Five Tips for a Healthier Christmas

December 18, 2014

Every Christmas tends to run along the same lines. We collectively enjoy one of America’s favorite meals, but typically and unfortunately, we tend to overindulge. Along the way we add on a few extra pounds, setting us off on the wrong foot heading into the month of merrymaking.

Is there any way to do it better – to keep the delicious food, the joy and the cheer, and ease out the excess? Most of us don’t want to skip the traditional goodies like cranberry sauce and pie altogether—we just want to find a way to sample these seasonal treats in moderation.

 Here are a few simple changes to make this year’s feast one without the guilt.

Tip 1: Start your day with a healthy breakfast to make it easier to say no to temptation later on in the day. To fuel up before a marathon cooking session, try a fruit and vegetable smoothie. If you have guests in the house, cook up a big frittata full of vegetables so everyone starts their day with some healthy protein and fiber. It may seem counterintuitive to eat more before Christmas dinner, but studies show that skipping breakfast on the day of a big meal will just make you more likely to overindulge and make bad choices later on in the day.

Tip 2: Start your meal with a healthy salad or soup as an appetizer to encourage guests to fill up on fiber and vegetables before moving on to the more caloric main course. Adding any insoluble fiber to the day – especially the most beneficial types found in green leafy vegetables and most every vegetable – helps to keep the digestive system at optimum functioning level. Experts also note that fiber also can slow the absorption of sugar. Serve a beautifully plated salad or an elegant soup made with fresh autumn produce, but skip the creamy dressings and cream-based soups to keep it light.

Tip 3: Skip the cream and marshmallows for side dishes that won’t weigh you down. Many traditional recipes like creamed spinach or marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes take delicious, healthy ingredients and “ruin” them with high-calorie add-ons. Instead, try some lighter sides that will taste fresher and brighter. Use colorful, contrasting vegetables to elevate the presentation, so that vegetable sides look as good as they taste. Your friends and family will give you a silent thanks.

Tip 4: Try a baby kale salad, for a sophisticated, delicious, and super-nutritious side dish. New to the market in the past year or so, baby kale is regular kale that is harvested when it’s only two to three weeks old. The baby kale leaf is about the same size as mixed baby lettuces and a whole lot healthier, adding more calcium, iron, Vitamin A and other nutrients to the salad bowl. You’ve never tasted kale as tender and delicious. Fall is kale’s season, and this dark leafy green’s affinity for toppings of fruit like apples, dried cranberries, pomegranate seeds or roasted pears make it a seasonal bonus.

Tip 5: To help encourage guests to practice better portion control, serve heavier foods like stuffing and pie from a buffet instead of placing dishes in the center of the table. Put the kale salad, butternut squash, and other healthy choices in the center of the table, which will cut down on the mindless snacking and third helpings of stuffing and cranberry sauce.


Tropical Mango, Orange and Kale Smoothie
Serves 2
This is a favorite kale smoothie. Perfect for a quick breakfast or snack – it keeps you full to help prevent you from needless snacking.

1 1/2 cups kale leaves or baby kale, (stripped from stalk and rinsed)
1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks
2 oranges, peeled, sliced and seeded
1/2 cup water
1 banana
3 pitted dried dates
1 cup of ice
  1. Place all the ingredients in a blender. Blend from low to high speed until creamy and smooth.  Add additional water if needed.

Baby Kale, Celery, Date and Apple Salad
Serves 4
This salad works best with the tender baby kale, now available at many farmer’s markets and in supermarkets labeled as “baby kale” – usually in the clear plastic boxes.

4 cups baby kale, washed and dried, small stems removed
2 celery stalks
1 crisp red apple, organic if possible, since it won’t be peeled
1 lemon wedge
8 dried pitted dates (try to find soft, not dried out dates)
1/2 walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Balsamic Vinaigrette:
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon maple syrup or other sweetener
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

  1. Place the baby kale in a wide serving bowl or platter. Cut the dates, lengthwise, into very thin strips, and place in a small separate bowl. Peel the celery stalks and cut it in half lengthwise. With your knife at a diagonal angle, cut very thin, 1- to 2-inch pieces of celery. Add to the dates. Slice the sides off the apple and cut those pieces into very thin slices. Squeeze lemon juice over the apple slices, to keep them from browning. 
  2. In a small bowl, make the dressing by whisking together the vinegar, maple syrup, and olive oil. Season with 2 pinches of salt and a few grind of pepper.
  3. Just before serving, pour most of the dressing over the salad and toss to combine; pour the rest over the celery and dates. Top with the celery, dates, apple slices, walnuts and feta cheese.
Cook’s Note: Some feta cheese has little flavor, surprisingly. But the French sheep’s milk feta is usually flavorful, as is the Greek feta that is a combination of sheep and goat’s milk.

Squash, Kale and Corn Sauté
Serves 4
This attractive combo of three fall favorites is perfect for the holiday table.

