Easy Recipe Hacks for a Healthier Holiday Meal

rashelle-brownThanksgiving is only one week away! I bet you’ll be doing some grocery shopping this weekend, I know I will. But before you stock up on ingredients for the same old traditional dishes, why not take a look at some of the fresh and healthy alternatives below.

Each suggested substitution will not only cut down on calories, processed carbs and saturated fat, but their rich, seasonal flavors make them perfect accompaniments for your main course, whatever that may be.

Stuffing  Whole Grain Dressing
Mmmmm, stuffing! Some people love it, others could leave it. I happen to love it, but I don’t love the white bread, eggs and sausage (or turkey organs, depending on your recipe) in it. Luckily, I’ve come up with this equally delicious whole grain recipe that combines hearty black rice, earthy mushrooms and rich walnuts to deliver a totally satisfying dressing that stands up to any stuffing.

Black Rice Holiday Dressing
1 cup black rice (“forbidden” preferred), or brown rice if you can’t find black
1 3/4 cup vegetable broth
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
10 ounce package mushrooms, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
1/2 cup walnuts, crushed
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp nutritional yeast* or 1/3 cup vegan parmesan cheese

1. Heat vegetable broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rice, stir, reduce heat, cover and simmer 40 minutes, or until rice is tender.
2. 10 minutes before rice is done, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add mushrooms. Sauté until tender, about 5 – 7 minutes. Add walnuts and and garlic and sauté for two more minutes. Add the rice to the skillet and sprinkle on the nutritional yeast or the vegan parmesan. Stir well to combine and cook for one or two more minutes.
3. Turn out into a large bowl and drizzle with the remaining 1/2 Tbsp olive oil and add a little more vegan parmesan, if desired. Stir to combine and serve immediately.

Mashed Potatoes/Sweet Potato Casserole  Sweet Potato Mash
Know what’s great about sweet potatoes? They’re already sweet. By adding some salt and pepper, just a touch of pure maple syrup, and a small amount of almond milk, you can create a sweet but hearty side dish that leaves behind the sugar, eggs, butter and those weird little marshmallows. Know what else is great about sweet potatoes? They’re potatoes. Not the bland white kind that need a ton of milk and butter and salt to taste remotely good while delivering few nutrients in a mega-calorie package, but the kind that already taste great on their own while packing a ton of phytonutrients. Let this stunning side dish serve double duty by replacing those bland mashed potatoes and that sad sweet potato casserole at your next holiday meal.

Simple Sweet Potato Mash
3 – 4 large sweet potatoes or yams
1/4 cup unsweetened almond or other plant milk
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
salt & pepper to taste
pinch cinnamon & nutmeg (optional)

1. Preheat your oven to 400. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment. Prick sweet potatoes and place onto baking sheet. Bake  for 40 – 45 minutes, or until very tender (check by piercing fork all the way to center).
2. Cut a slit lengthwise down each sweet potato and carefully scoop the flesh out into a mixing bowl (may need to wait for them to cool a bit or use an oven mitt or towel to hold onto them).
3. Add remaining ingredients to mixing bowl and mix on medium until desired consistency is reached. If you need to, add a little more milk to get the right consistency. Take a taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Good Gravy!
If you’re making food that needs gravy poured on top of it to make it taste good then 1) See Above re: potatoes, and 2) Use this vegan recipe if you’re ignoring that part. This recipe is so quick and easy to make, tastes great, and is practically calorie-free! Seriously, the main ingredients are vegetable broth and seasonings, with only small amounts of flour and vegan butter to thicken it up. Go ahead, make up a batch right now and just see if it isn’t good to serve on the big day!

Good Gravy
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder
2 1/2 Tbsp nutritional yeast*
1/2 tsp soy sauce or tamari
1/2 tsp yellow mustard
1/4 cup flour (any type)
1 Tbsp vegan butter (such as Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Spread)
salt & pepper to taste
pinch of sage (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat over medium until simmering, whisking frequently. Once simmering, reduce heat and whisk constantly until thickened. If you want it thicker, add more flour, 1 tsp at a time, until desired thickness is reached.

Sugar-Coma Inducing Gut Bomb (Pumpkin Pie)  Whole Food Apple Crisp
I have to admit, I hate pumpkin pie, so this is a super easy swap for me. If you can live without it, too, your body will thank you. Instead of lying around with your pants unbuttoned and moaning after dessert, this apple crisp will leave you feeling refreshingly satisfied. Great on its own or with a small dollop of cashew cream or coconut whip, you won’t have to feel guilty about eating this whole food treat.

“Fall in a Dish” Whole Food Apple Crisp
5 cups apples, coarsely chopped
4 medjool dates, pitted and chopped
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp filtered water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 – 1 cup coarsely broken walnuts or pecans

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease six 3/4 cup ramekins or one 8X4 bread loaf pan with coconut oil or cooking spray.
2. In a large pot add the apples, dates, lemon juice and water and stir to combine. Heat over medium heat until apples just start to soften and release a little juice, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the seasonings and salt and stir well to mix thoroughly.
3. Divide the apple mixture among the ramekins or turn out into the 8X4 pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top. Bake until apples are tender and nuts are just beginning to darken, about 10-15 minutes. (Keep an eye out and don’t let the nuts burn!)
4. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving to allow the mixture to set up.

* Nutritional yeast can be found in the seasoning section of many stores (look for Bob’s Red Mill or Bragg brands) or in the bulk section of natural food markets and co-ops. It can also be ordered online if you can’t find it at your local store. It imparts a cheesy flavor to vegan dishes and is a good source of Vitamin B-12.


  1. Paul Boyle says:

    Thanks Rashelle, this will really help get through a painful process. I’m not a big fan of this holiday because of the negative historical perspective and the inactivity centered around a sport that is NOT baseball!!!

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