Healthy Holiday Options: Staying on Track this Holiday Season

In Abigail McAlister, Brittany Strickland, Holidayby Lola Magazine

Other than encouraging moderation and balance, I like to tell the people I teach to color their plates, and this salad is one of those dishes that accomplishes that. What I love about this recipe is that it’s simple to make, but looks beautiful and elegant.

I’ve found that any balsamic vinaigrette really pairs well with this salad. Of course, it’s usually better to make your own dressing, but sometimes that’s just not realistic in the midst of preparing for a holiday meal. When choosing a salad dressing at the store, I stay mindful of sodium and added sugar content by reading the nutrition labels and comparing products. I usually purchase pomegranate arils to save some time instead of trying to seed a whole pomegranate. I like to add wonton strips for a little crunch, but you could substitute with walnuts, pecans, almonds, or any other nuts of choice if allergies are not a concern for your household. Looking to add more color? Try adding some cubed roasted sweet potato, red onion, or even change up your greens and add in some lettuce or kale with hints of deep purple. The great thing about salads is your ability to make them your own.

If you want to make this recipe ahead of time but you’re worried about your pears browning, no worries — this recipe has accommodated for that as well. Simply dip your pear slices in orange juice. I like to keep the pear slices refrigerated in a bowl of orange juice and top the salad with them right before serving, just for extra precaution.

Spinach, Pear, and Pomegranate Salad with Feta

10 ounces fresh spinach

2 ripe medium pears, sliced

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

½ cup pomegranate arils

½ cup wonton strips

2/3 cup orange juice (optional)

1/3 cup balsamic vinaigrette of choice

  • In a large salad bowl, toss together the spinach, pears, feta, pomegranates, and wonton strips.
  • Toss with salad dressing just before serving.
  • If you’re preparing this salad ahead of time, dip each pear slice into a bowl of orange juice and then add to the salad to prevent the pears from browning.

One of the main foods that come to mind when I think about Thanksgiving is sweet potatoes. My family, like many others, serves a sweet potato casserole with copious amounts of butter and a brown sugar crumble topping that is so good it should be illegal. While my family’s infamous sweet potato casserole is delicious, it’s definitely not healthy, which is ironic because sweet potatoes are actually very nutritious. They’re rich in vitamin A, specifically in the form of beta-carotene. Beta carotene is what gives sweet potatoes (and other orange vegetables) their rich, vibrant color. Beta carotene keeps our eyes, skin, and immune system healthy and strong, and it’s also an antioxidant, which means it helps reduce damage by free radicals in our bodies. 

The naturally sweet flavor of sweet potatoes makes them a great base for desserts, which is why I decided to highlight this lovely “lightened” sweet potato dessert. This recipe still has some added sugar and a small amount of fat, but it is definitely lighter than what most families are used to serving without sacrificing taste. I love how the sweet potato mash is creatively served in orange cups and topped with pecans for garnish. I’m what you may call a “pecan snob,” so I made sure to get some local pecans from Killarney Farm in Dixie, Louisiana. 

Sweet Potato Citrus Cups

6 small sweet potatoes (about 2-3 pounds total)

4 large navel oranges

1 (14 ounce) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk

3 Tablespoons melted butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons orange zest

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ cup pecans (chopped or halves—however, you prefer to garnish)

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place sweet potatoes on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until tender. Let stand 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Wash oranges, making sure to rinse off any dirt on the skins. Cut oranges in half crosswise. Scoop out the pulp using a spoon, leaving the peel intact. Reserve orange pulp for another use.
  • Peel sweet potatoes and place potato pulp in a large bowl. Add sweetened condensed milk and the next 7 ingredients. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth, stopping occasionally to remove any tough fibers, if necessary. Spoon about ½ cup mixture into each orange cup. Place orange cups in a 13 x 9 baking dish.
  • Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, and top with pecans. Bake another 5 minutes until pecans are toasted. Remove from oven and serve warm.

Abigail McAlister is a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Agent with the LSU AgCenter. Her focus is on community nutrition education for Caddo and Bossier parishes. She teaches weight management and diabetes classes, cooking workshops, recipe demonstrations, and “stand-alone” nutrition lessons and seminars. For information, or if you are interested in joining a class or booking Abigail for a lesson, please call 318-226-6805 or email her at amcalister@agcenter.lsu.edu.