1/2 bunch kale, stripped from stalk, chopped into bite-size pieces, and rinsed (4 to 5 cups)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2 – to 3/4-inch dice (3 to 4 cups)
2 ears corn, kernels removed from cob (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Black pepper
1 lime, quartered

  1. In a large skillet with a lid, bring 3 to 4 cups of water to a boil.   Add the kale.  Cover and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally until tender, 4 to 6 minutes, depending on the kale.  Drain in a colander, shaking a few times, to release steam and stop the cooking.
  2. Dry the skillet and add the olive oil and butter over medium heat. (The pan should be large enough to fit squash in a single layer)  Add the butternut squash and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and cooked without falling apart, about 15 minutes. Add a few pinches of salt while cooking. Add the corn, cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper and cook 4 to 5 additional minutes, until corn is cooked. When ready to serve, add the kale (squeeze out any excess moisture from the kale if necessary) back into the pan and stir gently to warm. Add another pinch of salt for the kale. Squeeze a little lime juice into the dish or pass lime wedges around for people to squeeze their own.

Bourbon Apple Butternut Soup with Roasted Kale and Pumpkin Seeds
Serves 6
The finishing touch for this soup is crispy kale roasted with pumpkin seeds and fresh cranberries, which all gives a crunchy, tart contrast to the smooth, pureed soup.

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
5 cups diced butternut squash (large dice), (from 1 medium butternut squash) 
2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 whole leek, all parts, cut in half lengthwise, rinsed and sliced (a little over 2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger
1/3 cup bourbon whiskey
5 cups water
2 tart apples, peeled, cored and cut in half or into quarters
1 – 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 bunch kale, stripped from stalk, chopped or torn into large bite-size pieces and rinsed (about 3 cups)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup fresh cranberries
  1. Melt the butter in a soup pot and sauté the onions about 5 minutes. Add the squash, carrots and leek and saute on medium to medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring often to cook all sides of the squash. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté about 30 additional seconds, until fragrant.
  2. Turn up the heat a bit and add the bourbon, and let the alcohol cook off, about 1 minute. Add the water, apples and 1 teaspoon of the salt, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, and cook covered, for about 20 minutes or until the squash and carrots are easily pierced with a fork. Let cool for 5 or so minutes before blending.
  3. Process the soup, in batches, in a blender until smooth and creamy, or use an immersion blender to puree. (Take care when blending a hot soup by filling the container only 2/3 full, placing a kitchen towel over the blender top, and blending from low to high.) If the soup is too thick, add some water to thin it a bit. Taste for seasoning and add more salt by the pinches, until really flavorful. Add a few grinds of fresh black pepper.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 °F while soup is cooking, and roast the kale. Place the pieces of kale onto the baking sheet. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and knead into the kale. Sprinkle with salt and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until crispy, but not browned, stirring a few times. When the kale is done, or on another baking sheet, place the pumpkin seeds, seasoned with a pinch or two of salt, and cranberries, and roast until pumpkin seeds are roasted and cranberries are softened somewhat, 6 to 7 minutes. 
  5.  Ladle in bowls, and top with the garnish of about 2 tablespoons of oven-roasted kale (breaking apart if needed), some of the pumpkin seeds, and 3 or 4 roasted cranberries. Place any remaining toppings in bowls at the table for people to replenish or munch on.
Turkey and Kale Meat Loaf
Serves 6
Kale and other vegetables provide the moisture that is often lacking in a turkey meat loaf, featured in the new cookbook, Kale, Glorious Kale by Catherine Walthers. The kale is minced. You can also finely chop the onion, celery and carrots together in a food processor and then squeeze out any additional moisture. If dark ground turkey is available, a combination of half dark and half white works well.

3 large kale leaves, stripped from stalk, chopped into small bits and rinsed (1 1/2 cups)                                                    
2 teaspoons olive oil                                                                                  1 1/2 pounds natural ground turkey breast (half dark meat, half white meat, if available
1/2 cup finely minced onion 1/2 cup panko, bread crumbs, or quick oats  1 egg                                                                                                          1/2 cup minced celery                                                                                  1/2 cup shredded carrot                                                                             1/2 teaspoon minced fresh garlic                                                                  1/3 cup Milk or Plain Yogurt                                                                      1/2 teaspoon salt                                                                                    Freshly ground pepper to taste                                                              
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme   
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Make the meat loaf:  Place the kale in a bowl and sprinkle with olive oil and salt. With your hands, massage for 2 to 3 minutes, until kale is reduced a little in volume and bright green. (You can also chop the kale again if pieces are still too large)

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Oil a 9- or 10-inch glass pie plate and set aside.

1.     In a medium-sized bowl, mix all meat loaf ingredients together, including the kale.  Pat the mixture into the pie plate.
2.     Make the topping: mix the ketchup, brown sugar, mustard and molasses together in a small bowl. Spread on top of the turkey loaf and bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until meat begins to pull away from sides of pan.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges. 

Excerpted from Kale, Glorious Kale © 2014 by Catherine Walthers. Photographs © 2014 by Alison Shaw. Reproduced by permission of Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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