Eating Well During the Holidays

The summer crops are all tilled under now with sparrows and finches pecking at leftover seeds and bugs. Winter crops are being planted as soil dries enough to allow walking between rows. Seedlings for greens, snow peas and sweet turnips are getting their starts under gray, fuzzy sky. This weather tells us that the season of comfort food and nostalgic indulgences has arrived.DSCF5204.JPG

But what if your health and/or sensitivities really need you to stay on track? Let’s have a few goals: Continue eating fresh produce; Limit sweets and processed foods; Savor every bite mindfully; Share; Love the nostalgia, but let’s avoid eating our feelings to the point we create new regrets.

I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 40 holiday seasons’ worth of social awkwardness, challenges and gotcha questions, lack of satisfying foods, etc. I have been at that party where dinner was hours behind schedule, and then the lone “vegetarian” dish had shrimp in it. (What tree do you suppose shrimp grow on!?!?) I’ll admit I was cranky, not the most gracious guest. Not proud of it.

So I have some suggestions to help things stay festive and friendly:

Let people know in advance about your limitations, and tell them, “Don’t to go to any trouble for me, but I don’t want to make you feel bad if I don’t eat something.” Don’t say I “don’t do” tomatoes. Explain allergies or long-term food practices (vegetarian, vegan etc.) clearly.

Bring a dish to share that makes you happy and full. Feeling hangry can spoil any event (see my bad example above). Hit the farmers’ market to see what is in season and what appeals to your senses. Save experimental, exotic dishes that scream “hippy health-nut!” for another time. Think “kid-friendly”, even among adults. Show-off casseroles like a veggie tamale pie or a vegetable Wellington will satisfy everyone My maple-coconut yams are picky kid-tested. Who needs sugary marshmallows?

Holiday Yams


3 large sweet potatoes (mix purple and orange colors if you like), sliced into 1/4 inch rounds

1/2 c finely chopped walnuts

1/2 c shredded coconut

1/2 c butter (substitute), melted

1/2 c orange juice

1/2 c maple syrup


Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Mix melted butter, orange juice and maple syrup and set aside.

In a casserole dish, layer slices of sweet potato to cover the bottom.

Sprinkle coconut and nuts over the slices, then add another layer of sweet potatoes, more coconut and nuts, etc until you fill the casserole dish.

Sprinkle nuts and coconut over the top, the pour the liquid evenly over the whole dish.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the liquid is bubbling, sweet potatoes are tender, and the top is a little browned.


Don’t throw the traditional baby out with the bath-water! Small adjustments can save the day! Wild rice blends can make a rice dish richer AND healthier. Green beans can be cooked with a homemade mushroom duxelle (sauté and make gravy-like) rather than canned soup. Pies can be more fruit than sugar and flour, and the crust and sweeteners can be healthier. Try an almond flour crust and maple syrup for sweetening. More cinnamon too!

Hold out for the tastiest indulgences with the most nostalgia-value. Candy canes can just be decorations, unless you wait all year for them. Remember the Seinfeld episode about eating a Snickers bar with a fork and knife? Elevate your treat! Savor slowly focusing on the exquisiteness of a treat. A small amount on a big plate – the way the French plate their restaurant food – can encourage mindfulness. Or just the opposite! Take a small plate and load it so it looks like a huge portion, putting healthy stuff on your plate first, the less nutritious stuff around that.

Find an ally! Don’t be marginalized in your own family. Invite co-conspirators into the kitchen while you are preparing food or sit with a health-conscious relative at the dinner table. Holidays are no time to feel lonely and left out, munching on twigs and leaves and resentment. Incidentally, celery may help lower blood pressure…not that the holidays are stressful!

Don’t apologize for your choices, and don’t debate. Tell people your food choices make you feel good physically and mentally. That’s all. And be grateful we can make such choices for ourselves. Gratitude = happiness.

Watch out for sugary drinks. Put sparkling water in any juice to reduce sugar and make it bubbly-special. Spicy chai or a low-sugar/non-dairy hot chocolate with a drop of peppermint extract can warm you up. Ginger or peppermint tea works if your stomach feels nasty from the hubbub. And try this fruit-filled Mexican-style punch:

Make 1 quart of strong hibiscus tea
Add it to 4 more quarts of water in a pot
Chop and add a couple of guavas, a pear, an apple, an orange and some prunes
Add 2 sticks of cinnamon and several 4 inch sticks of fresh sugar cane. Add a few slices of ginger and a pinch of clove if you like. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for an hour. Sweeten as needed. Strain and serve hot

Give yourself the gift of some space. Schedule regular walks for your “digestion”. A constitutional, as they used to be called. Take a breather from stuffy air, germs, and most of all people.  I’m going out to walk the dogs around the field right now.



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