Delicious, Nutritious Holiday Recipes

None of us will get through the holidays with a “perfect” eating record, and trying is pointless, anyway. While indulgence is the name of the game during December, preparing one or two better-for-you dishes to have at parties means you’re never completely at the mercy of high-calorie holiday fare. Here are 20 holiday dishes that we nutrition experts depend on to stay healthy and energized during this hectic season. Enjoy!

Mango and Black Bean Salsa

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A few weeks ago, I got a shipment from my friends at The National Mango Board so I made Mango and Black Bean Salsa from book, MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better to share with you.

The salsa is festive, and nutritious.  Mangos are bursting with more than 20 vitamins and minerals and, along with the black beans, they lend the salsa a hefty amount of fiber, which is often in short supply during the holiday feeding frenzy.

Tote Mango and Black Bean Salsa to a holiday party to serve with toasted whole grain Naan or pita triangles, serve as a side dish with roasted or grilled meat, chicken, or fish, or have on hand as a healthy snack.

Mango and Black Bean Salsa

Makes 2 1/2 cups

2 cups fresh mango, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

2 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup diced red onion

1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped, seeded jalapeño pepper (optional)

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium serving bowl, combine all ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Serve with toasted whole wheat Naan or pita bread cut into triangles.

Per serving (1/4 cup without bread):

69 calories

0 grams fat

199 milligrams sodium

14 grams carbohydrate

4 grams fiber

3 grams protein

10 milligrams calcium

More on the Menu

Here are 19 better-for-you foods for a healthier holiday season.

Appetizers and Dips

Healthy Creamy Corn & Avocado Dip from Abbey Sharp, RD.

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Roasted Carrot Hummus from The Meal Makeover Moms.

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Eggplant Pecan Pate from Sharon Palmer, RD.

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Abalone Cocktail from Christy Wilson, RD.

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Sweet Potato Polenta Bites with Thyme-Marinated Mushrooms from Kara Lydon, RD, LDN.

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Quick and Easy Lentil Feta Bruschetta from The Spicy RD.

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Main Dishes

Savory Spinach and Feta Pie from Katie Morford, MS, RD.

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Roasted Turkey Breast from Jennifer Lynn-Pullman, MA, RDN, LDN.

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Smoked Firehouse Chili from Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RD.

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Bacon Mushroom Cauliflower Risotto from Danielle Cushing, RD.

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Salads and Side Dishes

Carrots, Dates and Mint Salad from ‪Dixya Bhattarai‪, RDN.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts from Katie Mora, MS, RD.

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Golden Beet Salad from Amy Bruursema Getman, RD.

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Warm Spelt Berry with Cinnamon Balsamic Vinaigrette from Steph McKercher, MS, RDN.

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Curried Quinoa with Butternut Squash and Pepitas from Katie Cavuto, MS, RD.

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Desserts

Apple Quinoa Bake from Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN.

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Cherry Pecan Baked Pears by Allison Stevens, RD.

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Orange Cranberry Tart from Judy Barbe, MS, RD.

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Vegan Cannoli Dip from Emily Cope, MS, RDN.

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What You Should Know About Eating Meat

Are you struggling to understand recent reports about beef, bacon, and hot dogs? You’re not alone.  Here’s how make sense of the science, and my favorite way to keep meat on the menu.

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The Beef with Meat 

A couple of weeks ago, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report suggesting that eating more processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, and ham, is linked to an increased risk for colorectal cancer, the second leading cancer killer in the United States.

In addition, the IARC said a higher intake of red meat, including beef, pork, veal, and lamb, is probably carcinogenic, but the evidence isn’t as strong as for the processed kind. Poultry and fish were not fingered in this report as problematic.

Scary, right? At first glance, yes. But some perspective is in order.

Risk is relative.  While the report indicates that greater meat intake results in greater cancer risk, it’s important to note that about 34,000 cancer deaths yearly around the world are linked to higher intakes of processed meat, while 600,000 are attributable to alcohol. Smoking cigarettes causes one million cancer deaths a year worldwide.

