Holiday meals are times of throwing caution to the wind, and plowing through unhealthy foods and lots of sugar, right? I don’t know about you, but I find that there are more enjoyable and delicious ways to celebrate (though we always include delicious desserts too!). Our culinary experience has only grown more delicious as we’ve added in nourishing foods into our holiday meals. Plus, and most importantly to us, it’s also a great way to build nourishing foods into your child’s food memory bank. Let me explain.
The traditions we brought with us
Both my husband and I brought our own family traditions into our new little family. His family opened relative’s gifts Christmas Eve; mine opened our new PJ’s for the year Christmas Eve. His family spent hours driving around looking for a Christmas tree and came home and ate gingerbread; mine came home and decorated and ate whatever goodies we wanted that year.
And then there were the traditional holiday foods. We both grew up with the familiar holiday foods of America on our table, but there are a lot of variances on how they are prepared. His family made mashed yams with marshmallows; mine made candied yams with marshmallows. His family spent time carefully hand chopping cranberries and oranges for a tart cranberry salad while mine made a sweet creamy cranberry salad. His family made lightly steamed green beans with a garlic olive oil; we had long-cooked green beans with bacon, carrots and potatoes.
As we have merged our two traditions, we have learned to love each other’s food (though we both still stand by our childhood method of making yams!). But we wanted to do more than just decide what method of cooking yams to take on for our meal, we also wanted to build nourishing foods into our family’s meal.
Primary reason? For the love of our children.
It occurred to me early in my mothering that I had a wonderful opportunity with my children. If I build nourishing foods into holiday meals, their nostalgic food memories of holidays would be built around nourishing foods, not junk food. (I also felt this way about normal childhood dinners).
A story that has been sweeping the virtual world is one about a chef who is selling homemade broth in cups from a window store in New York. There has been so much excitement about this new venture that a local-to-me restaurant was asking their customers if they should also feature this at their restaurant!
But what struck me about the story is that his love of delicious homemade broths started at a young age because they were served at holiday meals,
He says, “I grew up in an Italian household, and brodo is something you have at all the holidays,” he says. “Every Christmas dinner, every Easter dinner, they start with broth.”
This was exactly what I wanted to help my children do – to treat nourishing foods (like homemade broth) as celebration worthy and building holiday celebration into those foods. Now that Italian boy has grown up, and first he made homemade broths a big part of his flavor profile in his restaurant and now he is bringing that goodness to New York one cupful at a time. (You can read about the health benefits of broth here).
What bringing nourishing foods into the meal has looked like for us
What this has looked like for us so far is mostly just improving the ingredients in certain dishes to be more nourishing (like our yam recipes). And using good ingredients, like homemade broth, in making the gravy whenever possible. Thankfully, many holiday dishes are already deliciously healthy if you buy the right ingredients for them.
But on top of that, I have tried to gently introduce certain “superfood” nourishing food items as well. Last Thanksgiving, I brought along this liver pate (read why you should eat liver here) along with crackers and home pickled onion slices for everyone to snack on as an appetizer as we worked on finishing the meal. (My kids enjoyed it, and I was surprised to find that many others liked it as well).
This year, we are thinking of adding in a really light soup (perhaps a very broth-y soup with a little pasta or rice and herbs) as a first course. (Can you tell that the New York chef inspired me?!).
My mom started making amazing autumn salads to serve at holiday meals when I was in high school that I only needed to tweak to serve our needs. And I have even added other extra vegetable dishes in the past such as roasted Brussels sprouts (which are to die for!). And we have kept both family’s delicious green bean recipes as-is (though we both prefer the bacon slow cooked version).
3 reasons this has been a win!
1. Our meals taste better
And you know what? As we have experimented with adding in different healthy foods into holiday meals our culinary experience has only improved. I still remember a few large extended family meals where everyone had brought carb-loaded, cream-of-whatever laced dishes, and not much else. (This is what happens when you tell everyone to bring their favorite dish! You end up with four choices of stuffing, 2 mashed potatoes dishes, and creamy corn, and turkey). We sat down to very bland looking plates of white carbs, and had to lay around the rest of the day to recover, only to stuff ourselves with pie and whipped cream a few hours later.
I’m still not quite sure why that was supposed to be a fun way to celebrate any holiday!
2. Meals are better balanced
When you add in dishes like delicious green salads, well-prepared vegetable dishes, light soups, and liver pate, you definitely won’t end up with a plate of all white carbs. You end up with lots of colors, textures, and yes, nutritional value!
Sure, you can overeat at any meal, but you are much more likely to leave the meal feeling satisfied, not stuffed to the sickening point. If you leave out MSG heavy cream of soups in your dishes, your body isn’t having to deal with any reactions to it either (for those of us who are sensitive – and many of us are).
3. Our kids grow up knowing good food
And finally, our kids are hardly perfect in how they eat, and they can be frustratingly picky at times. But I am thrilled with many of the nourishing and healthy things that they love, and I know the reason they love it is simply because I gave them the opportunity to try it. Some nourishing foods are still hit and miss with them, but I figure I am giving their palate a good head start by the introduction to yummy nourishing foods. If you are wondering, we rarely make our kids eat more than a bite or two of a new food. We just let them try it whenever we serve it, and more often than not, after a few tries they eat it without any complaints.
A word on shared holiday meals:
Granted, many of us are not cooking the entire holiday meal, so we don’t have control over everything served. Generally for us, it has been fairly easy to bring along dishes that help bring this concept to life even when not every item is made exactly how I would have made it. But we’ve also known that we can make our own traditions on different holiday days. For example, my family had a tradition of serving clam chowder on Christmas Eve that I love! (My nourishing version of that family favorite is in my cookbook, Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons – where I share how to make it dairy-free as well).
So far, this adventure of bringing nourishing foods more into the meal has met with great success! In fact, the only times I have struggled is more with trying to recreate foods that meet our food intolerance list. The nourishing part of the equation has just meant better food in every way for all of us.
What about you? Do you try to bring any healthy/nourishing foods into holiday meals?