Holidays are filled with cheer and family and… sugar. While I am certainly not planning on cutting out every last piece of pie or skipping peppermint hot cocoa all together, it is good to change things up with some healthy options that still feel festive. These first two ideas are so simple they take the stress out of holiday “cooking.”
1. Watermelon “Cookies”
Change up your yearly cookie decorating with some cute watermelon cutouts. Decorate liberally with mint for an unbelievably awesome combination of flavor.
2. Yogurt Desserts
Make a festive dessert with yogurt as a base. I like plain whole milk yogurt since it doesn’t have added sugar. But feel free to use vanilla yogurt and/or sweeten with a little honey. A cherry and mint topping gives it some holiday flair.
3. Cranberry Goat Cheese Spring Rolls with Spinach and Sweet Potatoes
If you want to get a little more invested in a party appetizer, try these Spring Rolls. The combination of sweet cranberries with herbed goat cheese and spinach is rounded out by a hearty sweet potato.
This turkey bacon bean soup is simple and delicious. I really like the combination of black and white beans with the split peas and chick peas, but feel free to change it up or simplify with only one or two types of beans. Homemade soups are a staple for me this time of year. Some foods taste pretty good out of can or a box, but soup is not one of them. I often cook a large batch of soup on the weekend, and pack it into my glass Snapware containers for easy meals during the week. I also find that soup is one of my go-to foods when I am trying to watch calories. I can get that delicious savory flavor and feel full without overdoing the calories. Plus beans are supposed to help you live longer and it is loaded with vegetables, so it is pretty much a win all around.
serves 3 (this recipe is easy to double or triple if you want more)
- 1/4 cup dry black beans
- 1/4 cup dry split peas
- 1/4 cup dry chick peas
- 1/4 cup dry white beans
- 1 – 14.5 ounce can chicken broth (vegetable or beef broth work great too)
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup sweet potato, chopped in cubes
- 1 cup carrot slices
- 1/2 cup red onion (or any onion)
- 6 slices turkey bacon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon basil
- Soak beans for at least 6 hours.
- Rinse and bring to a boil with chicken broth and 3 cups water.
- Reduce heat slightly (medium to medium high so it still boils lightly).
- Add all remaining ingredients and cover, cooking for approximately 45 minutes or until beans are tender.
My sister, Christine recently sent me a recipe for a pumpkin smoothie with a banana and Greek yogurt base. This reminded me of a mango sweet potato smoothie I used to make with yogurt. I set out to fuse these recipes into a pumpkin spice mango smoothie and the result was so deliciously creamy that I ate it with a spoon and decided to call it pudding. Get your pumpkin spice fill with this rich pudding that is delicious enough to be a dessert and healthy enough to eat for breakfast.
makes 2 servings (It is pretty thick, so I do not recommend doubling as it may not blend properly. If you have a crowd, just make it in batches.)
- 1 cup whole milk plain yogurt (you can sub in low-fat yogurt, but you will lose some of the richness)
- 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
- 1 cup frozen mango chunks
- 1 tablespoon honey (use up to 3 tablespoons if you want it really sweet or go without if you are trying to cut out sugar)
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- dash of pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
- pinch of salt
- Place all ingredients in Vitamix and blend. You might have better luck starting on a low variable speed and gradually increasing to high speed.
I love raw cauliflower. (Well I guess I love it steamed with lemon, or pureed in soup, or slathered in cheese, or mixed into pizza too, so maybe I just love cauliflower.) But if I’m not dipping it in homemade hummus, then usually my raw cauliflower makes its way into some version of this salad. I also commonly mix it with low fat cottage cheese (you will see this as an optional step in this recipe). My husband Shawn is not such a fan of cauliflower, so when I take the leap and buy a whole head, I have to get creative to eat all of it before it spoils. Somehow even this delicious salad hasn’t changed his mind. The ingredients and amounts are totally flexible depending on what flavors you want to bring out (or which ones you could do without). It would probably be good with cucumbers too, but I am the cucumber hater in the family.
serves 2 (or 1 big serving if you are stuck with a cauliflower hating partner)
- 1 cup cauliflower chopped finely (sometimes I mince it into tiny rice sized pieces, but sometimes I just don’t want to work that hard)
- 1 cup tomatoes chopped
- ½ cup orange and yellow bell peppers (or whatever color, I’m going for those pretty pictures)
- ½ avocado, sliced
- ¼ cup minced red onion
- cilantro, chopped – be generous – no one wants to be slighted on cilantro
- 1 teaspoon jalapeno
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ½ lime squeezed for juice
- black pepper
- salt to taste (try 1/8 or ¼ teaspoon)
- optional: ½ cup cottage cheese or crumbled feta cheese
- Chop, slice, and mince all ingredients and mix together. I have had good luck keeping this salad in the fridge for next day lunch packing as long as I wait to add the avocado until shortly before serving.