It’s OK to Eat Meat

If you like meat, it’s OK to have it as part of a balanced eating plan.  The question is what type and how much meat is safer to eat.

While the IACR report says the risk of cancer is linked to the amount of red meat consumed, it doesn’t provide a specific level to include in the diet. However, the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) suggests limiting red meat to 18 ounces (cooked) weekly.

The IACR doesn’t ask people to stop eating processed meat, but it does makes it clear that lowering consumption can reduce the risk for cancer. The AICR suggests avoiding ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs, sausages, and other processed meat, which isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Processed meats contain nitrate salts that form powerful carcinogens called nitrosamines in the body.

Does that mean the occasional hot dog, ham sandwich, or bacon with eggs on the weekend causes cancer? No, but I consider processed meats, including cold cuts, as “sometimes” foods rather than everyday fare, especially for children.

The upside to eating less meat is the opportunity to include more plant foods, which are rich in compounds that help to ward off cancer and other chronic conditions. Whole grains including quinoa, freekeh, and farro, are filling and are higher in protein than many other grains. Adding vegetables to meat dishes reduces meat intake and stretches your food dollar, too.

Mushrooms and Meat: A Perfect Pair

Mushrooms blend well with meat, in part because they take on the flavors in the dish, including that of the meat.

Many Sliced and Whole Whites

I substitute an equal amount of cooked mushrooms for half the beef in many of my favorite recipes, including Mushroom Burgers, Mushroom Pizza, and Almost Lasagna. Just chop the mushrooms to match the consistency of the meat, cook, and blend into the recipe. Here’s one of my favorite beef stew recipes made over with more mushrooms and less meat. Enjoy!

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Beef and Mushroom Stew

Makes 6 servings

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided

1 pound boneless beef bottom round roast or other stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces

½ teaspoon salt

2 medium onions, peeled and chopped

6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 1/2 teaspoons crushed dried thyme leaves

2 cups reduced-sodium beef broth (you can use an equal amount of red wine and broth if you like)

16 ounces sliced baby portabello mushrooms or any other type of mushroom

2 cups chopped carrots or baby carrots

1 cup frozen peas

 

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and black pepper. Add the meat and coat it with the flour mixture.

In a large stockpot, heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil over medium heat until hot. Working in batches, add the meat to the pan and brown. Remove the meat from the pan. Season meat with salt. Reserve.

Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in the stockpot. Add the onions, garlic, and thyme. Cook for 5 minutes over medium heat or until onions have softened. Add 1 cup of the beef broth and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes or until the browned bits attached to the bottom and sides of the stockpot are dissolved. Stir in the remaining broth.

Return the meat to the stockpot. Stir in the mushrooms, cover the stockpot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 1 1/4 hours. Add the carrots to the stockpot. Cover, and continue to simmer for 30 minutes or until the beef and carrots are fork-tender. Stir in the peas and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

Per serving:

256 calories

8 grams fat

283 milligrams sodium

20 grams carbohydrate

4 grams fiber

27 grams protein

40 milligrams calcium

 

 

3-Ingredient Broccoli Cheese Calzone

Warning: These are possibly the worst food photos of one of the most delicious meals I make on a regular basis without a recipe. Here’s why I’m posting them, and the recipe.

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Last week, I was making one of my go-to, get-it-done, dinners (which also happens to be delicious) and I decided to document the process.  There was no natural light in the kitchen, and I was too tired to style the food. The result: instructional photos, not food porn.

If you like pretty pictures of food, you may want to look away now. If you’d like to get dinner on the table using just three ingredients (OK, four, if you count the olive oil), and you can tolerate some reality, keep reading.

Let’s get started.

You need 3 teaspoons olive oil, divided; 10 cups of chopped 1-inch broccoli florets; 1 pound of prepared white or whole wheat pizza dough; and 16 ounces of block cheddar cheese. That’s it.

Heat oven to 400˚F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet with 1 teaspoon olive oil.

