Guest Blog: Healthy Holiday Eating

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.

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