Although it has been a very hectic year, 2020 has also been a very fast year. We are quickly approaching 2021, and it is important as much as possible to eat healthy food during uncertain times. Food is medicine, and it can help mitigate the damage our bodies suffer because of stress. You may also find yourself feeling isolated this holiday, as many places are implementing restrictions on group sizes. For this reason, it is important that food be flavorful and comforting as well.

Below are some health-conscious ideas for some traditional holiday recipes. You may find that you even like these better than what you are used to, because they rely more on foods’ natural flavors, as opposed to salt and sugar. Of course, feel free to try your own substitutions as well.

Deceptively Healthy Charcuterie Board

Charcuterie boards offer variety and balance to meals. (Photo Credit: Photographer Kristen via Adobe Stock)

For the meats, be certain to choose options that do not contain the carcinogenic preservatives nitrite or nitrate. Opt for authentic cured meats like prosciutto, salami and capocollo. Even if you cannot budget for mostly organic options, definitely get them for dairy products. For options free of the toxins that get concentrated in milk, opt for organic and free-range cheeses. To cover lots of flavors and textures, include smokey gouda, creamy brie, hard parmesan, alternative option goat cheese and familiar cheddar.

Fresh sliced carrot and bell pepper, snap peas, cherry tomatoes and bite-sized broccoli florets add color, fiber and nutrients without added sugar. Grapes and strawberries are also a nice way to offer something fresh that can be nibbled without angst.

For tangy flavor or more chew, include kalamata olives, pickled onions, baby dill pickles and capers. For something sweeter, include fruits that do not have added sugar. For fresh fruit, opt for sliced citrus or rinsed berries, which don’t brown or wilt so quickly as apples, pears and bananas. For dried fruit, go for apricots, sun-dried tomatoes and unsweetened cherries.

For crunch, focus more on nuts than crackers. Generally, almonds are the best option for keeping carbs low. Cashews are amazing in terms of nutrition, but they can wreck ketosis for your carb conscious guests. If you do include crackers for the soft cheese option, opt for something grain-free. One specific brand of crackers that I like is Mary’s Gone Crackers. They are made with quinoa.

Paleo Stuffing

Alternatives to traditional stuffiing bring newness to the table. (Photo Credit: PXFuel)

Preheat the oven for 375ºF. For 12 servings, combine four pounds of turnips with three large sweet potatoes. Peel them and cut them into small cubes. Use coconut or grapeseed oil to grease two large baking pans, then spread the cubes evenly. Sprinkle the cubes with seasoning and then toss them. Use one tablespoon garlic powder, one tablespoon dried sage, one teaspoon dried rosemary, one teaspoon thyme, one teaspoon dried oregano, one teaspoon turmeric, one teaspoon black pepper and two teaspoons sea salt.

Bake for one hour.

If you want to include sausage, cook one pound of it. Once it is cooked, put it aside, but keep the drippings. Finely dice three large onions, eight ounces of button mushrooms and five ribs of celery. Peel and dice one apple. Begin to cook the onions and celery in the drippings, and once they begin to soften add the mushrooms and apple. Once they are cooked, add the sausage back in.

Remove these from the heat, and retrieve the turnips and sweet potatoes once they are ready. Mix all the ingredients together until they are well incorporated and begin to form clumps.

Low carb “fauxtatoes”

Cauliflower is a healthy change of pace for mashed potatoes. (Photo Credit: FomaA via Adobe Stock)

This substitute uses cauliflower in place of white potatoes. It is much lower in carbs and provides more fiber and protein, so it will keep guests feeling fuller longer. It does contain dairy, so keep that in mind for those who avoid it.

Chop one or two heads of fresh cauliflower into uniform, large pieces. Using a large pot, cook the cauliflower in two quarts of water until it is tender. Be sure to drain the cauliflower very thoroughly.

Transfer the cauliflower to a large bowl and mix in four tablespoons butter. For extra creaminess also add two tablespoons of either cream cheese or sour cream. For extra flavor, include at least two tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Use sea salt, pepper and other herbs or spices to your preferred taste.

Mix all the ingredients together until they are very smooth. Any clumps will tip off the picky kids that this is good for them (and we wouldn’t want that). It is vital to keep the texture creamy, and that this side dish be served warm.

Muscle Sprouts

Brussels sprouts with Canadian bacon are a flavorable pairing. (Photo Credit: New Africa via Adobe Stock)

Add protein and flavor to this vegetable by including Canadian bacon with your roasted Brussels sprouts.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. After washing and drying one pound of fresh sprouts, cut them into halves or quarters. Place them on a baking sheet, and include one sliced yellow onion. For the Canadian bacon, include the equivalent of four thick slices of traditional bacon. Cut the slices into half-inch pieces and place them on the baking sheet. Sprinkle all the ingredients with one half teaspoon salt and one half teaspoon black pepper.

Bake the ingredients for around 30 minutes or until the sprouts start to brown. Stir the ingredients occasionally. Once they are out of the oven, drizzle two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and one teaspoon of either coconut or olive oil. Toss everything together and serve warm.

Gratuitous Cranberries, because obviously…

Homemade cranberry relish beats store-bought canned. (Photo Credit: NadianB via Adobe Stock)

I would be more disappointed to miss cranberries than the turkey or pumpkin pie. Honestly, there should be a holiday just for cranberry relish. And this is a recipe you will relish. It includes citrus for natural sweetness.

Put 24 ounces of rinsed fresh cranberries and one-half cup of water into a saucepan. Also include three quarters cup pineapple juice, and one half cup applesauce (use a brand that does not contain added sugar). Bring all this to a boil. Immediately lower to a medium heat and stir constantly for around 15 minutes or until the cranberries start to pop open.

Reduce the mixture to a simmer and add the juice and zest of one orange. Stir all the ingredients together, then allow it to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add cinnamon and clove, if desired. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool.

Once room temperature, place the relish into the refrigerator for at least four hours (overnight would be better). Sample this once it is thoroughly cooled. It will not be as sweet as store-bought brands, so you may want to add honey, apple sauce and/or stevia to taste. Serve chilled.

Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com.

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