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  • By Kathleen Finn

Put a Healthy Twist on Traditional Holiday Dishes

When family members and guests pull up a chair at the holiday table, surprise them with a healthy take on an old standard. With a few culinary sleights of hand, you can serve up delicious traditional fare that’s lighter and healthier than its predecessor.

Serve up delicious traditional fare that's lighter and healthier

Gorgeous green bean casserole

Green bean casserole provides a splash of color in a sea of cream-colored holiday dishes.

  • Let the vivid color of string beans shine by steaming them lightly and then placing them in ice water before draining. Overcooking beans leaches out nutrients and color and causes beans to lose their snap and crunch.

  • For the creamy sauce, replace traditional canned soup—which can be high in salt and additives—with a low-sodium variety, or make your own. Simply sauté onions, garlic, and shiitake mushrooms in butter until all the mushroom liquid is cooked off.

  • Sprinkle a few tablespoons of flour over top of vegetables and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in low-fat milk and bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes.

  • Stir in green beans, shredded cheddar cheese, salt, and pepper, and pour into a casserole dish.

  • Lastly, sprinkle your casserole with slivered nuts, such as almonds, or a shake of light breadcrumbs before popping it into the oven to bake until bubbly.

Sweet potato switch

Sweet potatoes, another holiday hallmark, are usually served bathed in brown sugar and wearing a thick white marshmallow coat. Reveal the natural texture and rich flavor of sweet potatoes by incorporating a citrus roast.

  • Cut potatoes into generous wedges and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

  • Roast in a 350°F (177°C) oven for 15 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and brush wedges with a mixture of orange juice (1/2 cup, 119 ml), molasses (2 tablespoons, 30 ml), and nutmeg (1/2 teaspoon, 1 g). Add more or less of each ingredient, depending on your taste—you can't really go wrong.
  • Roast until fork-tender. Reapply the orange juice mixture before serving.

“You can use lime juice and maple syrup or substitute other warming spices for the nutmeg,” says Mary Pelletier, mother and teacher in Manchester, Vermont. “This recipe is not only a lighter alternative to the sweet casserole, it’s also much easier to throw together while the turkey is cooking.”

If you want to remain true to the casserole theme, try combining sweet potatoes with another cold-weather treasure—crisp apples—to create a side dish that’s naturally sweet and fiber rich.

  • Start by preboiling potatoes for 20 minutes.
  • Thinly slice both potatoes and apples with a knife or mandoline. Layer potatoes and apples in a casserole dish.
  • Mix together some lemon juice, orange juice, a handful of brown sugar or a few tablespoons of maple syrup, a few dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg, some butter, and a smattering of pecans or walnuts. Once again, lots of varieties work with this kind of mixture, so do some experimenting to get the flavor combination you like.
  • Pour the liquid over the layers and bake for 30 minutes until both are tender.

Kathleen Finn

Kathleen Finn is a freelance food and health writer in Portland, OR, who enjoys revising tradition when it comes to holiday food.

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