by Christel Swasey
The wonderfully, frightfully delicious holiday season is upon us.
Along with adding holiday pounds by overindulging in too many rich foods, we also add to our health risks for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease.
There is nothing merry about that!
So, while I do not want to squash holiday food traditions completely, I am trying to very gradually swing myself and my family away from too much of the heavy food and toward more wholesome (but still delicious) foods. I say gradually because baby-stepping seems to work best, with important and difficult changes.
First of all, this year, for neighbor gifts, instead of making all-butter chocolate fudge like I did last year, I’m making chewy gingerbread cookies with half of the flour whole wheat. The difference between all-butter fudge and half-whole-wheat gingerbread cookies –in nutrients, fat content, and sugar content– is significant.
And they are still extremely yummy– every bit as Christmasy and yummy as fudge.
And instead of my traditional, sugary “I-didn’t-have-time-to-plan” plan for Christmas morning, which goes like this: “Just eat the chocolate and the tangerines in your Christmas stocking and wait for the turkey dinner this afternoon, kids,” –gulp– this year, I plan to serve a slightly fancy, healthy (but not too time-consuming) breakfast.
But I know that nobody will want to help me in the kitchen, and I don’t want to miss out on the fun in the living room. And so, this year, I’ve been out looking for recipe ideas that are 1) quick 2) delicious 3) healthy and 4) new to me.
I asked around. Lots of my friends go with the “I-didn’t-have-time-to-plan” plan, or at best, serve store-bought cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. (That’s no good for us; too much sugar, and too few nutrients.) One of my neighbors told me she serves broiled grapefruit with brown sugar. (Healthy, sure. But will my family enjoy it? Hmmm.)
But now, happily, I found something I think sounds delicious, healthy, and easy. This is my 2011 Christmas Morning recipe winner. It’s just an easy, throw-it-all-together casserole. But it’s high in nutrients and proteins, low in fat and sugar, and it will look, smell, and taste fantastic. (I’ll prepare it on the morning of Dec. 24th and just pop it in the oven on Christmas morning).
I adapted this recipe from a Christmas Morning Strata recipe, from Leanne Ely’s SavingDinner.com (Flylady) newsletter, but there are zillions of similar recipes if you want to search around online and adapt your own.
For this one, I changed a few things: I swapped out the low-nutrition french bread to high-nutrition 100% whole grain bread, added some extra veggies, and cut the cheese amounts to lower the fat content. I also added garlic, because it is one of those extra-health bonus foods, and it is so delicious.
Christmas Morning Casserole
2-4 crushed cloves of garlic
1 loaf of cubed 100% whole wheat/whole grain bread
2 (10-oz.) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup of your family’s favorite veggies and herbs: mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, red or green peppers, leeks, parsley or a mix!
1/2 pound Provolone, chopped
2 1/2 cups fat free milk or milk substitute (almond, rice or soy milk)
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons dry mustard (optional)
1/2 pound shredded Cheddar cheese
Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
Make a single layer of bread cubes in the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the bread evenly with the spinach and other veggies. Then add the chopped Provolone cheese. Top with another layer of bread cubes.
In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, garlic and seasonings. Pour over the layers evenly, making sure all of the top layer of bread is moistened. At this point, you have two options: refrigerate it overnight or bake for 1 hour (350 degree preheated oven)
When you bake it, watch it starting at about 50 minutes. It shouldn’t be ready to pull until its puffed up a bit and just starting to get slightly golden brown.
If you want to test it, a knife inserted in the center should come out clean. While it is cooling, top with the cheddar cheese and allow it to melt by itself.
–Of course, if you are too busy on the 24th to think of shopping for and cooking a breakfast casserole, because you are out sledding, wrapping, caroling, visiting Santa or driving to cousin Suzy’s, and you don’t have time to cook even the easiest recipe, fear not. There are good tidings for you, still.
I’m including a list of some other, equally healthful, easy choices for an easy, healthy and delicious Christmas morning:
- How about a simple platter of fresh fruits and nuts?
- What about fresh, 100% whole grain bread, toasted and loaded with whole-fruit jam?
- My neighbor swears by broiled grapefruit halves with brown sugar
- My personal favorite on this list: bowls of Greek yogurt, berries, fruits, nuts and granola. Put them in big bowls, smorgasbord style, and let each family member layer a bowl as he or she likes it.
- Hot bean and cheese burritos. (Best if you make it yourself with low or no-fat ingredients and 100% whole grains. Cook them, freeze them, and the microwave them as needed)
- Instant cream of wheat or oatmeal, served with a dab of whatever delights you– berries, jam, honey, nutella, molasses, or bananas.
- Smoothies. A simple combination that we like includes ice, milk, bananas, peanut butter, and just a little bit of chocolate powder. Another great choice mixes berries, bananas, ice and almond milk. Some folks throw in veggies or other nut butters. Get creative.
And have yourself a merry little healthy meal.