Healthy Holiday Eating

Holidays are times that we look forward to as it usually means time away from work, often travelling to see interesting places or people, and feasting!  There are specific foods that we look forward to for summer holidays, as well as Christmas and Easter, but this article will focus on Thanksgiving.

The origin of this feast as its name implies, comes from giving thanks to God for a bountiful harvest, successful hunting, and by implication, all of the blessings that we enjoy in abundance.  Therefore it is appropriate to get out the fine china, pour a festive wine, and indulge in a generous dinner of our favourite and traditional foods with our family and friends.  

The very act of spending time together, purchasing or harvesting quality ingredients, and preparing them thoughtfully is a good and worthwhile practice.  It brings us closer to our food and to each other.  The problem is that we tend to overindulge, in particular in foods that are not necessarily good for us.  While having a “treat” from time to time is well and good, an overconsumption of rich foods during the holidays has led many a person to the Emergency Room and sets the stage for a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits. 

Hence, it is worthwhile to remember a few principles of healthy holiday eating – and I will share a few recipes from my wife, Vivian, who is passionate about making healthy foods taste delicious!

  1. Drink 2 glasses of water prior to the meal.  Good hydration starts to trigger satiety receptors and reduces ravenous hunger.  Also, if you drink wine or beer with your meal, have one glass of water for each glass of wine or beer.
  2. Eat slowly to avoid overeating, pausing between courses.  Clean up the kitchen or have a cup of tea with your guests before diving into dessert.  In Okinawa, Japan, which is an area of the world known for longevity they have an expression: hara hachi bu which translates to “eat until you are 80% full”.
  3. Fill up on high fibre, low calorie foods such as salads (watch the dressing), veggie soup, beans and grains – in other words, low-fat, whole food, plant-based options and limit the intake of rich diary or meat choices.  For appies, hover near the raw veggie plate rather than the chips or cheese.  
  4. Eat mindfully.  Concentrate on your food and where it came from, how it was grown, who harvested it, and how it was prepared.  Experience it with all your senses.  Enjoy the appearance of your food, and then savour the smell and the taste leisurely rather than gulping it down.

Some of our holiday favourites include big salads with numerous leafy greens such as arugula, baby kale, and spinach, along with some red cabbage, tomatoes, bell peppers, and shredded carrots.  Add pickled red beets, some fruit such as apples, pears, blueberries, orange segments or whatever else you like, as well as a sprinkle of lightly toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds.  Avoid heavy dressings; with a salad like this all you need is a bit of balsamic vinegar (and if you wish, olive oil).

Another staple is oven roasted root vegetables.  This can include wedges of new potatoes, yams, red and yellow beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, and fennel.  Lightly seasoned and baked until warm and soft, but not overdone.

A nice butternut squash or carrot soup is a good opener.  I will include a recipe for a delicious carrot soup, as well as a tasty curried lentil salad as a protein option.  Both of these are totally plant based recipes and will satisfy even the most discriminating palate.

Yummy Carrot Soup

A carrot and coconut soup with honey, ginger, and cardamom-serves 6-8.

5 to 6 carrots, peeled and diced

1 medium yam, peeled and diced

1 medium white onion, diced

1 to 2 celery stalks, diced

2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

2 cans (19 oz) low fat coconut milk

2 cups orange juice

3-4 cups water

½ cup raw cashews, soaked in water, drained

1 to 2 tsp. honey

Juice and zest of 1 lime (organic if possible)

Pinch of turmeric, coriander and cardamom

Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted

½ bunch fresh mint or parsley, chopped (garnish)

In a large heavy pot on high heat, bring carrots, yams, onion, celery, ginger, coconut milk, orange juice, water, spices, honey and lime juice to a boil. 

Turn the heat to low and simmer the soup for 1 hour, or until the vegetables are very soft. 

Using a blender or a hand blender, puree soup until very smooth. Gradually add cashews and puree as well.  Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Garnish servings with mint or parsley, toasted coconut and cashews and lime zest.  


Best Lentil Salad Ever!

A zesty curried lentil salad that serves 4-6

2 cans of lentils (540 ml. each)

1 medium red onion, diced
1 cup craisins (you could also use raisins, currants, apricots or other dried fruit)
1/3 cup capers (drained) -optional

1/4 cup cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1-2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. strong mustard
2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

1. Rinse and drain lentils thoroughly.  Place in large mixing bowl.

2. Add the diced onions, craisins, and capers.  Mix well.

3. In a glass jar mix the oil, vinegar, mustard and maple syrup, add the spices.  IF THIS LIST OF SPICES looks ridiculously long don’t worry - there is a spice mix found in the East Asian cooking aisle called Garam Masala that is a combination of all of these spices.  You could just use 3 to 4 teaspoons of that instead, and perhaps use a touch more pepper to taste. Shake well to combine. 

4. Stir the dressing into the lentil mixture. Feel free to add more vegetables … diced cucumbers, diced peppers, tomatoes ... or some sliced almonds would be great as well. 

5. Serve cold with arugula lettuce and fresh parsley.