Insights & Actions for Healthy Living
Recipe Renovation® for the Holidays – Putting a Healthy Twist on Tradition

Recipe Renovation® for the Holidays – Putting a Healthy Twist on Tradition

Many are beginning a search for ways to update their holiday family favorite recipes, without changing their whole menu, so that they can get healthier without abandoning tradition.

That is an important (and timely) wish.

When we think about the holidays and all the times when we will be gathering with family and friends, from now all the way through the New Year, we replay the same traditional menu with recipes we have used for many years.

These are usually our favorites, having been passed down through our families, and we automatically make them again and again. They may be easy to prepare, make enough for a crowd, or requested by the guests.

As we become more health conscious and have a world of foods available to us, foods our grandparents and great grandparents did not, we are finding that we want to meld tradition with health but struggle with how exactly we can accomplish that.

Unfortunately, with our busy lives, we don’t have a lot of time to strategize about each recipe or ingredient to create a healthy version of the foods we all love. 

Recipe Renovation Tips

Here are some Recipe Renovation® tips that we can all use to update our family favorites to keep the traditions alive but also begin new healthier traditions for our entire family.

Turkey and Ham

Turkey and ham are the mainstays of the menu. Both can be loaded with salt from added brine or curing depending on the product you buy. If you want to cut out the added salt in your traditional menu but still keep these seasonal favorites on the menu, try these choices.

  • turkey NFHOIBuy turkey that has not been injected with brine, if possible. Searching out a fresh turkey from the farmer who hasn’t added brine is one option. If you don’t have a farmer on the corner, try ordering online.
  • If all else fails, look in the grocery store for a version of turkey that has the least amount of sodium injected as brine. Some are 8-9.5% up to 15% injected brine, with sodium amounts per 4 oz. serving of 400 mg (or more). Read the nutrition facts panel on the different brands of bird to compare what is available in your supermarket. A natural bird will have about 70 mg per serving of sodium. Now the sodium level is in your control and you can choose to add more or not in your own kitchen. 
  • Read the label of different hams you might buy to see which has the lowest sodium content per serving. Be aware, 4 oz. of some ham contains as much sodium as a day’s recommended intake. Because it is a cured product, totally avoiding sodium is not possible but a lower sodium version is available. If eating ham, try using fresher menu items and side dishes with low sodium so you don’t overdo sodium with just one meal.
  • Use low sodium broth or bouillon in your recipes for gravy, side dishes and stuffing. Better yet, make your own chicken or turkey broth using a previous carcass. This will save money, utilize the food you already have and it can be easily frozen for later use. (Tip: use this year’s turkey to make broth for future recipes)

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is a quintessential side dish no Thanksgiving table is without.

  • Use fresh cranberries in your traditional cranberry sauce to make your own instead of getting it out of a can. You can control the added sugar amount and add in special touches such as mandarin orange slices, golden raisins, diced pears or apples and other seasonings that are family favorites.

Stuffing and Dinner Rolls

Whether you stuff the bird or bake dressing in a dish, use celery or water chestnuts or pop open a crescent roll pack, we love to serve stuffing and dinner rolls each time we bring the family together at the dinner table for the holidays. 

  • Use whole grain bread in your stuffing and bread basket instead of white bread and rolls.
  • Mix it up with new types of rolls to put into your bread basket fresh from the supermarket bakery that add variety and whole grain goodness. How about a 9 grain roll, raisin pecan, pumpernickel, or panini?

Vegetable Side Dishes

Who says we have to have mashed sweet potatoes and green bean casserole every year?

  • Add a tradition to your holiday table by preparing a side salad and taking advantage of in season produce such as roasted beets and carrots, mixed greens with persimmons, kale with cranberries and pistachios, or a roasted autumn salad (roast root vegetables, acorn squash, beets, brussels sprouts, carrots, potatoes and serve with a vinaigrette).
  • Roast sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, fingerling potatoes with brussels sprouts, parsnips, winter squash, cauliflower or broccoli using olive oil, garlic, and herbs.
  • Bake the sweet potatoes this year to bypass the effort and added ingredients of mashing or casseroles with marshmallows. Buy sweet potatoes in the smallest size you can find for baking or be ready to cut in half to portions that aren’t overwhelming to your guests.
  • Offer a raw vegetable tray too. Have you seen them made in the shape of a gingerbread house using carrot sticks, celery and cauliflower pieces? Having raw vegetables gives you and your guest an option to lighten up and keep it fresh.
  • Many people have adopted a green bean casserole into their holiday lineup but, while delicious and tempting, this family favorite can add to the sodium and calorie count of the total meal. You could substitute low sodium canned or frozen green beans, lower sodium or healthy/fat free version of cream of mushroom soup, and low fat instead of whole milk dairy to lower sodium and fat content of this standby recipe.
  • green beans NFHOIWhy not go back to some tried and true recipes using fresh green beans such as green bean almondine, green beans with pine nuts, green beans with pecans, green beans with caramelized onions, lemon pepper green beans, or sautéed green beans with fresh mushrooms. Our grandmothers probably didn’t make green bean casserole with canned soup. Try out my easy to make recipe using fresh beans and mushrooms for a change from the usual fare that will sure to please every green bean lover.


Who can leave the party without something for dessert?

  • We know we are going to have trouble with some family members if pumpkin pie is not on the dessert table, but why not offer a fruit plate in the shape of a turkey or holiday tree. Everyone may not want to be weighed down with sweets after filling up their plate with other foods.
  • Make dessert in small portions such as shot glasses, tarts or bite size servings for those who only want to have a taste and not the whole piece.

There are always ways to renovate your recipes this holiday and incorporate fresh, in season ingredients into your family recipes. Using more healthy ingredients that are lower in sodium and fat will allow you to serve a healthier menu while continuing to give the guests what they expect. Adding new items a few at a time can help you establish new family traditions. 

When you get right down to it, spending time with family and friends and making memories together is important. The healthier we eat, the longer we can enjoy each other’s company!


Sauteed Green Beans and Mushrooms
Serves 8
Fresh, delicious and quick way to add flavor to any holiday meal for the health of it!
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  1. Extra Virgin Olive (EVO) oil, 1 Tablespoon
  2. Fresh green beans, 1 pound, washed and trimmed of stem end
  3. Mushrooms, 8 oz, rinsed and pat dry, sliced
  4. Fresh ground pepper, 1/8 tsp or to taste
  1. Add EVO oil to sauté or fry pan and heat over medium heat.
  2. Add green beans and cook stirring often, allow some browned spots to develop.
  3. Note: If you prefer your green beans to be softer, remove them with a slotted spoon and cook in a little water for about 5 minutes to tenderize.
  4. In the meantime, sauté the mushrooms in the pan using the remaining oil.
  5. Add the green beans to mix thoroughly.
  6. Crack fresh ground pepper into the mixture.
  7. Add-ins: If you would like to add a bit of variety for your guests, you can add in sliced onions or pearl onions, diced fresh tomatoes, or any variety of nuts.
  1. You can purchase fresh mushrooms whole or already sliced.
  2. I prefer my green beans with lots of fresh cracked pepper, so taste it and then adjust the amount based on your preferences.
Nutrition for the Health of It

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