How to make recipes more nutritious this holiday season

Nov. 1, 2021

As the holidays approach, thoughts turn to tradition, time with family, and yes, food. But just because some recipes may be more indulgent and perhaps only made during certain times of the year, that doesn’t mean nutrition should fall to the wayside.

A table full of healthy foods using these tips on how to make recipes more nutritious.
This Thanksgiving, try adding nutrient-rich ingredients to help make your recipes more nutritious. Photo: Getty Images.

“Instead of saying holiday foods aren’t healthy, reframe your thought to, ‘How can I make this recipe more nutritious?’” said Cara Marrs, a registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “It’s not about making something with fewer calories or lower fat. It’s about adding nutrient density for better nutrition into your favorite holiday food items.”

Incorporate fall fruits and vegetables

Apples, beets, pomegranates, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, chestnuts, pumpkins, winter squash – fall delivers a wave of fresh options.

“We think of summer having this giant bounty, but there is so much good fall produce,” said Marrs. “Root vegetables have been soaking up nutrients from the soil all summer long and are ready.”

Whole artichokes, which are high in fiber and vitamin C, are one of Marrs’ favorites. She roasts them according to her family’s recipe. Wash the vegetable, and trim the stem and leaves to remove sharp points. In a small pan, sauté bread crumbs or almond meal, fresh-squeezed lemon, oregano, basil and fresh garlic. Stuff the mixture between the leaves and place in an oiled parchment bag. Steam for 35-45 minutes. If desired, add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese to finish.

Add greens

Marrs encourages the incorporation of leafy greens into holiday menus. A fresh salad topped with chopped apples, roasted beets and chestnuts and dressed with a vinaigrette can add brightness to any meal.

If green bean casserole has been a staple throughout generations, consider making a smaller portion and offering fresh green beans as well. Pan sauté them with lemon juice and zest, fresh garlic and your favorite spices. Instead of topping with store-bought fried onions, thinly shave leeks and crisp them in a pan with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Stuff your stuffing

“Stuffing is the perfect vehicle for adding extras,” said Marrs. “You can add nutritious ingredients to box versions of stuffing, or you can make it from scratch.”

Consider purchasing sourdough from your local bakery, letting it dry out and then cutting it into cubes. Marrs adds sautéed celery, walnuts and “tons of delicious roasted mushrooms” to increase antioxidants. Instead of using sausage as a main ingredient, consider a smaller amount to add flavor, along with herbs such as sage, thyme and rosemary.

Don’t waste time peeling potatoes

A potato’s fiber is in the skin, so save time and skip peeling them. And don’t feel that you have to make the same mashed potatoes year after year.

“One holiday, I cooked sweet potatoes, left the skin on, mashed them and added coconut milk and red curry paste for a delicious and fiery potato. You could mash them with ginger and honey, too,” Marrs said.

Protein has a place at the table

While turkey and ham are typically found on holiday tables, other options are possible.

“Who’s to say you can’t have salmon or a really nice trout?” said Marrs. “For people who don’t eat meat, a great vegetarian option is walnut, lentil and mushroom loaves.’’

If you do cook a turkey, Marrs encourages you to use the carcass to make bone broth.

“Don’t lose those nutrients,” she said. “Find a pot big enough to cover the carcass with water, and add all the leftover spices, herbs and vegetables, especially leeks, carrots and celery, and let it cook/simmer/boil for a few hours.”

Switch up dessert

Each slice of pumpkin pie filling delivers vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C and iron, but this year, instead of a traditional crust made with butter or lard, consider a soft crust. Mix almond meal, flaxseed, melted coconut oil, and cinnamon or nutmeg into a crumble and press it into the dish.

Or, for something different, layer fresh berries into a pretty glass, top with a dollop of homemade whipped cream and garnish with a bit of shaved dark chocolate or chopped nuts.

“Fall is a season of change,” said Marrs. “Why not change up your holiday menu, too, to make it more nutrient-dense?”

Marrs recommends Magic Mineral Broth and Gregg’s Stuffed Acorn Squash with Quinoa, Cranberries and Swiss Chard recipe from, and Ultimate Vegan Lentil Walnut Loaf recipe from

This story first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot.

About the author

Lindsey Reznicek is a communications specialist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She has spent the last ten years working in marketing and communications in health care, an industry she never considered but one to which she's contributed through her work in media relations, executive messaging and internal communications. She considers it an honor to interact with patients and write about their experiences; it’s what keeps her coming back to work each day.

A native of Nebraska, Lindsey received a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a focus on public relations, from the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University – she bleeds purple.

She could see a Broadway musical every week, is a huge animal lover, enjoys a good shopping trip, and likes spending time in the kitchen. Lindsey and her husband have two daughters and enjoy hiking in the summer and skiing all winter long.