Whenever I say that I look forward to healthy holiday foods, I get this look that lands somewhere on the spectrum halfway between suspicion and disgust. People think I’m either lying or trying to sell them something. If you’ve been checking out my blog for long enough (thanks!), then you know I don’t have any ulterior motives when I say that nutritious dishes really are something to look forward to!
Yes, Healthy Holiday Foods Are Crave-Worthy
When I tell people I am looking forward to healthy holiday foods, after that initial look subsides because I’ve assured them that I’m neither lying nor selling something, I’m always happy to say that none of them have to do with plain raw carrot sticks or some freaky kind of low-fat gravy. In fact, it’s just as possible to overindulge with these treats as it is with the classic heavy and sugary ones.
What makes my favorite healthy holiday foods different is that they have a much higher nutrient density, smaller amounts of what I don’t need – extra fats and sugars for instance – and they’re calorically reasonable as long as I don’t lose my mind and binge. The thing is, there are a lot of classic dishes out there that would be nutritious if it wasn’t for the sugar, cream and marshmallows we add to it all. So, it shouldn’t be so difficult to believe that there are some truly great great nutritious ones without all the extras.
My 5 Favorite Healthy Holiday Foods
The following are 5 of my very favorite treats that I typically eat only between Thanksgiving and New Year and that I absolutely crave. If there are some on this list that you haven’t tried, I highly recommend that you do, particularly before judging them.
1 – Baked Cinnamon Apples
Just writing about these among my favorite healthy holiday foods, I’m already craving them. Baked cinnamon apples seem too simple to be as amazing as they are. Everything about them is wonderful. In my opinion, sweet varieties of apples work best, particularly because they mean you don’t need to add any sugar.
All you need to do is cut out the core of an apple (I use a steak knife and stab straight down around it in a square until I can push the core out with my thumb. It’s very satisfying when it works perfectly). Place it on a baking sheet and sprinkle cinnamon into the hole. I love cinnamon so I add a lot, but the amount you use is up to you. Pop it into a 350ºF oven (toaster ovens work great for this) and bake until the apple has softened all the way through.
You’ll start to know when it’s nearly ready because your home will smell incredible. Serve hot and be careful not to burn yourself as you get all the nutritional benefits of an apple and cinnamon but while feeling like you’re eating apple pie. My main challenge with this is remembering that each one is a whole fruit, so I can’t just sit down and eat half a dozen! ?
2 – Cranberries
Before you get too excited about cranberries as healthy holiday foods, I have an important caveat. These highly nutritious berries are extremely tart, and adding sugar negates a lot of their health benefits. Cranberry juice and cranberry sauce…don’t even bother if health benefits are your goal (that said, go for it if that’s counting as your sweet treat for the day!).
I like to toss frozen cranberries into water or mocktails instead of ice cubes. They don’t water down the beverage when they melt and they’re a bit of a nutrient boost when I eat them at the end of the drink.
3 – Cheese
Before you head to my Facebook and Twitter accounts and rage at me for adding cheese to my list of my favorite healthy holiday foods, hear me out. In this sense, I mean only high-quality cheeses and in very small quantities. When charcuterie boards are out among the appetizers and snacks at gatherings, eating a couple of cubes or squares of cheese will help to satisfy hunger, give you a rich treat to eat, and make you feel that you’ve indulged – because you have. At the same time, a half ounce of a hard cheese gives you as much calcium as an 8-ounce glass of milk, and you’ll get some of the phosphorous and riboflavin (a B vitamin) you need before the day is through.
4 – Pistachios
These are heart-healthy nuts with lots of good fat, plant protein, minerals, vitamins and cell-protecting phytonutrients. When served in the shell, you get something to fiddle with in your hands, slowing down your rate of eating. I wouldn’t recommend eating more than would fit into your palm, but if you munch away at a handful, taking your time, you’ll definitely get the feeling that you’ve had a great snack.
5 – Pumpkin
This is definitely a love/hate type squash. Most people don’t land somewhere in the middle of that range. I personally love it, but only since I started making it in the instant pot (thanks for this tip, Bree!). I get a little pie pumpkin, cut the top off and scoop out the insides like I was gonna make a jack-o-lantern. I set the seeds aside to roast in the toaster oven, because they’re an awesome high-fiber snack. I even eat the shells. So good!
Anyway, so in a bowl, I mix whole grain bread cubes, apple cubes, diced onion, quickly cooked until translucent in a small amount of olive oil cooking spray so they don’t stick to the pan. I also add boiled potato cubes or mashed potato, depending on my mood. I mix that all up with dry sage, rosemary, parsley, thyme and summer savory, then some black pepper. I also like to add some parmesan cheese to the mix, though not too much. I jam all that into the pumpkin, pop the lid on (usually snapping the stem off to reduce the height) and throw it into the instant pot on the rack with a cup of water in the bottom of the pot. I let that pressure cook for around 50 minutes…amazing. Amazing.
I highly recommend that you try this as one of your own healthy holiday foods. Carve right through the pumpkin and its filling to serve everyone a wedge of the pumpkin with the stuffing on it. Everything is edible except the skin, which peels right off. Mixing the stuffing with the pumpkin is filled with holiday magic for the taste buds.