip. I swear it will be okay, and in the end you will find a way to include this extremely healthy, nutrient dense food into your meals. Those of you with kids: if you don't tell them, or make a big deal they won't care. My kids actually like organ meat, and ate more of the elk heart I made this fall than either myself or my husband. Start then early and they will develop a palate for it.
Liver is one of the richest sources of B12 and Vitamin D in the diet.
Whole wheat flour, with no fortification, adds gluten to thicken. If you are gluten senstive/allergic, you can substitute brown rice flour.
Let's be honest, do we really need the rolls, NO, but there is something right about bread during a holiday meal. This doesn't mean you have to learn to bake fresh bread, but knowing some decent brands will help you.
Many premade, frozen rolls, are full of all sorts of horrible ingredients that contribute to disease, obesity, ADHD, and other health problems.
I tend to lean towards naturally fermented sourdough for all occations. The natural fermentation helps to breakdown phytic acid, and increase the nutrients. Also look for sprouted grain breads and rolls, Whole Foods makes a Spouted Seeded Loaf that is amazing!
There is always making your own!!!! Learning to make homemade sourdough is an art, and something I have never mastered. But, I have friends that have sourdough starter that is over 100 years old and they make the most out-of-this-world breads and baked goods with it. I tend to use whole grain sprouted grain flours in my baking/cooking anyways, so I do make a couple of rolls and baked goods this way during the holidays (like cinnamon rolls on Christmas Day).
Classically, there are few vegetables present at holiday dinners...lots of starches and sugars, but little greens. With the exception of the Green Bean Casserole, a holiday staple that typcially has canned "cream of mushroom" soup in it.
Not going to lie, but I find it amusing (not funny, but sad amusing) that they labeled the sea salt as "low sodium" when the product is FULL of negative sodium preservative. That sea salt sodium is not the problem, it's the large amount of synthetic and chemical sodiums.
I say, this is a great opporunity to up the Holiday Meal Game. There is nothing better than GOOD vegetable sides to bring the meal together.
Look for color, greens, organes, reds, this is a key to unlocking higher nutritional density, phytonutrients and antioxidants.
Vegetable Side Dishes to Try This Holiday
Okay, let's be completely honest...its really the dessert that we all look forward to during the holidays. AND it's the desserts that get us into trouble. All of the white sugar, processed flour, and the amount! I feel like I get more sweets for the family and from friends this time of year, and to some extent its all part of it. The problem I have, and I am sure is the same with most, is the QUANTITY. Learning portion control is essential, as is choosing quality ingredients that add an element of nutrition.
Desserts to Try This Holiday