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A Chef-RD’s Approach to Healthy Holidays

by Abbie Gellman, MS, RD, CDN on Oct 20, 2017

Practical Food Tips

Getting back to basics and deftly swerving around holiday calorie overload just got easier with these simple approaches.

For many, autumn is associated with beautiful colors, crisp weather, football season and a welcome change of routine after the heat of summer. Fall also marks the start of what has begun to feel like “competitive-eating season” for Americans. From the time Halloween arrives to that last glass of New Year’s bubbly, we are bombarded with occasions that call for sweets, alcohol and other decadent goodies that tempt us to eat and imbibe at every turn. This constant parade of foods rich in fat, salt and sugar—the so-called “hyperpalatables”—dominates the holiday season and can make the last few months of the year a challenge for even the most disciplined of eaters.

Getting through the holidays shouldn’t be about avoidance and restriction. It should be about enjoying yourself in a healthy way so that you can focus your 2018 resolutions on more important things, like going on that vacation you keep talking about, reading more books, or spending less time on your phone and being more in the moment—and not (yet again) cleaning up your diet.

Bite-Sized Grape Cheese Balls

Grape

These fun appetizers are a throwback to the 1970s and clock in at only 100 calories per serving. Makes 30 balls; 2 balls per serving.

5 oz goat cheese
4 oz cream cheese
1 T minced chives plus
3 T chopped chives, divided
1 t honey
1/8 t black pepper
30 red seedless grapes
½ C chopped walnuts

Mix goat cheese, cream cheese, 1 T minced chives, honey and pepper thoroughly in a bowl. Set aside remaining chives. Using about 1 T of cheese mix, place one grape in the middle, forming cheese mixture around grape into a ball shape. Place each grape cheese ball on a plate lined with wax paper. Refrigerate for 1–2 hours. Before serving, place remaining chives in one bowl and walnuts in a second bowl. Roll half the cheese balls in remaining chives and the other half in walnuts until evenly coated. Serve.

Berries and Mascarpone

Berries

A fiber-packed dessert alternative that will satisfy your sweet tooth. Makes 6 servings.

1 lb mixed berries, strawberries halved and other berries whole
¾ C mascarpone
1 oz aged balsamic vinegar or balsamic syrup
12 mint leaves

Spoon mascarpone onto plate. Top with berries. Garnish with balsamic syrup/reduction and mint.

Note: For a buffet, have large bowls of berries and mint with smaller bowls of mascarpone and syrup/reduction on the side.

Potato Zucchini Latkes and Applesauce

Potato

Most American Jews would likely agree that Hanukkah would not (or could not) be the same without potato latkes. Try this delicious alternative to the typical latke, complete with homemade applesauce. Makes 12 servings.

Latkes
1¼ lb russet potatoes, skin on, grated
1 medium zucchini (about 1/3 C), skin on, grated
1 large onion (about 1 C), grated
2 medium shallots (about ¼ C), minced
1 t salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ t black pepper
3 T extra-virgin olive oil

Toss together potato, zucchini, onion, shallot and salt in a bowl. Transfer mixture to colander placed over a bowl, and allow vegetables to drain for approximately 15 minutes. Squeeze mixture one handful at a time over bowl to release additional liquid. Transfer squeezed mixture to different bowl. Separate potato starch sediment from liquid, and add potato starch back to potato mixture. Stir in egg and black pepper to potato mixture. Cover bowl and refrigerate for approximately 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat 1 T oil in skillet over medium heat. Take ¼ C potato mixture, form a 3½-inch cake, and place it in hot skillet; repeat. Cook four latkes at a time. Cook approximately 2–3 minutes per side until crispy and golden, then transfer latkes to baking sheet. Repeat with 2 more batches, using 1 T of oil per batch. Once complete, transfer baking sheet to oven, and bake approximately 10 minutes.

Applesauce
1½ lb apples, skin on, halved and cored
¼ t cinnamon
1 t lemon zest
2 t fresh lemon juice
½ C water

Place all ingredients in large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool.Purée to desired texture, chunky or smooth.

Apricot Gelt

Apricot

A longstanding Hanukkah tradition is to give children chocolate gelt—“coins” made of chocolate wrapped in gold foil. Here’s a fruity twist on Hanukkah gelt: dried apricots dipped in chocolate and garnished with sea salt for a sweet and salty treat. A great ending for all! Makes about 6 dozen (12 servings; 6 pieces per person).

1½ lb dried apricots
1 lb dark-chocolate chips
1 T sea salt

Using heavy skillet or mallet, flatten apricots to about ¼-inch thick and set aside. Place chocolate in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring and scraping down sides between, until chocolate is just melted. Dip each apricot in chocolate, coating ½–¾ of the apricot. Place on wire racks set over parchment or wax paper, sprinkle with sea salt, and let stand until set. Transfer apricots to baking sheets lined with parchment or wax paper and refrigerate until firm. Can be refrigerated in airtight container up to 3 days.

Roasted Vegetables

Roasted

Something magical happens when you roast a vegetable: Fennel mellows out, carrots sweeten up, and beets develop even more earthiness. Use whatever vegetables you like (turnips would be a great addition), but here’s the basic recipe. Experiment and have some fun in the kitchen!

1 lb beets, peeled and cut into wedges ¼-inch thick (mix and match colors for added beauty)
1 lb carrots, sliced ¼-inch thick (again, use a variety: orange, yellow, purple)
1 lb sweet potatoes, unpeeled and sliced ¼-inch thick
1 lb radishes, sliced ¼-inch thick
3 T olive oil
½ t kosher salt
1/8 t ground black pepper zest of 1 lemon
¼ t Espelette or other hot pepper you like
juice of 1 lemon
2 C microgreens

Preheat oven to 425 F. Toss vegetables with oil, salt and pepper. Arrange in single layer on baking sheets (line sheets with foil or parchment paper). Roast 20 minutes, then turn over and roast 20 minutes more. Take out when browned to your liking. In large bowl, mix zest, Espelette and lemon juice. Add roasted vegetables and mix. Mix in microgreens and serve.

Baked Apples

Baked

Baked apples are a wonderful seasonal dessert with little to no added sugar. The fiber, healthy fat and protein from the walnuts, combined with the sweetness of the apple and dried fruit, will satisfy any sweet tooth. Makes 2 servings.

1 T walnuts (or nuts of your choice), chopped
1 T raisins
1 T dried cranberries (or any dried fruit of your choice)
½ t cinnamon
¼ t nutmeg
2 medium apples, washed and cored (note: Granny Smith and Honeycrisp hold their shape well when cooked)
¼ C water
1 t raw honey or maple syrup (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine nuts, dried fruit, cinnamon and nutmeg in small bowl. Place apples in small baking dish or loaf pan. Fill the core of each apple with fruit and nut mixture. Pour the water in the dish (optional: drizzle honey/syrup over the apples). Cover with foil (or use oven-proof cover to the dish) and bake for 20–30 minutes, or until apples are tender.