Put a Healthier Twist on Favorite Recipes
by Sheila Julson
When hosting a holiday brunch, it may be tempting to serve breakfast and lunch classics like quiche, eggs Benedict and huevos rancheros, but many of these dishes can be full of hidden calories, unhealthy fats and too much sodium. With a few easy modifications, healthier versions are possible.
According to Jessica Levinson, a New York registered dietitian and author of 52-Week Meal Planner, it’s important to read nutrition labels, remove empty calories and introduce nutritious alternatives. As an example, yogurt and granola parfaits may seem innocent, but are often loaded with added sugar. “A serving size of most granolas is only one-quarter of a cup, which isn’t much, so use granola sparingly,” she says, adding that parfaits made with low-fat Greek yogurt and fresh fruit instead of jam are healthier choices.
Traditional quiches are usually made with heavy cream and a buttery pie crust. Levinson recommends a crustless vegetable frittata instead, as it is naturally gluten-free. “If you don’t want to skip the crust altogether, look for a pre-made, whole wheat crust or make your own,” she says. To eliminate dairy, consider using non-dairy milk and omitting cheese in the recipe.
For eggs Benedict, Levinson suggests skipping the hollandaise sauce, topping the poached eggs with mashed avocado and using a whole grain bread or English muffin for the base. “Instead of ham, try smoked salmon, which has beneficial omega-3 fatty acids,” she says.
Whole grain oats are a heart-healthy option, but oatmeal served brûlée-style is topped with additional sugar, notes Frances Largeman-Roth, a New York registered dietitian and author of Smoothies & Juices. “It’s better to opt for oatmeal and fruit, with a drizzle of real maple syrup,” she says. Largeman-Roth likes mixing savory and sweet, to add variety and protein to the brunch plate. “Instead of just having a stack of pancakes, split it with your friends or family, and then have a small, veggie-filled omelet. You’ll feel much more satisfied.”
Planning the Holiday Brunch Spread
When putting together a menu, Levinson advocates incorporating all of the components of a balanced meal: lean protein, carbohydrates from whole grains, fruit and veggies, and low-fat dairy or plant-based substitutes. She says, “If you’re making pancakes or waffles, use whole grain flour when possible, and serve with a side of yogurt, fresh fruit and real maple syrup.”
According to Largeman-Roth, egg lovers will enjoy a veggie-packed omelet or frittata with either potatoes or bread on the side, but not both. Watch out for fried foods and use sauces and cream sparingly or find substitutes. If the family is dining out, she cautions that brunch dishes are often served with extra sauces and syrups, adding sodium and sugar. “Try to ask for them on the side,” she advises. “It’s not about completely avoiding them, but it’s nice to be able to control the amount that you’re adding to your pancakes or waffles.”
Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings.
Healthy Alternatives for Holiday Recipes
This healthy dish is a crowd-pleaser any time of year. It’s also gluten-free and can be modified based on whatever veggies are on hand. Omit the feta cheese for a diary-free option.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 Serrano or jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
1 cup diced yellow bell pepper
1 cup diced green zucchini
1 cup diced yellow summer squash
2 large garlic cloves, minced (1 heaping Tbsp)
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp sweet paprika
26-28 oz diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp honey
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 cup corn, frozen, fresh or canned
½ tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
4 large eggs
Chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
Za’atar, for garnish (optional)
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet (straight-sided skillet is preferable). Add onions; sauté 2 minutes. Add Serrano pepper and bell peppers; sauté 4 minutes. Add zucchini and summer squash; sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, turmeric and paprika; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Reduce heat to medium and add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, honey, cider vinegar and corn; stir in salt and pepper. Simmer for about 10-12 minutes until the sauce has thickened and reduced.
Turn off the heat and press the crumbled feta into the tomato sauce. With the back of a spoon, make 4 indentations in the sauce. Crack eggs one at a time into a small bowl and pour into each of the 4 indentations. Carefully drag a spatula gently through the egg whites, being sure not to disturb the yolks. Simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes, gently stirring the sauce and basting the eggs with the sauce. Cover and cook another 3 to 5 minutes for runny eggs. Cook longer for well-done eggs.
Serve with a sprinkling of parsley and za’atar, if desired.
Recipe courtesy of Jessica Levinson.
Sheet Pan Protein Pancakes with Berry Swirl
Cooked on a sheet pan, these pancakes make cleanup a breeze and can be prepared the night before. Buttermilk and protein powder add satisfying nutrients.
Yield: 12 servings
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 Tbsp melted ghee or unsalted butter
⅓ cup maple syrup
1¼ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup vanilla protein powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt
For the swirl:
½ cup strawberries
½ cup blueberries
½ cup raspberries
1 tsp brown sugar
Powdered sugar, for topping
Preheat oven to 425° F. Line an 11-by-17-inch, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray parchment and sides of pan with cooking spray.
Whisk the buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, ghee and maple syrup together in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients—whole wheat flour and salt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry in three additions until just mixed. Pour into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Blend the berry swirl ingredients in a blender until smooth. Add ½ teaspoon of water if mixture is too stiff. Add small dollops of the berry mixture to the top of the pancake batter. Drag a wooden toothpick or skewer through the berry mixture to create a swirled pattern.
Place the pan in the oven and bake for 11 minutes, until lightly golden. Let cool for about 5 minutes, then sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into 12 squares with a knife. Enjoy warm with maple syrup. Can be stored in the fridge for up to two days.
Recipe and photo courtesy of Frances Largeman-Roth.
Cranberries put a holiday twist on a classic mimosa. Drier champagnes or sparkling wines are lower in sugar. Making cranberry juice from scratch with sweeteners like maple syrup or honey is a natural alternative to commercial cranberry juice. Prepare the cranberry juice the night before serving.
Yield: 4 to 8 servings
4 cups homemade (recipe below) or store-bought cranberry juice
1 cup orange juice
1 bottle drier champagne, such as Ultra Brut
Rosemary sprigs for garnish
Fill four champagne flutes or glassware of choice approximately halfway with cranberry juice. Add 2 Tbsp orange juice to each glass.
Top each glass with champagne. Garnish with sprig of rosemary. Refill as desired.
Recipe courtesy of Sheila Julson.
Homemade Cranberry Juice
3 cups fresh cranberries
3 cups water
½ cup pure maple syrup or honey
Put fresh cranberries and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer for approximately 15 minutes until the berries soften and pop.
Using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth, strain the berries and return the juice to the pan. (Use leftover cranberries in smoothies, yogurt or relish)
Gradually add maple syrup or honey until desired sweetness is achieved. Heat on low until sweetener dissolves.
Pour juice into an airtight bottle and refrigerate.
Recipe courtesy of Sheila Julson.