American Holiday Meals: Variations on Old Time Favorites

healthy holiday cookingHolidays don’t need to be a time when we fear the table. It’s a time to celebrate, emphasis should be on gathering together; not stressing about the food.

Many of us have food intolerance or allergies that keep us mindful of the foods we are served.

When out to dinner with friends we may be the one that asks repeated questions of the server about the ingredient listing and endless requests for substitutions mimicking the likes of Sally in the film “When Harry Met Sally.” Thankfully, restaurants are becoming more aware of these needs and attending to their customers with this in mind.

But unlike restaurants the culture at home with our families can be at times less accommodating.  You need to take care of yourself when it comes to food choices and the challenge may be how to be inclusive of your family and their respective meals.

We can at times feel stifled when our health consciousness meets the family table.  We don’t want to make a big deal of our needs at the table; while at the same time we know we will be utterly miserable without them.  So what are we to do?

Creating a holiday meal that can be enjoyed by both you and your loved ones is a goal.   Here are a few variations on some old-time “American traditional favorites” that encourage continued enjoyment of those dishes you look forward to, while being mindful of our health.  Whether it’s a simple ingredient swap or a  new take on the main dish, there are so many choices for us to help us in the kitchen.


1. Lasagna- (gluten, dairy, meats) A tofu and spinach lasagna is low-fat goodness.  Using  tofu and pea-based cheeses like “Daiya” along with gluten-free pasta (Note: Following package guidelines for cooking time and temp can be very helpful with this) are an easy swap for meat, cheese and wheat.

2. Apple Pie- (cornstarch)- Recipes for apple pie can ask for cornstarch to be mixed in along with flour.  Substitute the cornstarch for thickening ingredients like arrowroot or kuzu.  Arrowroot has gained familiarity within baking recipes but kuzu is one you might add to your list.  Kuzu root starch is a great strengthener for your intestines and is easy to incorporate into baking recipes. (Note: Follow the packaging guidelines for preparation).

3. Mashed Potatoes- (butter, dairy)- A typical mashed potato dish will surely have butter and cream if not milk.  Adding in a mixture of flaxseed oil with a bit of umeboshi plum paste and water can create the same desired effect of rich, creamy deliciousness you find with those other ingredients.  You will swear it taste just like butter.  Sprinkle some chopped up nuts on top and you are good to go.

4. Green Beans- (an allergen when avoiding legumes) –  Green beans can be thought of as a completely wholesome vegetable.  But for those who are avoiding legumes, it needs to be avoided.  Easy swap is to  substitute the green beans for a mixed green dish using various kales.  Any local supermarket is usually stocked with at least two varieties, with their rich dark green and purple hues they make for a beautiful hearty side dish.  Add some crushed nuts like walnuts or seeds such as hemp or sesame for the crunch you’d get with the green beans.

5. Pudding (gluten, dairy, sugar)- Rice pudding is a no brainer substitute for a pudding.  choose brown rice as your base, cook it long and slow, creamy texture will develop.  Adding the sweetness from rice syrup, with cinnamon, vanilla and a bit of milk substitutes (almond, hemp, rice).  Chia pudding is another options if your family is really open to something new.

6. Cranberry Sauce- (sugar) Cranberries are notoriously delicious; healthy exception when they are souped in sugar.  Sugar substitutes are plentiful on the market today.  Rice syrup is a natural, choose a darker variety.  Other idea is to combine cranberries with sweet currents, gogi berries or better yet fresh berries you may have frozen from your summer pickings.  You can spice it up with some ginger and lemon too.

7. Macaroni and Cheese (dairy, gluten, meat)- Mac and cheese can become cheesier with varieties on tofu or pea based cheeses  as I mention for the lasagna, tofu crumbles and no sugar added/ unflavored rice milks.  Butternut squash can added a bit of sweetness when mashed up and combined in a casserole and baked.

I hope these American traditional holiday favorites still appeal to you with these simple ingredient swaps.  The hope is that they will give you a chance to sit with your family and friends and enjoy a meal.  Whether these dishes are a part of your family tradition or someone else’s you know, a variation is sure to be received by you and them with equal joy.

In health with hopes for a peaceful, tasty holiday meal,






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