These four holiday recipes provide healthy holiday meal alternatives to otherwise fat-filled staples

You might think writing a story about healthful eating options on Christmas Day wouldn't make sense. After all, we are supposed to fill our tummies to the max on foodie holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving.

However, some people really want to watch calories and choose nutritious options. Anna Bohnengel, a registered dietitian with Eat With Zest ( and Wellness Coordinator for Oregon Health & Science University employees, knows some people are mindful of what they eat on these special days.

"Most people have had the experience that pigging out doesn't actually make you feel good," she said. "You think you want it, but afterwards, you feel overly full and, then, there's a lot of guilt associated with it." She prefers the term "nourishing indulgence," in which you can celebrate the occasion in a nourishing way that makes you feel healthy.

On Christmas Day, there are ways to stick to a healthier eating plan.

"The number one way is just to choose more real food, any opportunity when you can choose less processed food and more whole foods that don't have a label and don't come in a package or a box," Bohnengel said. "You know that you're going to be making a healthful choice."

Starting with afternoon snacks, she said her favorite Christmas tradition is serving roasted chestnuts. "Chestnuts are extremely healthful," Bohnengel said. "They've got lots of great heart-healthy fats (and antioxidants) in them. They're satisfying, and if you roast your own chestnuts, they're absolutely delicious."

According to Bohnengel, another Christmas tradition is to string popcorn around your tree. "Popcorn is a super healthy snack to have around. It's got a lot of fiber that keeps you full."

Transitioning to the Christmas dinner, Bohnengel suggests a wild rice stuffing. "Instead of using white bread, this a stuffing made with wild rice and quinoa, roasted Oregon Hazelnuts and dried Bing Cherries," she said. "It's packed with flavor, super delicious and really healthy."

Instead of mashed potatoes, Bohnengel suggests mashed cauliflower. "It's a great healthy alternative and a way to get some more veggies in," she added.

For the main dish, consider roasted turkey instead of a roasted ham.

"Ham (smoked) tends to have a lot of additives in it (colorings, nitrites, nitrates, sodium). A classic roasted turkey is a super healthful main dish," Bohnengel said, noting prime rib has more saturated fat than a turkey. "If you want to go for a prime rib, it's the same thing to look for as with cheeses. You want to look for organic or, ideally, grass-fed beef."

As for the Christmas beverage, a fun choice is mulled apple cider. "That's a healthy drink, especially if it's made with real apple cider, so it's not sugar sweetened. Heat it up and it's a hot delicious beverage to serve (consider adding spices, cinnamon sticks, cloves or orange peels)," she said.

In case you're wondering what kind of a snack Bohnengel would leave Santa the night before Christmas, she suggests a healthy chocolate pecan pie and a glass of milk. "I don't know a Santa Claus that could resist a chocolate pecan pie."

Chili Mashed Sweet Potatoes

COURTESY: EATWITHZEST.COM - Chili Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Serves: 10-12

Cook time: 1 hour


4 large sweet potatoes (3 1/2 lbs total)

1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

2 tsp orange zest

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp chili powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup pecan halves


1. Wrap each sweet potato in tinfoil and bake at 425 degrees for 1 hour.

2. While baking, whisk together remaining ingredients in a large bowl.

3. Remove skins from potatoes, add soft insides to orange juice mixture and mash together with a fork.

4. Spread mashed sweet potatoes into a casserole dish.

5. Toast pecan halves in skillet on stovetop over medium heat for 2-4 minutes until they are golden brown. Watch carefully so they don't burn.

6. Break pecan halves into pieces after toasting with the back of a spoon, then sprinkle over the top of mashed sweet potatoes.

7. Serve hot. This can be made in advance, then heated back up in the oven before serving at 175F.

— Eat With Zest (, Chili Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Pumpkin Pecan Breakfast Cookies

(Gluten, grain and dairy free)

COURTESY: EATWITHZEST.COM - Pumpkin Pecan Breakfast Cookies


2 eggs

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

3/4 cup peanut or almond butter

1/4 cup raw honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup coconut flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground cloves

1/2 cup pecans

1/2 cup dried cranberries


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a mixing bowl mix together all the dry ingredients, except the pecans & cranberries.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients and mix well. Combine the wet and dry ingredients until even mixed, then toss in the nuts and cranberries.

4. Drop tablespoons of dough on a baking sheet (I cover mine with parchment paper), and lightly pat with your fingers to semi-flatten.

5. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until cooked through to your desired amount.

Let cool and dig-in!

— Eat With Zest (, Pumpkin Pecan Breakfast Cookies

Wild Rice and Quinoa Stuffing

(with cherries and roasted hazelnuts)

COURTESY: EATWITHZEST.COM - Wild Rice & Quinoa Stuffing


2 cups quinoa, cooked

4 cups wild rice, cooked

2 lb Italian chicken sausage, no casing

1/4 cup olive oil

5 large shallots, chopped (1 cup)

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups celery, diced

3 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped

3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, chopped

1 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped

1 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

salt & pepper, to taste


1. Cook quinoa and wild rice separately, preferably adding slightly less water than usual for al-dente grains. (For more flavor, use vegetable stock instead of water when cooking). Once cooked, combine grains in a large bowl.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. When oil gets hot, add shallots plus a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until tender, 3 minutes, then toss in the garlic. Continue to cook until fragrant, a minute, then add celery. Keep cooking until celery begins to soften, another 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Add ground chicken sausage, breaking up clumps as it cooks. Allow chicken to lightly brown (5 minutes), stirring frequently. You may need to turn heat to high to brown the meat.

5. Add rosemary & sage to the skillet. Stir together for 1-2 min, remove from heat, then toss in the thyme.

6. Combine sausage & herbs and all of the remaining olive oil with the rice & quinoa in large bowl. Mix well.

7. Stir in chopped cherries & hazelnuts. Taste for salt; add more salt along with black pepper as desired.

8. Cover and warm in the oven minutes before serving.

— Eat With Zest (, Wild Rice & Quinoa Stuffing

Chocolate Pecan Pie

(Vegan, gluten, sugar and grain free)


Preparation time: 20 minutes


Chocolate Pie Filling

1 cup raw pecans + 1/2 cup to sprinkle on top

14 oz soft tofu

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup molasses

3 tbsp cocoa powder

Gluten-Free Pie Crust

2 cups almond meal

1 tbsp unrefined coconut sugar

1/2 cup coconut oil, melted

Crust preparation:

1. Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a food processor. Pour the crumbly mix into a 9-inch pie pan and press it out evenly with your fingers.

2. Chill the crust in the fridge while you make the filling (It can stay in the fridge for up to 3 days.)

Filling preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Blend all pie filling ingredients, except pecans, in a food processor until very smooth.

3. Then add the pecans and pulse a few times until they're chopped.

4. Pour into your prepared pie crust and top with pecans halves.

5. Bake for 55-60 minutes.

6. Let chill in the fridge before serving (20 minutes) so it firms up.

— Eat With Zest (, Chocolate Pecan Pie

Scott Keith is a freelance writer with the Portland Tribune and the Pamplin Media Group. If you have a health tip, or a story idea, you can contact Scott at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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