We all have our comfort foods. Mine happens to be a big bowl of pasta with marinara—and lots of parmesan. While comfort foods tend to be starchy and packed with the dreaded white carbs, that’s not the case for all. From swapping purple yams for ordinary spuds to sneaking in veggies to hearty soups, there are several ways to add extra nutrition to our traditional holiday foods. Keep these seven pointers at hand as you prep for Thanksgiving and all your festive winter meals.
1. Sweet Potato Switch
This is the easiest swap by far. Upgrade your spuds using yams and sweet potatoes. You get a big serving of happiness-promoting pro-vitamin A carotenoids, healthier carbs and more magnesium—the mineral that helps keep you calm (not that anyone is frenzied during the holidays). And please banish the candied yam from your table. These are naturally sweet, so keeping them simple is best. Bake in the oven, add a pat of butter and enjoy. I’m currently hooked on purple yams.
2. Slow and Easy Slow Cooker
This is your #1 secret weapon this season. Use the slow cooker to feed the crowd with savory soups and slow-cooked roasts. The slow cooker lets you pile on the vegetables—a key to thriving this time of year. I am amazed with how much time and fuss gets cut out from meal prep. Literally, drop in your ingredients, push go and walk away for six hours. Start with an easy lentil soup (lentils, carrots, onion, water and herbs). For a great set of recipes, check out these by chef Jennifer Iserloh.
3. Where’s the Beef ?
As we continue to celebrate food—and especially plants—meat is often missing from lists of superfoods. To remedy that, try six hours in the slow cooker to turn low-cost, lower-calorie, nutrient-dense cuts into delicious entrees. In the mood for upgrades? Try more veggies and better meat. Go grass-fed with the beef by heading to your local butcher who does it right, like Kensington Quarters in Philly.
4. Blend in the Greens
Whatever your carb-comfort, please follow this rule: add Greens. Whether it is sautéed Swiss chard to your marina, kale pesto to your mac-n-cheese or simply starting all meals with a colorful salad, be sure to cross this color off your holiday eating checklist.
5. Nutty Additions
Nuts are completely underrated and usually relegated to a lonely bowl to hold the nutcracker. What a waste! Nuts are among the healthiest foods on the planet, packed with great fats like oleic acid that fights heart disease and low mood. They also have a lot of vitamin E that protects your brain fat. People worry that nuts are adding calories, but remember, nuts have fat and protein that make you feel full so you can pull in the reins on your carb quest.
6. Don’t Forget the Little Fish
When you say ‘holiday,’ I say ‘anchovy!’—which is weird, but trust me, small fish like anchovies and sardines make any dish healthier. By adding garlic, lemon zest and anchovies, a pasta dish gets a nice finish with omega-3 fats (the healthiest fat on the planet) and sulfuric phytonutrients from the garlic that battle bad bacteria. Small fish means you don’t need to worry about mercury. My go-to dishes are anchovy pasta or a quick all kale caesar salad with a dressing of mayo, garlic, lemon zest and juice, touch of mustard and anchovies.
7. Make Real Hot Cocoa
Oh yes, the science is in—and it is good news for you this holiday! A colleague at Columbia University, Scott Small, M.D., gave a special dark chocolate drink to people with memory loss. The results need to be replicated, but people reversed age-related mild memory loss with about a 25% improvement. This means folks in their 60s had the memory of 40 year olds. Mix real cacao powder, honey and whole milk. Oh, how sweet the holiday season can be.