Healthy Holiday Eating

Guest Blog: Healthy Holiday Eating

Imagine if, instead of a Thanksgiving dinner or winter celebration meal that left you and your guests overweight and over-stuffed, you had a meal that was both superbly satisfying and healthful! It could be the perfect opportunity to introduce some delicious plant-based holiday options to your family and friends. If you are the guest, bring a fabulous main dish to share.

A number of national health organizations– U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have given nutrient density ratings that qualify certain foods as “powerhouse” foods.1 Powerhouse fruits and vegetables are defined as those that provide, on average, 10 percent or more per 100 calories of 17 qualifying nutrients that are deemed of public health importance by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Institute of Medicine. including iron, zinc, potassium, numerous B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and B6), and vitamins A (as carotenoids), C, E, and K.

The powerhouse foods they list—all plant foods–contain a wealth of protective phytochemicals that are linked with reduced risk of chronic disease. Eight of the nutrients provided are deemed particularly protective against heart disease and cancer. Instead of a meal that is centered on turkey, an entree that is nearly devoid of phytochemicals, your health will get a big boost. Your taste buds will be happy too!

Identified powerhouse foods include winter squash, kale and other leafy greens (Chinese/napa cabbage, leaf or romaine lettuce, collard greens), Brussels sprouts, turnips, carrots, pumpkin, and lime or lemon. These can feature in a celebration meal that is satisfying, delicious, and beautiful! To round out a meal, add a salad (lettuce and berries), seasoned and baked tofu, gravy, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

Here are some recipes:

Kale and Red Pepper Holiday Wreath

Makes about 5 cups

From “Cooking Vegan” by Vesanto Melina RD and Joseph Forest.  Book Publishing Co. 2012

The deep green kale, tossed with pieces of bright red bell pepper, provide a rich source of calcium, iron, potassium, the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, and omega 3 fatty acids. For a larger wreath, double the recipe. Including tahini as an ingredient is a delicious option, though the wreath will not be such a bright green.

  • 12 cups kale, stem removed and thinly sliced, packed
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice or balsamic vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons tamari, Braggs, or soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons sesame tahini (optional)
  • 1/2 cup diced sweet red pepper

Place kale in a steamer, cover, and steam over medium-high heat until the kale is soft to the bite. Drain in a colander and squeeze out any excess water. With a fork, combine the lemon juice, tamari, and tahini (if using) in a large bowl. Add the kale and toss to coat the leaves with dressing. Arrange on a warm platter to create a round wreath shape, leaving a clean open space in the center. Sprinkle with the red pepper and serve.

Holiday Winter Stuffed Squash

Makes 1 stuffed squash, about 8 servings, with 5 cups stuffing

From “Cooking Vegan” by Vesanto Melina RD and Joseph Forest.  Book Publishing Co. 2012.

1 winter squash, about 5 lbs (Hubbard, butternut, acorn, kabocha, or turban)

Quinoa Stuffing

  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup diced sweet red pepper
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper


Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Pierce the top of the squash with a sharp knife at 45 degree angle 2-inches (5 cm) over from the top. Pushing the knife blade away from your body, cut around the top of the squash and remove the cone-shaped top piece. Remove any fibrous material from the cone and set the top aside. Remove the seeds and pulp from the cavity of the squash with a spoon. Put the top back on the squash, put on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes.


Bring 1-1/2 cups water to a boil over high heat in a small sauce pan. Stir in quinoa and salt, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Put into a large bowl and set aside to cool. Heat 1/4 cup water in a skillet over medium heat and cook onion for 5 to 7 minutes or until tender. Add the garlic and celery and cook for 3 minutes. Stir into the cooled quinoa along with the corn, red pepper, sunflower seeds, parsley, lime juice, basil, dill, thyme, and pepper. Mix and adjust the seasoning.


Spoon the stuffing into the squash cavity. Leave a little space to allow stuffing to expand while baking. Set lid in place, return squash to baking sheet and bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick can be easily inserted into the side of the squash. Leftover stuffing can be placed in a loaf pan, sprinkled with 2 – 3 tablespoons of water, covered, and heated in the oven for the last 20 minutes of the cooking time for the squash. Remove the squash from the oven and place on a warm serving platter. Slice into wedges and serve.

 Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian is co-author, with Brenda Davis, of a series of books that are classics on plant-based nutrition including Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition, the award winning Becoming Vegan: Express Edition and Becoming Raw, and of Cooking Vegan with chef Joseph Forest. She is an internationally known nutrition consultant and speaker, and taught nutrition at the University of British Columbia and at Seattle’s Bastyr University. Professional memberships include the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Dietitians of Canada.


25 responses to “Guest Blog: Healthy Holiday Eating

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  1. Hi Dr. Greger, I am a relatively recent recipient of your wonderful videos, which make a strong case for going vegan.. Can you recommend cookbooks with very simple but very delicious vegan recipes that are truly healthy. I just got a cook book by Isa that is vegan. Some recipes contain coconut milk which I believe you said was not healthy, others contain regular flour.. I want to become vegan but at the moment the task seems daunting without more direction on cook books and recipes that are simple, delicious, and contain relatively inexpensive ingredients. I have bought several cook books but I am not pleased. They mostly contain too many ingredients, taking too long to cook, are too complex , or relatively rare ingredients or even unhealthy ingredients, and many recipes for the most part do not seem that interesting. I would love to hear your recommendations. Also is there a pressure cooker you recommend to cook dry beans that is not that expensive, does the job and is durable? I realize these are mundane questions, but cooking and preparing wholesome, quick delicious meals is where my problem is at the moment.

    1. Happy Herbivore is my recommendation. Her blog at and her cookbooks. She gives calorie content and is no oil. Some coconut milk is used but you can substitute non dairy milk. Also get Jeff Novick’s DVDs on fast food cooking. The discussion boards at are worthwhile too. Dr. McDougall and Mary wrote a Quick and Easy cookbook. Just cook a starch (rice, potatoes, pasta) and add veggies. Be sure to eat a large portion of starch.

    2. I feel for you with your experience of recipes with a gazillion ingredients that take a long time to prepare for mediocre results. I have been eating plant-based for a few years now and I have found that it’s more practical to prepare simple foods. I have collected lots of Forks Over Knives recipes and others but find I don’t use them that often. I cook soups with legumes and throw in lots of herbs, whatever I have on hand. It always tastes good. I learned to cook with a pressure cooker (mine is Fagor). I cook (and even taught my husband to cook) various veggies in the pressure cooker and then keep them in the fridge. I also use it to cook my legumes from dry state, no soaking required. When it’s time for a meal I throw together a variety on my plate–potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, yellow squash, green beans, whatever–and to that add some legumes and/or hummus. I sprinkle on pepper or other herbs. It’s always delicious. It looks like a lot of food but it’s not calorie-dense. I love to think of all the good nutrition in it as compared to a SAD plate. Good luck in exploring your food preparation.

      1. Each to there own Kay. I too like my meals simple, but occasionally i like to have a meal with some recipes. It all depends on the person and what they want to do.

    3. Good luck with your journey. My wife and I have found after acquiring many cookbooks that we often find several that we really like in each one. We also have received many recipes from family and friends that we have incorporated into our regular rotation of meals. Another useful approach at times is just to Google Vegan plus the ingredients you have on hand and you can often find a recipe that fits the occasion. Our family keeps a binder with our favorites so they are easy to find. Congrats on your newly acquired knowledge. Ostrich provided some excellent resources for you to consider. Since individual tastes vary and spices are generally healthy you can modify the simple and inexpensive recipes to suit your own needs. One resource your might consider is The do a monthly free online kick start program and have a free vegetarian starter kit available on line. Good luck.

    4. Ken,

      As far as a pressure cooker, I’ve owned a small Futura and a larger Kuhn-Rikon for stovetop use. My preference is the KR. The Futura didn’t handle foaming foods (grains/beans) well. The KR was a $175-ish investment that’s made a huge difference in ease and convenience of preparing plant-based meals.

      As far as cookbooks, there is no panacea. I have many I pull from. However, if you get a pressure cooker, there are a two vegan pressure cooker cookbooks in which I’ve found some great recipes (authors are Sass and Nussinow). For a non-pressure cooker focused cookbook, I frequently refer to recipes in Cooking the Whole Foods Way by Pirello.

