Happy Healthy Holidays! 5 Nutritious Recipes to Try this Season

By Alicia Dosh-Eller, MPH

Having a happy holiday in 2020 also means having a healthy holiday. Along with all the important measures to prevent the spread of COVID -19, taking a new spin on some old favorites for your holiday dinner will also make your holiday table healthier. Instead of indulging in foods that are high in saturated fat, salt, or sugar, which can make you feel sluggish, the alternative recipes below are healthy, full of nutrients, and best of all, taste good! 

Mashed Cauliflower
Instead of mashed potatoes and gravy

Cauliflower is a nutrient-rich vegetable that is often overlooked during the holidays. It is high in fiber, which aids with digestion, and also contains antioxidants which can help prevent cancer. When steamed and mashed up, it takes on a similar consistency and appearance to white potatoes. Mashed cauliflower can even be seasoned like mashed potatoes- but go easy on the salt, butter, and gravy. Instead, try seasoning with garlic, onion, black pepper, chives, and/or parsley for a side dish that is full of flavor.

Ingredients- serves 4:

  • 1 medium cauliflower head cut into florets (or 16 oz. frozen bag of cauliflower florets)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 cloves of peeled garlic
  • Garnish- chopped fresh chives and/or parsley


  • Boil cauliflower and garlic in a large pot of water for about 10 minutes or until tender. Drain and return to the pot.
  • Transfer the cauliflower and garlic to a food processor (or mash by hand), add olive oil, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth.
  • Garnish with chopped chives and/or parsley

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast
Instead of baked ham

Roasted turkey breast, especially without the skin, is a much leaner meat than baked ham. Turkey is a great source of protein, which helps maintain lean muscle mass and makes you feel fuller longer. When roasting a turkey breast, always be sure to cook until its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.

Ingredients- serves 8:

  • 1 turkey breast (about 5-6 pounds)
  • 5 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme 


  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Remove skin from the turkey breast (or if keeping the skin, carefully loosen it from the meat).
  • Combine lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme in a small bowl.
  • Brush mixture on the turkey breast (or underneath the skin and on top of the skin if keeping).
  • Pour broth into a 3-quart baking dish.
  • Bake uncovered for 2 – 2.5 hours or until cooked to 165 degrees in the center (cover with foil if it starts to brown too quickly).
  • Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before carving.

Pomegranate Pear Pecan Salad
Instead of green bean casserole

Incorporating vegetables into your holiday dinner is essential for a well-balanced meal. While dishes such as green bean casserole sound healthy, casseroles are often loaded with salt and saturated fats, which can contribute to high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This year, add festive colors and vitamins with a nutritious pomegranate pear and pecan salad. The base of leafy greens provides a good source of calcium and iron, the pecans provide a protein crunch, and the pomegranates and pears give a sweet burst of antioxidants.

Ingredients- serves 4:

  • 8 ounces of dark leafy greens (such as spinach)
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 cored & diced pears
  • ½ cup pecans
  • Dressing: 
    • ½ cup olive oil
    •  ¼ cup red wine vinegar
    • 2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • salt & pepper to taste


  • Mix the leafy greens, pomegranate, pears and pecans in a big bowl. 
  • Whisk the ingredients for the dressing in a separate, smaller bowl.
  • Add dressing to the salad, toss and serve.

Black Bean Brownies
Instead of sugar cookies

Sugar cookies are a traditional holiday treat that are typically filled with high amounts of butter and sugar. Instead, make these cute black bean reindeer brownies that kids can even help decorate. Black beans are rich in protein and fiber and make for a moist brownie that everyone will enjoy! Plus, you really can’t taste the black beans – trust us. Olive oil is a heart-healthy unsaturated fat that can be used instead of butter. 

Ingredients- serves 12

  • 1 14-ounce can of low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Decoration (optional)- Chocolate frosting, 24 candied eyes, 12 red chocolate candies, 24 unsalted pretzels 


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper.
  • Place all ingredients for brownies into a food processor and blend until smooth.
  • Pour into the prepared baking dish and smooth evenly.
  • Bake 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Let cool and slice into 12 rectangles.
  • (Optional)- Spread a thin layer of chocolate frosting on the brownies. Place two pretzels on each brownie for “antlers”, along with candied eyes and nose.

Cranberry Lime Punch
Instead of spiked holiday beverages

No holiday dinner is complete without a festive drink. However, many punches, eggnogs, and other holiday cocktails are often loaded with unnecessary sugar. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25-30 grams added sugar daily depending on your age and gender. Instead, try a cranberry lime punch that is low in sugar and helps you to get adequate water intake. The festive garnish is also attractive to children and adults alike!

Ingredients- serves 1

12-ounce lime flavored sparkling water

  • ¼ cup 100% cranberry juice
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • Handful of ice cubes
  • Sliced lime & whole cranberries to garnish


  • Fill glass with ice.
  • Add cranberry juice and lime juice.
  • Fill the rest of the glass with sparkling water.
  • Garnish with lime slices & cranberries.
  • Enjoy!

 Featured Poe Resource: Poe’s Favorite Recipes 

Keeping a book or list of recipes can help you plan quick, delicious, budget-friendly healthy recipes for you and your family. Online resources can help with healthy meal planning, cooking, and grocery shopping. Poe has kept a list of our favorite recipes, including beautiful downloadable recipe cards, a downloadable cookbook from WakeMed and Poe, and recipes from Meredith College’s Dietetic Interns. There’s so much to cook!

Check out our recipes here.

 Featured Video: Winter Recipes with Poe and WakeMed

Join the Poe Center, WakeMed, and Chef Chris as they make Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese and a delicious Brussels Sprouts Salad. These recipes are perfect for a chilly winter day. This video is the winter installment of our Seasonal Recipe Series with WakeMed.