Nov 22, 2021
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UT Health News

Written by: Wendi Hawthorne | Updated: November 22, 2019

(Source: https://www.uth.edu/news/story/dietitians-dish-out-tips-and-recipes-for-a-healthy-happy-holiday)

While the myth that people gain seven to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas has been debunked, a recent study suggests that they do gain about a pound per holiday season – and that can add up to carrying an extra 20 pounds into middle age.

The holidays are a wonderful time to break bread with loved ones, but for those who are trying to eat healthier, it can be minefield of fat-laden gravy, calorie-packed cheese balls, and sublime sugary desserts. That can lead people to think all hope is lost for maintaining a healthy diet this time of year.

However, this is the season of hope! Dietitians with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health’s Nourish Program offer some advice along with a few recipes to help you kick-start the upcoming holiday season.

Shannon Weston, MPH, RD, certified diabetes educator, says it’s all about balance.

“I think focusing on what your plate looks like is key, and really making sure you’re getting fiber from produce and whole grains. Fitting a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables into the meals you like to eat is a great place to start,” she said.

Most of us love to grab a slice, or two, of pumpkin pie after dinner. However, if you’re watching your weight, you may feel like just looking at the dessert selection is a bad idea. But if dessert’s your favorite part of the holiday meal, you don’t have to shy away from the treats – just watch the portion sizes.

“It is really easy to overeat sweet treats, so just be mindful of how much you consume and take your time to really enjoy it,” Weston said. “There are also many recipes that include a healthy twist. For example, the Nourish Chocolate Pecan Marshmallow Dip includes black beans and garbanzo beans, so this sweet chocolate treat now includes the benefits of fiber.”

Wesley McWhorter, MS, RD, who is a professionally trained chef, says planning before you get to a party or family gathering is important.

“You can enjoy your favorite items while also leaving room for some roasted vegetables on your plate. You don't have to eat everything – go for what you love,” McWhorter said.

Another tip for an easier, healthier holiday spread is just keeping it simple.

“I always suggest adding roasted, in-season vegetables to your holiday menu because it’s a simple addition that doesn’t take a lot of effort – think roasted Brussels sprouts,” McWhorter said.

If you’re hosting the big day this year, you can still serve old favorites like Grandma’s green bean casserole – but swapping out the condensed soup for a homemade mushroom sauce is an easy and flavorful way to make this traditional dish a little lighter and impress all of your guests.

Another timesaver is fresh cranberry sauce. “You’re getting a serving of fresh fruit and you don’t have to cook it, so that’s a win-win,” McWhorter said.

Keep in mind your plate is not the only thing to watch; what you fill your cup up with is important too.

“Alcoholic drinks can add unwanted calories. To lighten up your drinks, add seltzer to wine or low- or no-calorie tonic to your cocktail,” said Laura Moore, MEd, RD, director of the Nourish Program. “Mocktails are fun to offer too, so be creative with fresh herbs such as rosemary, basil, and mint, and add fresh berries like raspberries and citrus.”

Last but certainly not least, one final piece of advice from the dietitians of UTHealth: don’t forget to enjoy the holiday and the time with your family – one or two days of feasting is not going to ruin the whole year. However, a little planning will help you avoid the shame and guilt of overindulging at holiday meals.

Nourish Program’s Roasted Thyme and Rosemary Brussels Sprouts

Yield: about four servings
Serving size: about ½ cup.

1 lbs. Brussels sprouts, quartered
2 Tablespoon Canola oil
1 Tablespoon Thyme, fresh, minced
1 Tablespoon. Rosemary, fresh, minced
½ tsp Onion powder
½ tsp Kosher salt
¼ tsp Black pepper, ground

1) Preheat oven to 375* (convection)
2) Combine all ingredients evenly in a large bowl
3) Spread vegetables evenly on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper (do not overcrowd pan)
4) Roast in oven for 25 – 30 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside

Equipment needs:
• Large mixing bowl
• Rubber spatula
• ½ sheet pan
• Parchment paper
• Measuring spoons

Helpful tips: Substitute dried herbs for fresh herbs by using ½ the suggested amount

