Add Healthy to Your Holiday Meal

— Written By and last updated by Meghan Lassiter
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I know you would think I was a real humbug if I gave you a nutrition lecture just before the holidays. So, I will not tell you to stop eating your traditional or favorite holiday foods. But I am going to ask you to think about what you can ADD to those meals that could make them more healthful for you and your holiday guests.

Your holiday meal is probably already planned… or someone else is cooking and you have little control. But there are some things you can do throughout the next week or so that will allow you to start the new year a little ahead of the game and not wish you had overindulged. Chef John LaTour from Healthy Families-Healthy Futures recently did a training for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program Educators and Family and Consumer Sciences Agents from our N.C. Cooperative Extension Southeast District. Chef John shared ideas about Keeping the Holidays Healthy. He readily admitted that holidays can be stressful, which can lead to mindless (or perhaps we should say endless) eating.

I really like a couple of his strategies. They are definitely “doable.” Some of these ideas actually ADD to your meals instead of making you feel like you’re sacrificing.

Make room for veggies. At meals or parties don’t ignore the vegetables. If nothing else, add an extra vegetable side dish to your holiday table. Make it an option that isn’t slathered with butter, creamy sauces or marshmallows. Roasted winter root vegetables are simple. If you’re a guest in someone else’s house, why not be the guest that brings the vegetable dish? Others may be thankful that you did.

Find a fruit. Same as vegetables, don’t ignore the fruit. Add a simple fruit dish to your holiday table or menu. Make your own Cranberry Chutney that adds apples and raisins along with orange juice. Baked apples or an apple crisp could do the job, too.

Add some whole grains to your meals. Adding whole grains to your recipes or menu could just be some simple swaps. How about whole-grain biscuits or rolls? Add some wild rice or brown rice to your stuffing.

Chef John also developed some Healthy Holiday Swap recipes. The educators jumped in and prepared these foods and then sampled their work.

One of the recipe swaps Chef John shared was for a Harvest Quinoa side dish. I know this might be too much of a change for you for your holiday, but give it a try. It accomplishes all of the above suggestions in one dish. It contains three vegetables: onions, carrots, and butternut squash. It adds fruit in the form of apples (I’d leave the skins on for more fiber and color) and apple cider. Add adds a grain with the quinoa. There’s also the bonus of garbanzo beans that add fiber and a low-fat protein. I liked the sweet flavors from the apples, the apple cider, and the squash with no added sugars.

Harvest Quinoaharvest quinoa

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1⁄2 cup onion, peeled diced
  • 1⁄2 cup carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1⁄2 cup butternut squash, washed, peeled, and diced
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 1/3 cup apple (any kind), peeled and diced
  • 1 can (15.5 oz) no-salt-added garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1 cup quinoa, dry
  • Fresh parsley for garnish
  • To taste salt and pepper
  1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add oil.
  2. When oil is hot, sauté onions, carrots, and butternut squash for 3 to 5
    minutes stirring occasionally.
  3. Add apple cider and bring to a simmer. Add apples, beans, and quinoa.
  4. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed
  5. When liquid is absorbed, quinoa is done.
  6. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and salt pepper to taste. Serves six.

Healthy Families-Healthy Futures is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to helping teachers, school staff, and families of young children to embrace healthy eating habits. Healthy Families – Healthy Futures strives to promote a healthy future, one nutritious meal at a time. You can find out more information at

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Program (EFNEP) is part of our NC
Cooperative Extension Service here in Brunswick County. EFNEP helpsEFNEP educator chopping vegetables
participants learn new skills and strategies to feed their families on a
limited budget and improve their overall health. Angie Lawrence is our
EFNEP Nutrition Educator locally. She conducts classes in schools,
community centers, food pantries, neighborhoods, and faith-based
organizations. Contact her for more information about bringing EFNEP into
your school or community. She can be reached at our office in Bolivia or at

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910.253.2610, or by email at