Tips and Recipes for a Healthful Holiday Season
Doing what you can to stay true to your health during the holiday season can be really challenging, but you can manage it with just a little guidance!
Here are five recipes (and some additional health tips!) to help you maximize nutrition and minimize lethargy when eating for the holidays. These recipes are tried and true in my kitchen and they are whole, nutritious, close-to-the-earth delicious!
Kale and Pomegranate Seed Salad
- 1 large bunch of kale of your choice, chopped small
- seeds from 1 pomegranate (Buy a whole pomegranate and seed it yourself. Or make it easy on yourself and purchase seeds already separated from the skin.)
- 2 tablespoons of finely chopped shallot, and my favorite vinaigrette (see bonus recipe below).
Chop kale into small bits and toss with the pomegranate seeds, shallots, and dressing, and serve. This is a great salad to prepare hours ahead of time. Let it sit at room temperature. The kale will gradually soften, but it won't get soggy.
Britt’s Favorite Vinaigrette Dressing
- ⅔ cup first cold-pressed olive oil (First cold-pressed olive oil is the best choice as it creates a robust and delicious dressing base.)
- ⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon (or a little less, or a little more, to taste) real maple syrup
- 1-2 cloves of minced garlic
- salt and pepper to taste
Put it all in a mason jar and shake, shake, shake. I usually use one with a wide-mouth so I can fit a ladle in it for easy use. This is my all-time favorite salad dressing. Make it ahead of time and store it at room temperature for the garlic to infuse the dressing. (If you don’t eat garlic, you could choose a variety of fresh herbs—tarragon, basil, or oregano would all be equally delicious.)
Slow-Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Feta, Pine Nuts, & Fennel
- 5 medium-sized sweet potatoes, washed and cut into cubes. (You could also use yams or garnet yams or even squash for this recipe to add variety.)
- olive oil (for drizzling)
- 1 fennel root (approximately ½ cup, chopped)
- ½ cup pine nuts
- ½ cup feta cheese
- salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees °F. Place washed and cubed sweet potatoes in a roasting pan. Drizzle liberally with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper (to taste). Cover with lid or foil and bake for 45 minutes—stirring once. In the meantime, crumble 6 ounces of feta cheese, and dry roast ½ cup of pine nuts in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Chop fennel root into ½-inch size chunks. Once the sweet potatoes are cooked all the way through, and once they're beginning to glaze slightly, remove them from the oven and top the dish with pine nuts, fennel root, feta, salt, and pepper. You might also enjoy a heaping spoon of caramelized onions on the side to balance out the flavors.
These slow-roasted sweet potatoes make a complete, warming winter meal when topped with an easy white bean and avocado salad—so simple, all you need to do is combine the following in a bowl:
- 1 cup cooked white beans
- ½ chopped avocado
- a splash of lemon juice (to taste)
- a dash of salt and pepper
Combine your sweet potatoes with your white bean and avocado salad and you have a nutritious and complete vegetarian meal.
Roasted and Glazed Brussels Sprouts
In my experience, brussels sprouts can be deemed worthy by even the most picky of palettes when they are slow roasted (which sweetens them).
- 2 bags brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, and cut in half
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup diluted in ½ teaspoon water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees °F. Wash and trim the ends off of the brussels sprouts and cut each sprout in half lengthwise. Spread them apart in a large baking dish. Drizzle olive oil liberally over the brussels sprouts, and sprinkle them with salt and fresh ground pepper (to taste). Place in the oven uncovered, and check them after 20 minutes. Pour or spritz your maple syrup glaze on the sprouts, stir, and return them to the oven. Check every 15 minutes or so until you notice they've become lightly crisp and browned. Remove and enjoy! (These sprouts are best eaten while hot.)
Orange Almond Date Salad
- 5 oranges, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 12-16 pitted and chopped dates
- 1 cup of raw slivered almonds
- 3 tablespoons of ghee, browned butter, or the oil of your choice
- 1-2 tablespoons of cinnamon
- juice of ½ lemon
Position your peeled and sliced oranges in a large, flat serving dish (a 9x13-inch glass dish works well) and sprinkle in some chopped dates. Sauté slivered almonds separately in some ghee or browned butter on a low-medium heat (careful not to burn the butter). Sprinkle toasted almonds, ground cinnamon, and your lemon juice on top.
