The holiday season invites a spirit of warmth and nostalgia that can infuse every corner of your home. Along with the glowing lights, carols and crisp air comes something everyone can appreciate; food.
However, when you’re motivated to watch your waistline, indulging in cookies, cakes and holiday roasts can seem decidedly counterproductive. You may even feel tempted to forgo seasonal feasts altogether, but the truth is that you can celebrate the holiday with food that is wholesome as well as delicious. Below are just a few ideas to help you get started.
1. Cotton Cheesecake
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a creamy, rich slice of cheesecake. Standard cheesecakes are quite heavy, but the cotton cheesecakes popularized by Japan offer a light, airy version that is just as sweet as it is beautiful. Traditional cotton cheesecakes utilize whipped egg whites and less cream to make them very soft and light. They are are also slow baked with the help of steam that keeps them moist, and there’s no crust to impart extra calories. Recipes vary for this confection, but some versions require as little as three ingredients, making for a dessert that is as simple as it is delicious.
When you want to make a meal healthier without creating a calorie bomb, the easiest solution is to add leafy greens. From bok choy to kale and mustard greens, the variety of scrumptious green flora is quite boundless. The beauty of greens is that they’ll take on any flavors you use. Delicate greens like spinach can be instantly added to stir-fry or blanched. If you have greens that are quite bitter, you’ll need to boil them much longer to render off the edgy bite.
3. Glass Noodles
Glass noodles are lower in calories than wheat-based pasta and they are excellent for anyone allergic to gluten. Once cooked, the noodles are perfectly translucent, making for a beautiful addition to any holiday meal. You can use them in a variety of ways. Stir-fry them with veggies and your favorite seasoning or make an authentic East Asian dish like Pad Woon Sen.
4. Banana Bread
A dense hunk of banana bread can certainly hit the spot, but traditional recipes are rather high on sugar and oil content. One of the easiest, most health conscious ways to prepare banana bread is by making small batches at a time with a single banana. Simply mash up a banana and add a tablespoon of molasses, a bit of raw sugar, salt, baking soda and your favorite creamer to heighten flavor. Add less than a half a cup of whole wheat flour and your batter is ready for the oven unless you want to experiment with additives like nuts, dried fruit or even dark chocolate. You can use ramekins for the cake, or even mold tiny baking dishes out of foil.
5. Whole Wheat Cookies
You can prepare wholesome versions of your favorite cookies in a similar manner to the banana bread. To the same batter, add any combination of oats, coconut, chocolate chips, natural peanut butter and vanilla extract to achieve the flavor profile you desire. To experiment with texture, you can add an egg or use less or more wheat flour in your recipe. Just put the batter in dollops directly on a cookie sheet or aluminium foil that’s been coated with a thin layer of coconut oil. Sprinkle the cookies with raw sugar for an added crunch on top.
6. Zucchini Pasta
We all know that pasta can pack on the carbs and calories, but its fun form can often be too tempting to resist. When you crave pasta but want a lighter version, try using zucchini or butternut squash as a replacement. You can purchase simple devices to cut these vegetables into thin strips that really resemble spaghetti. Simply cook and prepare the zucchini as you would regular pasta, and be amazed at how well it pairs with your favorite marinara and pesto sauces.
7. Rice Bowl
Rice is a healthy and vital component to meals in many cultures around the world. It’s a whole grain that features key nutrients like iron and magnesium, and it won’t trigger gluten sensitivities. Wild rice is particularly nutritious, featuring high amounts of fiber and minerals. You can make fried rice as a side dish, or you can serve up rice bowls by adding a flavorful blend of chicken, fish or veggies on top of a plush bowl of rice. Some seasoning ideas include using soy sauce or Korean barbecue sauce with raw sugar and sesame oil.
Nut brittle is a holiday favorite, and it can be a nutrient dense piece of candy considering what you add. Instead of getting store bought, try making your own. Start by simmering water and raw sugar on your stove. Once the sugar has melted and it’s had time to caramelize, you can add your nuts of choice. Peanuts, walnuts and pecans are classic, but you could also add sesame, sunflower and flax seeds, as well as dried fruit like raisins, dates or cranberries.
Instead of opting for the classic large bird or ham as the cornerstone of your holiday meal, why not consider a lean meat like fish? There are so many delicious and healthy fish to choose. You could have baked salmon. As a fattier fish, it’s rich in omega-3 and other essential fatty acids our brains need to thrive, but it’s still quite low in calories. More delicate white fish like tilapia are also extremely versatile and can be utilized in just about any recipe. If you insist on frying your fish, don’t deep fry it. Gently coat your fish in panko bread crumbs and fry it in a small amount of olive or coconut oil.
10. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are naturally sprawling with nutrients, but a lot of people opt to tarnish this vibrancy by coating them in butter or a melted blanket of marshmallow. For a simple and yummy alternative, simply bake sweet potatoes that have been cut into small chunks before tossing them in a simmered brew of soy sauce, a couple teaspoons of sugar and sesame oil. A coating of sesame seeds will finish the dish, and you’re left with an Asian-influenced side that’s sweet, savory and healthy all at once.
Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who is trying to be healthier this year. She currently writes for AEDs Today, a leading supplier of automatic external defibrillators including popular models such as LIFEPAK AEDS.