The holidays are chock-full of sugar and spice and everything that’s not so nice for our immune systems. Everywhere we turn there are refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, processed sugars and artificial colors.
Studies have shown that excess fats and sugars harm the immune system. Fatty acids, like polyunsaturated fats found in liquid oils and fatty fish, suppress the immune system and keep it from functioning properly. While polyunsaturated fats are better for you than saturated fats, it’s important to consume everything in moderation.
Of course, don’t forget about excess sugar! Sugar inhibits your body from performing the functions that destroy viruses and bacteria. This allows the foreign invaders to grow, flourish and, inevitably, make you sick.
Processed foods, like refined carbohydrates, can shut down your body’s ability to fight off infections. Foods typical of a “Western diet” in the U.S. include packaged salad dressing, boxed cereal and canned soup.
This Season, You Can Do Better for Your Health
Although the holidays only come but once a year, many of us celebrate from Thanksgiving to New Years which can be a bit much for our health. Choose to make healthier decisions! We’ve compiled 13 approaches to upgrade some holiday party standards, and make them cute to boot!
These tasty little shrimp bites are big on flavor and small on calories.
- 30 raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 3/4 cup orange marmalade or apricot preserves
- 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix marmalade and soy sauce. Pour 1/4 of the mixture over shrimp and marinade for 15 minutes. Place on a baking sheet and roast shrimp until they a have just become opaque, pink, and curled up a bit. This should take about 4 minutes per side. Thread two shrimp per skewer or toothpick. Brush on remaining sauce, or keep it to the side for dipping.
Brussel sprout leaves with butternut squash puree.
- 30 large brussel sprout leaves from about 10 Brussels sprouts
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 can butternut squash purée
- ¼ c grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp poultry seasoning
- 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
Sauté garlic and shallots in butter on medium heat for two minutes. Add remaining ingredients, sans Brussels sprouts, and mix well. Remove from heat. While squash mixture cools slightly, collect 30 leaves from Brussels sprouts. Spoon one tablespoon into each sprout leaf. Garnish each with toasted sliced almonds and shaved Parmesan.
If you’d like to serve a veggie tray, jazz up the presentation of the tired and familiar and make it a little more holiday-friendly.
Arrange celery, cucumbers, thin bell pepper slices, cherry tomatoes, and pea pods to replicate an edible decorated tree.
Leave the carrots to the side and label them “snowman noses” to humor the kids at your gathering. Serve low-fat sour cream or homemade yogurt dip alongside.
Red & Green Pinwheels
Rollups like these have endless variations of filling possibilities, but this is a very simple and popular version.
- 5 spinach (green) flour tortilla wraps
- 5 tomato (red) flour tortilla wraps
- 2 8 oz. packages Neufatel cheese, room temperature
- 1 bunch thinly sliced scallions
- ½ cup chopped chopped olives
Mix cream cheese with scallions and olives, and spread thick and even distributions of mixture onto the tortillas. Roll up, slice, and serve cold or room temperature. For extra special presentation, lay the rollups down in the shape or a flat or 3-D tree.
It’s great to find unique and delicious ways to incorporate a healthy grain into your party spread. These can be made in advance, stored in the refrigerator, and warmed in the oven when you’re ready for them. This recipe yields about 34 pieces.
- 2 cups cooked quinoa
- 1 small jar of roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients thoroughly.
Spray a 24-count mini-muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray, spraying the top of the pan as well to prevent sticking. Place one tablespoon of the mixture in each muffin slot and bake for 15-20 minutes.
Snowflakes & Crackers
This crowd-pleaser couldn’t be easier. Using a snowflake cookie cutter, stamp out shapes from white cheese slices. Use cheese slice scraps for sandwiches or topping homemade pizza. Place cheese snowflakes on top of a whole grain cracker and serve.
Reindeer Cheese Blocks
Kids will love these easy and adorable cheesy reindeer bites garnished with pretzels and pomegranates to give the cute reindeer appearance.
- 8 cheese triangles
- 16 pretzels
- 8 pomegranate seeds
These are fun and straightforward finger sandwiches. Fill whole grain bread with what kids go for: turkey and mustard, almond butter and jelly, or sliced cucumbers and Neufatel cheese. Cut the sandwich diagonally into four pieces.
Add a pretzel to the two top corners to form antlers. Add raisins for eyes, and a pomegranate seed or raspberry for a red nose. If you’d like, you can adhere the garnishes with a dab of yogurt.
Snowman Popcorn Cups
Popcorn is such a beloved snack that also happens to be relatively low in calories. Expect both kids and adults to indulge.
Draw a snowman face on clear plastic cups, about one per guest, plus a few extras. Tie a red ribbon around each cup to make a scarf. Simply fill with white popcorn for a festive snack.
Many different dips, both savory and sweet, can be made from a surprising secret ingredient: white beans! Chances are no one will know they’re dipping into a healthy dessert.
- 1 can white beans, rinsed and well-drained
- ½ c brown sugar
- 1/3 c molasses
- 1/3 c nut butter
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
- ½ tsp. ground ginger
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. baking soda
Place all ingredients in a food processor, or use a potato masher, and puree thoroughly. If it looks a bit too thick, add a bit of almond milk. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve room temperature with your choice of dippers. Some great pairs are ginger snaps, vanilla wafers, gingerbread men, graham crackers, apple slices tossed in lemon juice, almond thins, or even pretzels.
This is the easiest fudge you will ever make, and it’s good for you! Old fashioned fudge requires a candy thermometer to heat ingredients such as butter, milk, white sugar, corn syrup, and sweetened condensed milk to a specific temperature. With this recipe that calls for no cooking, no dairy, and no refined sugar, you have found your new favorite treat!
- 1/2 cup extra virgin coconut oil
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. peppermint extract, or 2 drops peppermint essential oil
- 2 candy canes, crushed
Line a loaf pan with parchment paper. Warm up the coconut oil in the microwave for 15 seconds to make sure it is in liquid form. Stir in the honey, cocoa powder, salt and peppermint until well combined. Pour into the prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle on crushed candy cane.
Place fudge in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. When ready to serve, cut them into pieces. Keep chilled while serving.
Instead of peppermint, you can top fudge with walnuts, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, white chocolate chips, or unsweetened dried fruit instead. You can also swirl in orange marmalade, raspberry jam, or peanut butter.
Also referred to as “apple brownies”, this recipe yields 16 bars, so don’t forget to double the ingredients if you’re expecting more visitors.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3/4 cup honey
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 medium apples, cored and finely chopped
- ½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ¼ tsp. salt
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan, or for easy cleanup, line pan with parchment paper.
Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat it with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy. Gradually add the honey while continuing to beat. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until creamy. Stir in the chopped apples and nuts.
In a separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.
Gently stir the flour mixture into the apple mixture. Spread the mixture evenly into the prepared pan.
Bake 30-40 minutes. Cool completely and cut into squares.
It’s important to remember that winter is a time when vulnerability to contagious illness is at an annual high. With high vulnerability, we don’t want to continue to compromise our health during the most wonderful time of the year with excess sugar and chemicals. Our immune systems are already working harder to battle colds and flus, strep, sinus infections and bronchitis. If our immune system is already more prone to contagious illness, imagine how much more challenging it can be to fight off more serious ailments like cardiovascular disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, hypertension and diabetes. We know better, so let’s do better. Together we can give ourselves the gift of good health and wellness.