5 Tips for a Healthy Holiday (Plus Recipes!)

Chef and registered nutritionist Theresa Albert takes care of her guests by putting a little healthier into hosting.

Albert is the author of two cookbooks and has 30 years of professional cooking experience with more than a decade working with clients on improving their health through nutrition. Here, she shares tips and recipes for a healthier holiday season, starting with feast favourites.

“I don’t make gravy. I make jus.” Not only is it gluten-free, it’s easy, says Albert. With a gravy separator, remove fat from turkey trappings and boil the clarified liquid for about 20 minutes to thicken (the same amount of time your turkey should sit before being carved).

Tip: Don’t have a gravy separator? Let the trappings cool a little. Pour into a freezer bag, hold over a pot and cut a small hole in a corner at the bottom of the bag. The fat will naturally separate and sit on top of the jus. Simply plug the hole when the fat gets close to the bottom.

Mashed but Better
Skip the peeling and boiling. Instead, Albert bakes russet potatoes she’s given a good scrub. This can be done the day before and the cooked potatoes refrigerated. Cut potatoes in half, scoop out the flesh and mash. Mix with a little milk and heat. “All the nutrients are still there. And they taste so much better because you haven’t cooked them off. It’s why you need so much butter and salt normally.”

Tip: For an appetizer, cut the potato skins into bite-sized pieces, top with cheese and warm in the oven. And if you’ve got your heart set on starting with a peeled, boiled potato, save the water and add to your jus before thickening to enhance flavour and nutrients.

The Other White Meat
Albert opts for a peameal bacon roast. She bakes it with a little maple syrup and soy sauce, slices it and serves over a bed of roasted Brussels sprouts. “It’s beautiful! It’s delicious. It’s leaner than a pork roast. And it’s not quite as salty as ham.”

Tip: For a brunch-friendly option, substitute roasted apples or cranberries for the sprouts.

Pastry Pass
Instead of pastry-covered hors d’oeuvre, Albert serves lean meat skewers or small lamb chop appetizers. “People love those things! They can pick them up and eat them, like lamb on its bone. It’s still delicious holiday food. It’s just a little leaner and a little healthier.”

Albert also foregos most of the flour when making pumpkin pie. She adds more egg to the filling so it takes on a quiche-like consistency that requires no crust. To add a little crunch, crush a little phyllo pastry on top for the last five minutes of baking. “So there’s something crispy and pretty on top but you’re not eating all that lard and flour.”

First (Meal) and Foremost
Breakfast has become a big part of Albert’s business. She left behind her nutrition practice in Toronto last year to open the Rosehurst Bed & Breakfast in Stratford, Ont. – home of the eponymous annual theatre festival.

“It’s like anything. If you start off on the right foot, you don’t want to ruin it. You’ll have a good day,” she says of that first meal. And she says it will help curb cravings between meals. “if you are fully nourished in the morning you actually turn on the satiety messages in the brain.”,

She recommends a meal with 10 grams each of fibre and protein. And limit carbohydrates and always choose whole grain sources like the minute oats she uses in her Overnight Individual Oats (recipe below). The jars make for the perfect parting party gift, “[It] will deal with the hangover tomorrow morning,” she says with a chuckle. “This is a way to start them off in the right way.”

Overnight Individual Oats

Servings: 4

1/2 cup rolled oats (raw), 1 minute or “quick”
1/4 cup chia seeds
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 banana, mashed
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch turmeric

Divide ingredients evenly into four small jam jars, seal and store in the fridge at least overnight or up to 5 days.

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 219 calories; 7 g fat (27.4% calories from fat); 7 g protein; 35 g carbohydrate; 4 g dietary fibre; 8 mg cholesterol; 36 mg sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain (Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1 Fruit; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 1 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.

Her gift giving also has a healthy bent. “It’s kind of a joke because you always get hand sanitizer in your stocking. And you get your Centrum. And you get your hair clips, toothpaste and all the stuff you need.”

And you can still treat your guests. “So, of course, have your shortbread – yum, yum – but also have fruit because I guarantee you, if you put that on the table with the sweets, people will have one sweet and a bunch of fruit.” For her, it’s about balance, as with her Gluten-Free Banana Squares (recipe below). “It’s a contribution to your health as well as a wee treat.”

Gluten-free Banana Squares

Servings: 9

2 1/2 cups oats
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
3 bananas
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup walnuts
1/3 cup chocolate chips, dark
1 tbsp butter or coconut oil

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray 9- x 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, coconut oil or butter.

Place oats into blender and blend for 1 to 2 minutes until oatmeal resembles flour, then whiz in baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Empty into a bowl.

In a separate bowl, place bananas, vanilla, applesauce and honey into blender; blend for 1 to 2 minutes or until smooth and creamy. Add to oat flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Gently fold in walnuts. Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly with rubber spatula. Bake for 15 to 25 minutes or until firm to the touch.

Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes and cut into 16 squares.

Prepare drizzle by combining chocolate chips and butter or coconut oil in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds; stir well to combine, then drizzle over the top of bars. Store in fridge up to 5 days.

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 334 Calories; 11g Fat (27.9% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 53g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 3mg Cholesterol; 172mg Sodium. Exchanges: 2 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Fruit; 2 Fat; 1 Other Carbohydrates.