Nutrition Bites: Rethinking Holiday Meals

Holiday season is in full swing, and for many people that means one last time to indulge before the New Year begins. However, that doesn't mean you have to derail the progress you have made this year. There are plenty of ways to incorporate a healthy lifestyle into holiday fun. One great way to make your holiday dinner a little healthier this year is to leave out the meat.

With so many other decadent holiday dishes, a meatless dinner can be a great way to cut out some saturated fat and calories. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine advises that decreased intake of saturated fats, found primarily in animal products, can significantly reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Furthermore, the Journal of General Internal Medicine published a study that found eating plant-based meals significantly helps shed extra pounds. If you are worried about getting all of the nutrients you need, rest assured that the American Dietetic Association states that well-planned plant-based diets are nutritionally adequate and may be beneficial in prevention and treatment of some illnesses.

Meals centered around vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds are generally less expensive and are richer in nutrients. Some recipes may require different ingredients than you are used to buying, so make sure to plan ahead. Whether you are hosting vegetarian guests or you want to get creative in the kitchen, this holiday season is a great time to try something new. Plus, without a turkey or ham to keep an eye on you'll have more time to spend with loved ones!

Most side dishes and salads are already meatless, so here are some hearty main dish ideas to keep you full and satisfied:

Garlic Butter Mushroom Risotto:

  • 1 1/2 cups baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice, uncooked
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Splash of white wine

1. Heat 2 tbsp butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add 2 cloves of garlic and saute’ until fragrant (1-2 minutes). Add the rice and toss with the butter and garlic to coat.
2. Add 1 cup broth to the mixture and stir until mostly evaporated. Continue this process 1/2 cup at a time for about 15-20 minutes, or until the rice is almost completely soft and takes on a creamy texture.
3. In a separate pan, heat 1 tbsp of butter and saute’ the remaining garlic. Add the sliced mushrooms and saute’ until browned. Add a splash of wine, then stir in the spinach until wilted. Transfer this mixture to the risotto pan and top with cheese.

Chestnut Wellington Roast:

  • 2 1/2 cups fresh spinach
  • 2 leeks, finely sliced
  • 6 sprigs thyme, chopped
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 cups cooked chestnuts, quartered
  • 3/4 cup goat cheese
  • 17 oz package of puff pastry
  • 1 medium egg yolk
  • 2 tsp milk

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring some water to boil in a pot. Add the spinach and blanch it for 1 minute. Drain the spinach and shock it in cold water. Drain again and roughly chop it.
2. Heat the butter in a large pan over medium heat and gently cook the leeks until softened and translucent. Add the mushrooms, thyme, and garlic and saute’ for 5 more minutes or until softened. Remove from heat and stir in the chestnuts. Let the mixture cool. Transfer this mixture to a large bowl and stir in the cheese and spinach.
3. Dust the counter with flour and roll the puff pastry dough into a 14 × 11 inch rectangle. Form the mixture into a loaf shape in the middle of the pastry dough. Whisk together the egg yolk and milk and brush along the edges of the pastry. Carefully wrap the pastry around the filling, sealing the ends together and crimp with a fork. Brush with more egg-milk mixture and bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden and crisp.

More meatless dish ideas:
Veggie Pot Pie
Pumpkin Soup
Stuffed Acorn Squash
Veggie Shepherd's Pie

By Mikka Knapp, Dietetic Intern at the Tulane PRC
December 2016

(Photo “Creamy shiitake mushroom risotto” courtesy of Heidi De Vries under a Creative Commons license, Attribution 2.0 Generic)

(Nutrition Bites is a recurring feature that appears regularly in the Tulane PRC’s e-newsletters and covers nutrition and health tips. If you have any suggestions for Nutrition Bites topics, please contact Naomi Englar at or 504-988-7410.)

Topics:   nutrition , diet , food environment , food marketing

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