For years and years, I had wanted to eat healthy through the holidays but never really knew how. I didn't want my family to feel like I wouldn't eat their holiday food, nor did I want to slip into a sleepy food-induced funk until mid-January (can you relate?). About five years ago, I put my yoga practice to work in the kitchen and realized these few helpful tips outlined below, and in practicing them, found that at the very least I didn't lose ground over the holidays and was able to successfully avert the lethargy that often accompanies family feasts.
Bring Your Own Delish
Make a few healthy dishes (like the ones described above) and bring those with you—even if that means there's way too much food on the holiday dinner table! It’s my experience that I can usually find a few relatively healthy options in the traditional spread at other folks' houses, and then when I bring more options, and add a couple heaping servings of my own dishes to my plate, there isn’t much room for heavier, less-healthy options. Even though I am not eating completely healthy, “mostly healthy” is a huge improvement over meals of years past.
Caramel Makes Everything Taste Better
But not "caramel" in the traditional dessert sense. I’m talking about caramelized onions. These are one of the very best ways to add depth, flavor, and substance to a savory meal. But how do you make them? I thinly slice 8 whole onions—white or yellow onions will do—and put them in a large stockpot with ⅓ cup olive oil, about 1 tablespoon of salt, and 1 tablespoon of fresh ground pepper. Then I cover and cook the onions on medium-low heat for at least 45 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so. Next, I keep it covered, and continue cooking the onions until they are caramel in color (and sweet in flavor). Once cooked, I'll often add my caramelized onions to sweet potatoes, salads, or smear on a cracker with goat cheese.
Eat Before You Eat
You heard me right: Eat before you eat. When you do, you are guaranteed that your tummy will be satisfied with whole and healthy options even before you sit down to feast. Also, if it is an overnight thing, you can bring fruit and avocado (yes, I know avocado is technically a fruit too) and some homemade granola with low-fat yogurt. The same principles apply here: If you choose healthy options first, you will likely eat less of the foods that weigh you down and bring on holiday lethargy!
Get a Little Nutty
I also bring nuts! I suggest roasting your own nuts and seeds and keeping them handy. Cashews are my favorite, but hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and almonds are also equally delicious when freshly roasted on the stove top! I love to add them to salads, or eat them as a “mini-meal” (my preference being a ⅓-cup serving size, with a drink of 4 to 6 ounces of fresh-squeezed juice (either by itself or even mixed with sparkling water). In fact, just this morning for breakfast I had 6 ounces of fresh-squeezed orange juice and a handful of my own oven-roasted nuts with sea salt.
Dress It Up
I always make my own dressing—and most of the time it is the one I have written here (Britt’s Favorite Vinaigrette Dressing). Though I have a few other dressing recipes on hand, the vinaigrette is the one I use throughout the seasons.
If you can, try observing a 12-hour window where you refrain from eating from after dinner until breakfast time. Through the lens of ayurveda, providing your digestive system with time to rest decreases ama (the sticky waste product of digestion, attributed with causing a variety of disease states) in the body. By consciously giving your digestive system a break, you provide your body time to process any undigested food and stimulate agni (digestive fire)—leaving you feeling more alive, alert, clear, and rested as a result. (Don’t just believe me, try it out and see for yourself!)
Eating healthy for the holidays can be really challenging with so many rich and delicious options on the table, but paying just a little bit of attention and invoking your creativity, you can nourish your body and keep your spirits and energy high and bright.
Get other delicious recipes for the kitchen and life at large at BrittBSteele.com.
Britt is a thought leader in modern yoga tethered to the ancient teachings, and is the author of Pilgrim: Live Your Yoga Every Single Day. She is a guiding light in the world, dedicated to bringing the powerful and simple teachings of yoga to the forefront of life today. She works with students and teachers alike to discover the hidden depths of the practice and to be a guide in bringing these potent teachings into day to day life. Britt lives with her husband at Deva Daaru YogaFarm, an hour... Read more>>