Nourish Program’s Chocolate Pecan Marshmallow Dip

Yield: about 4 servings
Serving size: about ¼ cup


Chocolate Spread
1 can Black beans (14 oz), drained and rinsed
1 can Chickpeas beans (14 oz), drained and rinsed
½ cup Unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup Simple syrup (1-part brown sugar to 1-part water)
1/3 cup Canola oil
¼ tsp Kosher salt
½ cup Water, for thinning if needed

Marshmallow Dip
1 cup Pecans, toasted, unsalted, and chopped
1 cup Graham cracker crumbles
½ cup Semi-sweet chocolate chip
1 cup Mini-marshmallows


Chocolate Spread:
1) Combine black beans, chickpeas, cocoa powder, simple syrup, oil and salt in a food processor
2) Blend until smooth, stopping to clean the edges as needed (add water if needed)

Marshmallow Dip:
1) Pre-heat convection oven to 350*F
2) Spread chocolate mixture evenly in an 8 x 8 pan
3) Top with pecans, graham cracker crumbles, and chocolate chips and lightly press into mixture
4) Evenly distribute marshmallows over the chocolate spread mixture
5) Transfer pan to oven and bake for 10-15 minute or until the marshmallows are evenly toasted
6) Serve with apple or pear slices

Equipment Needs:
· Food processor
· 8 x 8 pan
· Rubber spatula
· Measuring spoons

Helpful Tips: To make simple syrup combine ½ cup of brown sugar with ½ cup of water in a small pot over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, let cool, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Nourish Program’s Stove-Top Green Beans with Garlic Cream

Yield: about four servings
Serving size: about ½ cup


2 Tablespoon Whole wheat flour
½ cup Vegetable stock, low sodium
½ cup Whole milk
2 Tablespoon Thyme, fresh, minced
½ tsp Kosher salt
¼ tsp Black pepper, ground

Green Beans:
1 Tablespoon Canola oil
½ each Sweet onion, sliced thin
4 oz Cremini mushrooms, sliced thin
1 lb. Green beans, untrimmed
5 each Garlic, cloves, minced
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
¼ cup Panko bread crumbs, plain                                          

1) Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl, set aside for a later use
2) Heat oil in a large cast iron pan over medium high heat and sauté onions (~3-5 minutes), until lightly browned
3) Add mushrooms and garlic and sauté until mushrooms are tender (~2-3 minutes)
4) Add green beans, and sauté for an additional 2-4 minutes
5) Add sauce mixture and bring to a boil
6) Reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking, stirring frequently to prevent burning
7) Continue cooking until green beans are tender and sauce is thickened (~3-5 minutes)
8) Remove from the heat and stir in parmesan cheese and bread crumbs

Equipment Needs:
• Large cast iron sauté pan
• Wooden spoon or rubber spatula
• Measuring spoons

Helpful Tips: Substitute 1 Tablespoon of dried thyme for fresh thyme

Nourish Program’s Cranberry, Orange and Apple Relish

Yield: about eight servings
Serving size: about ¼ cup

2 cups Cranberries, raw
4 each Mandarin oranges, peeled
2 each Apples, sweet, core removed
1 cup Walnuts, toasted, unsalted, chopped     
½ cup Dates, rough chopped (~10 dates)           
1 Tablespoon Canola oil
½ tsp Cinnamon, ground          

1) Combine cranberries, oranges, apples, walnuts, dates, canola oil, and cinnamon in a food processor
2) Pulse mixture until mixture resembles a rough chopped relish (do not over pulse)

Equipment Needs:
• Food processor
• Measuring spoons

Helpful Tips: Substitute 1 can (~1 cup) of mandarin oranges (drained) for fresh mandarin oranges

Nourish Program’s Spiced Apple and Orange Sparkling Water

Yield: Two drinks

1 Apples, sliced thin (pink lady or Fuji)
1 Oranges, sliced thin (navel or mandarin is best)
1/8 tsp Pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup Mint leaves, torn
1/2 cup Ice 
4 oz Pomegranate juice                       
8 oz Seltzer water
2 Cinnamon stick 

1) Layer apple slices, orange slices, spice, mint, and ice in two cup
2) Pour juice over mixture and top with seltzer water
3) Garnish each cup with a cinnamon stick