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"Healthify" Your Holidays

By Leah Okeson

Hi dear readers, and welcome to my healthy food column! If you remember from my last article, I talked about incorporating Meatless Mondays into your week and trying the new meatless products. What have you tried? What did you find was the easiest tip for you to incorporate into your lifestyle? Send answers to  and you could be featured in next month’s column.

 ‘Tis the season for starches, sugars, calorie bombs, and other pitfalls.  ‘Healthify’ your holiday and avoid the wicked winter weight of heavy, heavy meals. Read on for meatless product suggestions and healthy Thanksgiving tips for your own holiday and lifestyle.

I asked local friends and strangers what their favorite meatless products are in the grocery store. Linda R. said, “I like the frozen meatless sausage patties from Simple Truth brand at City Market. My husband likes a hot breakfast on Sundays and these are a healthier one than the animal-based sausage we were using. Plus, they are tasty!” Lisa S. tells me, “I like the frozen Nate’s meatless meatballs from Natural Grocers because I can use them in tons of ways.” I like Nate’s meatless meatballs too!! Have you tried them? Nate’s meatballs are so versatile and can be used to replace traditional meatballs in spaghetti sauce, used for sweet and sour meatballs, used for Korean BBQ meatballs, and many other options. The sky’s the limit!

Thanksgiving is one of the best holidays of the year, don’t you think?  Family and friends get together to eat and share food. Then, naps are encouraged (which is totally my favorite part). Also, for some families – it’s football season – Go Team Go!! Family, friends, food, football, fantastic naps, and fellowship makes Thanksgiving pretty much one of the best days of the year!

It seems every household has personal unique touches to their Thanksgiving meal. In our household we use dried cranberries in our stuffing and serve pickled okra (among other foods) for appetizers. Health-ify your holiday and provide balance to the many heavy, buttery, meat-filled meals in November by utilizing some or all of the following tips. Make sure to comment your favorite tip below!

Slow roast sweet potatoes or yams to make them naturally sweet. By roasting sweet potatoes or yams low and slow, the natural sugars are not converted to starches and these root veggies stay sweet, without the use of sugar. Preheat oven to 325. Wrap sweet potatoes or yams in foil and stab several times with a fork. This is an excellent time to expend some serious holiday stress. Place the potatoes/yams in a baking dish and bake for one hour. Turn them over and bake for another hour. Turn the oven off, but wait, leave those sweet taters in for one more hour! Trust me, you won’t need any toppings or butter, these taters won’t need it.

Do you call it stuffing or dressing? Either way, it’s tasty and healthier to add extra veggies. Most recipes call for chopped and sautéed celery and onion. Try doubling the quantity for double the fiber and nutrition.

Gravy made from scratch is where it’s at! Try sautéing a cup of chopped, fresh mushrooms in 2 TBSP of olive oil and then blending the mushrooms into your gravy for extra flavor and fiber power.

Try a meatless roast by purchasing a frozen one from the grocery store or try making your own.  (I highly recommend trying this recipe a few times to perfect your own personal taste version before the holiday).  Follow this simple seitan or wheat-meat recipe for meat-free roasts all year long. Preheat oven to 325. Mix one cup of wheat gluten with three tablespoons of nutritional yeast (both ingredients can be found at Natural Grocers). Stir in a 1 C veggie broth, 1 TBSP olive oil, garlic powder or fresh, minced garlic and 2 TBSP of soy sauce. Stir together until a dough comes together. Wrap the dough tightly in foil, then wrap another foil layer tightly around the first one. Doing so allows for the wheat-meat to fully steam and cook inside the oven. Put wrapped dough on a baking dish, add 1 cup of water, and bake for 1.5 hours. Open carefully or you’ll get a hot and steamy facial! The wheat-meat is now cooked and can be eaten as is; pan-fried; sliced for sandwiches; or roasted with root veggies for a nice holiday dish. Try refrigerating the cooked wheat meat overnight too! Enjoy my dear reader!

Isn’t it the truth that cooking and Thanksgiving are both about sharing the love with those we care about? Thanksgiving by its very name is a celebration of gratitude. This year has flooded us with challenges, so let’s take this one special day to look around at those we love, share food that reflects our culture and our values, and close our eyes of just a moment of gratitude.

Thanksgiving is really about showing food how much we love food. Wait, I mean cooking food for those we love, but we love food too! Life floods us with challenges and this year, more challenges than usual. Thanksgiving is a holiday to bring us together; to be with those we (hopefully) hold dear to our hearts. Drink, be merry, be with the ones you love, and for heaven’s sake, enjoy each other!

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About the Author

Leah "The Vegan" Okeson lives in Colorado and works as a social worker. She has two children, two dogs, four cats, and one long-suffering husband. She loves to eat and I love to cook – BUT she's a vegan. What does that even mean? Vegans do not eat any animal products or byproducts. This includes fish and chicken; milk and egg; gelatin, and even cheese. What DO they eat? Lots of yummy fruits and veggies, beans and tofu, nuts, etc.

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