Monday Medical: Add nutrient density to holiday meals

Lindsey Reznicek
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

As the holidays approach, thoughts turn to tradition, time with family and, yes, food. But just because some recipes may be more indulgent and perhaps only made during certain times of the year, that doesn’t mean nutrition should fall to the wayside.

“Instead of saying holiday foods aren’t healthy, reframe your thought to, ‘How can I make this recipe more nutritious?’” said Cara Marrs, a registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “It’s not about making something with less calories or lower fat. It’s about adding nutrient density for better nutrition into your favorite holiday food items.”

Incorporate fall fruits and vegetables

Apples, beets, pomegranates, Brussel sprouts, cranberries, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, chestnuts, pumpkins, winter squash — fall delivers a wave of fresh options.

“We think of summer having this giant bounty, but there is so much good fall produce,” Marrs said. “Root vegetables have been soaking up nutrients from the soil all summer long and are ready.”

Whole artichokes, which are high in fiber and vitamin C, are one of Marrs’ favorites. She roasts them according to her family’s recipe. Wash the vegetable, and trim the stem and leaves to remove sharp points. In a small pan, sauté bread crumbs or almond meal, fresh-squeezed lemon, oregano, basil and fresh garlic. Stuff the mixture between the leaves, sprinkle with more lemon juice and olive oil and add Parmesan cheese. Steam for 35-45 minutes. This is a great recipe for smaller family groups.

Add greens

Marrs encourages the incorporation of leafy greens into holiday menus. A fresh salad topped with chopped apples, roasted beets and chestnuts, and dressed with a vinaigrette can add brightness to any meal.

If green bean casserole has been a staple throughout generations, consider offering fresh green beans, as well. Pan sauté them with herbs, bread crumbs, lemon juice and zest, fresh garlic and your favorite spices. Instead of topping with store-bought fried onions, thinly shave leeks and crisp them in a pan with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Stuff your stuffing

“Stuffing is the perfect vehicle for adding extras,” Marrs said. “You can add nutritious ingredients to box versions of stuffing, or you can make it from scratch.”

Consider purchasing sourdough from your local bakery, letting it dry out and then cutting it into cubes. Marrs adds sauteed celery, walnuts and “tons of delicious roasted mushrooms” to increase antioxidants. Instead of overpowering the stuffing with too much sausage, consider a smaller amount to add flavor, along with herbs such as sage, thyme and rosemary.

Don’t waste time peeling potatoes

A potato’s fiber is in the skin, so save time and skip peeling them. And don’t feel that you have to make the same mashed potatoes year after year.

“One holiday, I cooked sweet potatoes, left the skin on, mashed them and added coconut milk and red curry paste for a delicious and fiery potato. You could mash them with ginger and honey, too,” Marrs said.

Protein has a place at the table

While turkey and ham are typically found on holiday tables, other options are possible.

“Who’s to say you can’t have salmon or a really nice trout?” Marrs said. “For people who don’t eat meat, a great vegetarian option is walnut, lentil and mushroom loaves.’’

If you do cook a turkey, Marrs encourages you to use a brine before cooking the bird, and then use the carcass to make bone broth afterwards.

“Don’t lose those nutrients,” she said. “Find a pot big enough to cover the carcass with water, and add all the leftover spices, herbs and vegetables, especially leeks, carrots and celery, and let it cook on low heat for several hours.”

Switch up dessert

Each slice of pumpkin pie filling delivers vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C and iron, but this year, instead of a traditional crust, consider a soft crust. Mix almond meal, flax seed, melted coconut oil and cinnamon or nutmeg into a crumble and press it into the dish.

Or, for something different, layer fresh berries into a pretty glass, top with a dollop of homemade whipped cream and garnish with a bit of shaved dark chocolate or chopped nuts.

“Fall is a season of change,” Marrs said. “Why not change up your holiday menu, too, to make it more nutrient dense?”

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