holiday favorites remix: simple swaps for healthy holiday recipes
Simple ways to have delicious holiday meals while still sticking to your health journey.
Simple swaps are healthier cooking oils, better meat options, and lots of good vegetable side dishes. Make sure you balance your plate and consider trying out new main or side dishes this holiday season.
The holidays are here, and many delicious recipes bring not only comfort but also nostalgia! But how am I to stay on my health journey during this tempting time? So many foods are full of simple carbs, processed ingredients or empty calories! Sometimes, we can make easy substitutions for classic dishes or even just swap out a few ingredients to make a meal less inflammatory or exclude common food allergens. There are many good holiday substitutes available to make your holiday season both enjoyable and healthy.
The first thing to think about is the quality of the ingredients you are cooking with. Vegetable oils tend to be higher in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Avocado oil contains more anti-inflammatory fats and is very stable at high temperatures. You should never heat extra virgin olive oil above 300° F as it will destroy the healthy fats. Coconut oil also has healthy short-chain fatty acids, is stable at high temperatures and can add a coconut flavor to the dish. Avocado oil has a very mild flavor and is great for roasting vegetables or doing a light deep fry. Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to your food once it is done cooking.
Many people are now discovering that they are gluten-sensitive. This is not a full-blown allergy to wheat and the onset Celiac disease but rather a mild food sensitivity. Cornstarch and potato starch are good substitutes for wheat flour when preparing a breaded dish. Corn bread stuffing can easily be substituted for gluten-based bread stuffing. If you have certain food restrictions but plan to attend a family or group gathering, you can provide alternative preparations of classic holiday recipes. This way you get to enjoy the meal, and it eases the burden on the host.
When it comes to main dishes, most holiday meals are centered around meat. This makes sense as protein was often a scarce resource, and celebrations call for this extra-special ingredient. However, in modern times we have an abundance of meat although it is not all of equal quality. One of the easiest holiday swaps is choosing grass-fed and finished red meat, free-range chicken or turkey or even wild-caught fish as your center dish. Salmon and tuna both make hearty main dishes. Overall, emphasizing less pork during the holidays is another easy swap. This does not mean you have to completely avoid pork but rather seek a balance. Perhaps you get a large free-range turkey for Christmas and a small honey ham to complement it. If you are eating at someone’s home, you may not be able to pick the menu, but you can fill your plate according to these principles. Take more of the lean meat and less of the pork.
The overall plate dynamics you can utilize the rest of the year still apply during holidays. Your plate should be half vegetables, ¼ protein and ¼ quality carbs (complex carbs like sweet potato, quinoa, squash, along with some fruit). Fill your plate with veggies first and then add small portions of other options. Remember that corn and potatoes, for this calculation, count as starches and not vegetables.
Finally, I would like to address meat substitute options. Some people falsely assume that living a healthy life means not eating meat. The truth is far more nuanced. Humans need high quality protein, which can come from plants or animals. But the quality of the meat or meat substitute is very important. I have already discussed healthy meat options so now we will look at the non-meat options.
Processed non-meat alternatives often contain a multitude of questionable ingredients. Since they are trying to approximate another food, they go through a lot of maneuvering. Many of these substitutes are considered “ultra-processed foods.” Some of (like seitan) are wheat-based, which poses a challenge to gluten-sensitive or celiac individuals. One approach is to swap out whole food sources of protein – rice and beans, lentils, organic tofu, quinoa, squash – instead of using processed substitutes. If you are going for a soy product, it is best to find organic to reduce pesticide exposure (this includes tofu, tempeh, edamame, etc.)
Try these delicious recipes today!