Steam the broccoli.  While the broccoli is cooking, slice cheddar cheese into ¼-inch slices. (You can substitute packaged shredded cheese.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pizza dough into a rectangle of about 10” long by 16” wide.   Place half the cheese on the pizza dough lengthwise to within a half inch of the edge of the dough. The cheese forms a barrier between the dough and the broccoli to keep the calzone from getting soggy.

 

When broccoli is fork-tender, rinse with cool water. Drain well and blot with a clean towel to remove excess moisture. Arrange broccoli evenly over the cheese.

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Cover the broccoli with the remaining cheese.

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Fold dough in half over the broccoli and cheese filling. Seal edges with tines of a fork. Using your hands, gently scoop up the calzone and transfer it to the baking sheet. Brush with remaining olive oil.

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Cook for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Allow the calzone to rest for at least five minutes before cutting. Makes at least 8 servings. Serve with fruit and milk for a balanced meal.

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If there’s any leftover, warm for about 7 minutes in a 300˚F oven, or for about 30 seconds in the microwave. The oven is better, but I’m usually in too much of a hurry to wait!

Here’s the nutrition information using regular pizza dough. Whole wheat pizza dough will increase the fiber. Use reduced-fat cheddar cheese, such as Cabot Sharp Light Cheddar (no, they are not a client), to reduce calories and fat.  (Serves 8)

Per serving:

399 calories

22 grams fat

825 milligrams sodium

32 grams carbohydrate

5 grams fiber

22 grams protein

460 milligrams calcium

5 Nutrition Rules Debunked

Many nutrition rules that we take for granted are more hype than help. It may come as a relief that you can ignore some nutrition advice and still eat healthy!

Advice: Put only the most colorful fruits and vegetables on your plate.

Bottom line: This rule shortchanges white, brown, and tan produce, such as mushrooms, cauliflower, and bananas, which are just as nutrition-worthy as their brighter counterparts. Most of us fall far short of suggested fruit and vegetable servings, so concentrate on including the types you like, no matter how pale. And while we’re at it, let’s stop shaming starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and peas, as nutrition expert Janet Helm so aptly puts it.

Advice: You should eat breakfast every day to control your weight.

Bottom line: The research doesn’t support the claim that eating a balanced breakfast is necessary for weight control, but if it works for you, stay with it. Skipping breakfast probably won’t cause weight gain or prevent weight loss if you stick to your calorie budget throughout the day, but there’s more to breakfast than the number on the scale, including fuel and nutrients for body and brain.

Don’t like to eat when you get up? Divide a balanced breakfast of fruit, yogurt, and a whole grain roll into two morning snacks that you finish before lunch. If you’re not into “traditional” breakfast foods, munch on a slice of leftover thin-crust cheese pizza and fruit, or half a turkey and cheese sandwich and carrot sticks.

Advice: Shop only the perimeter of the grocery store.

Bottom line: Yes, the outer parts of the store have lots of nutritious foods, including the fish counter, produce section, and the dairy case, but the bakery is also located there. The aisles house healthy options including whole grain cereal and pasta, as well as canned seafood and beans, and jars of fruit packed in their own juice. Plan meals and snacks, and head to the grocery store with a list to make it easier to peruse the aisles for nutritious choices. Don’t shop when you’re hungry, or that bakery along the perimeter may be too tempting to walk past.

Advice: You must drink 64 ounces of plain water every day.

Bottom line: Probably not! Water is an essential nutrient, but most of us don’t need to down a half gallon of the stuff every day.  Men, and women who are not pregnant or nursing require between nine and 13 cups of fluid daily, about 72 to 104 ounces, respectively. (Physically active people may need more.) Plain water is preferable for meeting fluid needs, but the water in other drinks, such as milk, coffee and tea (even the caffeinated kinds) contributes fluid, so it’s easier than you think to meet your quota.

Advice: Eating at night leads to weight gain.