Green smoothies don’t have to taste so salad-y. This smoothie is deliciously sweet and aside from the gorgeous color, you will hardly notice the healthy stash of spinach. If you don’t have fresh mint, you can (surprisingly) substitute fresh basil and it tastes AMAZING. My husband Shawn first made me a smoothie with basil and I was very skeptical until I tried it. Try it both ways and let me know which you prefer. I’ve also tried fresh parsley and can definitively tell you I am not a fan. However my mom swears by parsley in her smoothies and Shawn likes it too, so you never know until you try it.
makes 1-2 servings
- 1 cup green grapes (or red – green is just prettier)
- 1 orange, peeled and torn into sections
- ½ cup frozen mango
- 1 handful spinach
- a few mint leaves (or basil, or parsley as discussed above)
- Put all ingredients in blender and blend (make sure fresh fruits are at the bottom with frozen on top so the blender doesn’t get stuck).
I just heard about this idea yesterday, made it last night and felt like I should post right away because these pancakes are incredibly delicious and even more incredibly easy to make. I was talking with my sister and she mentioned that she makes pancakes with just bananas and eggs since some members of her family have food restrictions that would completely rule out regular pancakes. I was surprised how much they really taste like regular pancakes and how delicious they really are. I added a few things in, but I experimented with just banana and egg first and you could literally make them just like that if you want a super simple healthy breakfast.
makes 1 small serving (Just multiply by the number of people. If your crowd is hungry, make 2 servings per person.)
- 1 banana
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon ground flax seed (You can totally skip this if you don’t have it. I made them both ways and debated which one to post, but I think the flax version came out a little more fluffy.)
- 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Grease skillet with 1 tablespoon oil or generously with non-stick cooking spray and heat to medium or medium high heat.
- Mix all ingredients making sure banana is mashed thoroughly. I made a small batch and mashed it in a bowl, but a blender might work better for a large batch.
- Pour on skillet, flip when ready. They take a little longer to cook than regular pancakes and can be just a little harder to flip. It’s probably best to keep them on the smaller side for flipping ease. My current flipping success rate is 2 out of 3, but with regular pancakes it really isn’t much better to be honest.
- Eat with natural maple syrup, peanut butter, sliced strawberries, or whatever suits your fancy.
I love broccoli, but it is boring. Either you smother it in cheese (ok that’s not boring, but I feel guilty eating that much cheese), steam it with a drizzle of lemon and butter, or chop it raw into one of those cranberry broccoli salads. Since I am just not a fan of raw broccoli, I decided to changed it up with a steamed broccoli salad. It can be served warm or cold and will keep for 1-2 days in the refrigerator if tightly sealed.
makes about 2 servings
- 1/2 cup uncooked bulgur wheat (if you can’t find it elsewhere, check the health food section of your store)
- 2 cups broccoli, chopped
- 1 cup tomato, chopped
- 1/4 cup yellow, orange, or red bell pepper, chopped
- 1/4 cup red onion, chopped finely
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 lemon squeezed for juice (if you lemon isn’t very juicy, you might want to use 2)
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon salt to taste (optional)
- Prepare bulgur according to package directions. Or if your package is like mine and didn’t come with directions, you can follow this guide.
- Chop broccoli and steam for 5-7 minutes or until bright green. No one likes soggy, overcooked broccoli, so keep an eye on it. (Beginner tip: To steam something, put it in a metal steamer or colander – see photo above. Set it inside a larger pot containing about 1/2 inch water. Cover and bring to a boil. If you don’t have a steamer, you can put the broccoli directly in a skillet with about 1/2 cup water and cover it.)
- Chop everything else and mix in a bowl. Add bulgur and broccoli when finished cooking. It could be served warm or refrigerated as a cold salad. It’s also a great lunch side to make ahead and pack on the go.
If you are tired of paying $4.99 or more for a 7 oz. container of hummus, then try your hand at homemade. The chickpeas need to soak overnight, so there is a little bit of prep work, but you will hardly spend any time in the kitchen. Plus you will have at least $20 worth of homemade hummus for about $1 and a few minutes of your time.
makes 3 cups
- 1 cup chickpeas
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 2 lemons
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- dash red pepper
(Most hummus recipes include tahini, but I actually like it better without, plus it lowers the total fat. If you feel like something is missing, try adding tahini or olive oil.)
- Soak chickpeas overnight in about 3 cups water.
- Rinse and drain. Add 2 cups fresh water and 2 whole cloves garlic (no need to chop) in a saucepan.
- Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour or until chickpeas are tender.
- Zest 2 lemons (grate the skin) into a small bowl, then squeeze the juice from both lemons into the bowl and add the cumin, salt, and black pepper.
- Once chickpeas have cooled slightly (it’s okay if they are still warm, but don’t burn yourself), add all ingredients including cooking water to a Vitamix or food processor. I have the Vitamix 5200 with variable speed, so I started on low and gradually turned up the speed. If you have trouble blending, add a tiny bit more water or lemon juice, or blend in two halves.
Make sure you give the chickpeas room to grow.
This is so much easier than trying to pick lemon seeds out after the fact.
Enjoy with your favorite veggies or experiment with new flavors. Sun-dried tomato? Wasabi? Pesto? Sriracha? Tell me how it goes in the comments below.