  2. The human carnivors will most likely reject this delicious ensemble, however we, who have changed our lifestyle realize that it is very healthy and life-giving, and it offers the body a constant state of healing and reinforcing the body’s defense mechanism to fight disease and aging.

  3. Have dishes with lots of avacados or nut paste in them. That way the meat eaters don’t miss the meat because plant fats have replaced them. I know someone who says they feel the same after an avacado as they do after a burger.

  4. I just made the stuffed squash recipe tonight as a test drive before Christmas. It works very well. I added some leftover cooked white beans because they were there. It is definitely a lighter alternative to the usual heavy offerings. If you wanted to make it more decadent I imagine you could drizzle an herb infused oil on the contents before, or right after cooking. Would be very nice in smaller, individual squashes.

    1. Yes, Mike. This is true – and we also had this discussion in our own home – what’s the harm two or 3 times a year at family holiday meals. But in the end, we opted to skip the turkey and all the creamed dishes for this reason: For us, it takes a lot of determination and self-control to maintain a whole food plant based diet. If we open the door to a taste of this or that on special occasions, we feel that we may weaken our resolve on the rest of the days of the year, that having a taste now will make it much more of an effort for us tomorrow to again refuse non-vegan foods. Also, having been vegan for about a year now, we still remember how difficult the first few weeks were as we vigorously battled cravings for non-vegan foods. Once we were past the cravings (and knew how to shop and cook), it was easy. I don’t want to have to re-enter the craving period. For one holiday meal, it’s not worth several weeks of fighting cravings. Although, if the traditional meal included broiled lamb chops… I might be willing to pay the price! But I’m glad you made the point. Because I really think that physically, 2-3 times a year couldn’t be that bad. For me, though, it’s the psychological side.

      1. RV, you make it sound like it’s such an ongoing painful chore to be vegan. I’m sorry to hear you’re still suffering from that feeling and lament.

        Maybe I was just lucky. I couldn’t wait to go meatless because I didn’t have to eat gross animal parts anymore. My mom was an amazing cook, so I knew what great tasting animal based meals tasted like. But getting off animal based foods was faster, cheaper, easier and overall, tastier! And eating less fat lets me to eat more of the plant based whole-foods I love. The only thing I craved for awhile was cheese. But then, I also had cravings for a few weeks when I quit dark chocolate to ditch the high sugar and sat-fat. I no longer crave either.

        Once you learn the right seasonings, you can make vegan dishes taste like most meat or chicken dishes if you want. But for me, I don’t care. I like my new dishes for what THEY taste like, not because I can make them taste like stuff that used to make me gag, wondering about if the animal had some disease or too many hormone shots. I just wish I had had the NF site to help me avoid early vegan mistakes, like not taking B12, or eating overly processed foods, and sugar).

        So jump in RV, the water’s fine. Quit lamenting and start rejoicing! Embrace the taste! Who knows, you might go from being the Reluctant Vegan to the Vegan Enthusiast. Happy Holidays.

    2. Um . . . the turkey has died. Needlessly. All tolled in the U.S., more than 45 million turkeys are killed at Thanksgiving and more than 22 million are killed at Christmas.

  5. I so love looking at the kale, red pepper wreath. I enjoy looking at it. I love the stuffed pumpkin recipe. Now, this is what I call ‘healthy’. Pumpkin, not to mention is my husband’s favorite. Not that it’s good for his eyes, but just as papaya, reading through this article I came across with is full of fiber. An ingredient to speed up the metabolism process.

  6. Excellent, of course, and an excellent choice of Guests for your Blog. We both know of many people who would love to be/and would be great guest contributors here. To expand and enhance the content, and give yourself a break, I would like to hear your thoughts and encourage you to consider having a guest post say once a week/or at least once a month. We would all be the beneficiaries.

    Many MANY thanks for all of your contributions on behalf of ALL sentient beings!!!!!

    Happy New Year 2015!!!!

  7. You have shared very useful facts about nutrition and physical health. Such type of blogs should be shared and promoted in order to spread awareness about health. Order quality bricks in London from

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