Bottom line: Only if you overdo it, which is often the case. If you’re extremely hungry (from under-eating during the day; see section on breakfast, above), stressed, or bored, and you reach for high-calorie foods such as cookies, chips, or candy, you may find it difficult to limit your calorie intake. It’s OK to eat at night as long as you’re mindful of your daily calorie needs. If you struggle to control calories after the sun goes down, read this by Yoni Freedhoff, M.D.

Pumpkin Spice Smoothie

I’m one of those pumpkin fanatics that stocks up on the canned kind when it appears on supermarket shelves because I use it year-round in a variety of ways.  I love the taste of pumpkin, but I also love the nutrition it offers. This Pumpkin Spice Smoothie is a better-for-you option that’s delicious and nutritious.

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I know, I know. Whipped cream? Yup. The whipped topping doesn’t detract from the half-cup serving of vegetables, and the 8 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber you’re sipping. Plus, the entire smoothie has fewer than 200 calories! Enjoy!

Pumpkin Spice Smoothie

Makes 1 serving

¾ cup 1% low-fat milk

½ cup plain canned pumpkin

3 teaspoons brown sugar (or less, or other sweetener or your choice)

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

pinch each: ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg

2 ice cubes

4 tablespoons instant whipped cream (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Pour into 12-ounce glass and drink immediately. Garnish with crushed nutmeg, if desired.

Per serving (with whipped cream):

183 calories

4 grams fat

89 milligrams sodium

28 grams carbohydrate

4 grams fiber

8 grams protein

260 milligrams calcium

5 Stress-Free Family Meals

September is Family Meals Month.  It’s no wonder why there’s an entire 30 days devoted to encouraging families to eat together more often. Experts frequently tout the benefits of family meals, including better nutrition, and improved school performance and higher self-esteem in children. In a perfect world, spouses, partners, and kids would be home at the same time, nobody would be cranky, tired, or hormonal, and nobody would complain about the food.  I’m a big fan of family meals, but I also know that making them happen on a regular basis can be overwhelming. Here’s why you should try anyway.

 

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Why Family Meals Matter

As the mother of three, I think that sitting down together over a meal helps kids in a number of ways, no matter how often your three year-old wanders off in search of something more interesting, or your teen turns up her nose at what’s for dinner.

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Family meals help kids develop a sense of regularity and routine that could carry into later life. A study of college students suggests eating at the same time promotes better nutrition. And, eating together allows you to teach kids good table manners and expose them to new foods.

Yet, it may not be necessary to create a soothing, nurturing environment around the table on a daily basis. Some experts and others (including comedian Ana Gasteyer, a mother of two) think the benefits of family meals are exaggerated.

If you can’t make family meals happen as often as you like, take comfort in this: A large study that examined the effects of family dinners on children found that spending time with your kids and taking an interest in their daily lives matters most for their well-being, whether that happens during at meal times, or not.

5 No-Fuss Dinners

Interested in more family meals with less stress?  I highly recommend lowering your standards. Keep dinner as simple as possible. Cook at home as often as you can, and don’t worry about dining out or ordering in every so often, but do make healthier choices.

Here are five healthy dinners you can have on the table in 20 minutes or less:

  • Stir-fry 8 to 12 ounces of lean ground beef or 100% ground skinless, boneless turkey breast with a large chopped onion, cumin, and salt and ground black pepper. Combine with 1 cup canned, drained black beans. Spoon the cooked meat/bean mixture onto 4 whole wheat tortillas. Top with shredded cheese, chopped tomato, lettuce, and low-fat sour cream. Pair with fruit.
  • Store-bought rotisserie chicken; salad of prewashed greens, cherry tomatoes, and olives; quick-cooking grain such as whole wheat couscous, and milk.
  • Grilled cheese or tuna melt with sliced tomato; cup of lentil soup (beans are vegetables!); fruit, and a cup of yogurt.
  • Serve Brinner (breakfast for dinner): French toast made with whole grain bread, fruit, milk. Or omelet made with cheese and leftover vegetables, fruit, milk, whole grain toast or roll.
  • Pizza prepared with whole grain tortillas or whole wheat Naan bread and store-bought shredded cheddar cheese; green salad; fruit.

 

 

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