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Healthier Holiday Cooking

All of my memories of holiday meals involve a table full of beige meat, brown breads, white potatoes, burnt orange pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes polka-dotted with marshmallows and lots of brown sugar, buttery peas of a yellowy-green color, and red gelatinous cranberry sauce out of a can. In terms of color, this is not too bad, but so much of the nutritional value of what you eat depends on how you cook it.

Despite the fatty, salty, and sugary dishes, that food was comforting, and I ate my self into a coma. I remember watching football afterward just so I could still feel active, even though I couldn’t have moved thanks to all that tryptophan in the turkey. While there’s nothing wrong with eating comfort foods during a holiday feast, or even a little indulgence, my idea of comfort has changed. These days, I find more comfort in healthy, crunchy, and rustic foods than mushy, pale ones.

This holiday season, try adding some healthy comfort foods to turn your holiday feast into one that feeds not only your soul, but also your body. After all, the food is just the excuse that brings us together.

Tips when setting your table or making your list:

1. Rethink your drink — Soda and other sugary drinks are a source of empty calories and contain a lot of unnecessary sugar that can lead to cavities, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and mood-swings. Try drinking water, 100 % juice, or milk instead. Other healthy, and tasty, options include herbal holiday tea and natural seltzer sodas made from 100% juice and plain seltzer water.

2. Less meat, more beans — Think about replacing the meat centerpiece with other, more affordable foods that are also high in protein, like beans. Meat can be a healthy food if it is lean and low fat and if it is eaten in moderation. Worried about gas? Try buying dried beans, instead of canned, and soaking them well before cooking. Younger beans, which will be lighter in color and have fewer cracks in them, are less likely to cause gas than older beans. If you must use canned beans, rinse them well before cooking.

3. Choose whole grains — Whole Grains have more vitamins and minerals than highly-processed grains, so try to choose or bake whole wheat bread and rolls and brown rice instead of white bread or rice.

4. Read your food labels — Food labels are your key to a healthy and vibrant holiday meal. They tell you the amount of calories, fiber, and total fat per serving, as well as the healthy and not so healthy ingredients. Try to avoid foods containing high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and high amounts of salt or sugar. Be sure to double check common holiday ingredients like broth, stuffing and gravy mixes, breads, and canned goods.

5. Eat in season — Make this holiday meal full of the bounty of winter’s storage vegetables. Buying food in season is not only better for you, it’s also cheaper. Try acorn, buttercup, butternut, or spaghetti squash, as well as glazed rutabagas, or mashed savory sweet potatoes.

6. Fresh is best/frozen is next — Buying frozen is a great, cheap, and healthy way to use fruits and vegetables that are not in season. Frozen and out of season food are flash frozen, and therefore do not loose all the nutrients that fresh foods do when they travel 2000 miles to reach your local grocery store.

7. Pay attention to portion size — We often eat way more than we need, especially at the holidays. Only eat until you are full. Try tricking yourself by using smaller plates. Compare your portion size to the serving size on the food label, and chew your food slowly. Savor it!

Quick tips for cooking:

1. Don’t overcook your vegetables — Vegetables should be vibrant in color and still a little crunchy, especially those in the brassica family, such a broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts. The longer you cook vegetables, the more nutrients escape. Try steaming, baking, or lightly sautéing instead of boiling or frying.

2. Use less butter and oil — Bake instead of frying, and try substituting low-sodium broth for half of the butter in your mashed potatoes. Use applesauce instead of oil in baked goods.

3. Use less sugar — Use fruit to sweeten your desserts, and cut the sugar by a third.

4. Lower your salt — Use low-sodium broth, and use more herbs and spices to add flavor.

Roasted Roots
Any combination of the following vegetables (enough to cover a large cookie sheet): Beets, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, leeks, onions, rutabagas, winter squash.

2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons butter
garlic salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste

Slice each vegetable 1/4-inch thick. Lightly brush a cookie sheet with olive oil and butter. Coat both sides of the vegetables with the oil from the pan. Season to taste with garlic salt and pepper. Roast in a 500 degree F. oven for 10 minutes or until the vegetables begin to brown. Then turn the vegetables and continue to roast for 5 to 10 minutes more.

Curried Lentil Loaf
1-2 tablespoon canola oil
1 large carrot, grated
1 medium yellow onion, grated or minced
1 large potato, peeled and grated
1 small red bell pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped (can used canned if fresh aren’t in season)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or red chili powder (to taste)
2 cups cooked brown lentils, drained and mashed slightly
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1/4 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a 9×5” loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add carrot, onion, potato, pepper and garlic, and cook until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, curry powder, cayenne and salt, and mix well. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in the lentils Place 1 cup of the lentil/vegetable mixture with the peanut butter in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Fold this into the remaining lentil and vegetable mixture, along with the bread crumbs. Taste and see if more salt is needed, then add mixture to the loaf pan. Bake loaf until firm, about 40-50 minutes. It’s best to let the loaf sit for 15-20 minutes before serving.

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If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1919, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.

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