Healthy hacks for traditional holiday recipes

Sure it's nice to get all cozy around the fire, kick back in your fuzzy slippers and enjoy some much-needed down time with a few food choices that don't normally grace your pantry (hello, oversized buttery, carmel-y and cheesy popcorn tin).

Tee up those healthy holiday hacks -- it’s about to get crazy these next few weeks. Photo: Courtesy of Andy Chilton/Unsplash

But, we all know that we can't live in this glorious “I-eat-whatever-I-want-and-lounge-for-extended-amounts-of-time-binge-watching-Netflix” world forever. Even though -- for those of us super active, outdoorsy types -- it really is nice (and often necessary) to give yourself that little break at least a few days out of the year.

Despite what you’ve been told, healthy treats and food actually do exist and can be conjured up around the holidays, with just minimal will-power and a few key ingredients. Don’t think “I can't have what I’m craving.” Instead, you should approach your favorite dishes with a more compromising attitude … and get creative.

Behold, our take on some healthier options for munching this holiday season. Whether you are laying low or headed out to celebrate, whip these up to share or just to have around the house, and edge out the urge to snack on not-so-healthy alternatives.

Snacks: Savory & Sweet DIY Popcorn

holiday recipe hacks

There’s nothing else quite like the aroma of freshly popped corn. Photo: Charles Deluvio/Unsplash

Superfood Spotlight: Nutritional Yeast
If you haven’t given nutritional yeast a try, now’s the time. It offers a ton of protein and is the perfect option for those vegan/vegetarians who want to steer clear of cheese. In this savory DIY popcorn, the nutritional yeast takes on a cheesy and rich flavor that will curb your cravings for extra butter and other not-so-healthy toppings.

Several DIY popcorn brands, like Quinn’s, have recently popped up (forgive the pun) and we’re excited to see this movement taking off.

My grandmother used to make her own popcorn as a healthy snack for us kids, and it filled the house with such an amazingly yummy scent -- one that always reminds me of a cozy holiday evening watching movies with a fire crackling in the background.

Try this at home. It's the perfect way to get the whole family involved in making treats that have far less preservatives than store-bought alternatives, and it's much more fun than just zapping a bag of Orville Redenbacher in the microwave.

Ingredients:
Bob’s Red Mill Popcorn
Olive or sunflower oil
Nutritional Yeast
Sea Salt
Pepper
Almond butter
Honey
Coconut oil

Directions:
Add olive oil or coconut oil to a deep pot or kettle and heat on medium.

Add a few popcorn kernels and cover. Continue to heat until all of the kernels pop.

Add the rest of the 2/3 cup of kernels to the kettle and cover, removing from heat for about a minute.

Return to heat and finish cooking, shaking the pot occasionally as remaining kernels continue to pop.

In a separate pot, melt your almond butter, honey and coconut oil (optional: add a dash or two of organic Cacao powder for a chocolatey flavor)

Divide just-popped corn into two bowls. In one, drizzle olive or sunflower oil, add sea salt and pepper and nutritional yeast to taste, and toss to combine.

In second bowl, drizzle melted almond butter mixture and toss to coat popcorn. Wait for popcorn to cool for about 5 -10 minutes to avoid burning fingers or mouths.

Main Dish: Fresh Green Bean Casserole

holiday recipe hacks

Freshly cut green beans, straight out of the garden, are one of nature’s greatest gifts. Photo: Freddie Collins/Unsplash

Superfood Spotlight: Quinoa/Brown Rice
Quinoa is one of the only grains that packs a mega-amount of protein on its own. If quinoa isn’t your favorite, brown rice is just as solid of an option. Try either option in this dish, and you won’t be disappointed.

Okay, okay, you may have had a not-so-great experience with this one, but trust me, it can be delicious and there are options available to make it without all of the unwanted preservatives, too. It’s one of my favorite holiday dishes, so I couldn’t leave it off this list.

Ingredients:
1 container cream of mushroom soup*
*A healthy option I like to use instead of the traditional version is Pacific Foods Organic Cream of Mushroom soup. If you are dairy free, no problem. Tack on a few simple, extra steps and make your own.
1 bundle of fresh green beans
1 cup organic quinoa or brown rice
1 package almond or organic reduced-fat shredded cheese

Directions:
Make your brown rice or quinoa. I like to use a rice cooker to save on time, since you can set it and forget it.*
*I also like to sneak in healthy elements wherever I can, so I sprinkle some turmeric, cumin and any other spices that add extra depth to this dish. Bonus: If you have picky eaters, the cheese will overpower all other flavors.

Dice green beans. I think fancy cut works best. If you are using a rice cooker, you can also steam your green beans using the steaming shelf while your rice or quinoa cooks. Win-win.

Combine just-cooked rice/quinoa and green beans with cream of mushroom soup and a few handfuls of almond (or organic reduced-fat) shredded cheese until mixed.

While still warm, transfer to baking casserole dish and sprinkle the top with more shredded cheese, as desired. Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 15 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and fully melted on top. Serve warm.

Dessert: Apple Pie Mason Jars

holiday recipe hacks

A humble attempt at the Apple Pie Mason Jar recipe. Photo: James Rodney

Superfood Spotlight: Chia Seeds & Cardamom
For their size, chia seeds pack a huge punch. They have a ton of protein and fiber, and are loaded with antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids. Cardamom is a super spice that is often touted in Eastern Ayurvedic reicpes for aiding digestion.

Apple pie is my all-time favorite holiday treat. But, the traditional recipe calls for nearly a whole cup of sugar, not to mention loads of butter and other not-so-appealing ingredients.

In this interpretation, crust is substituted for whole grain rolled oats made into a yummy chia seed overnight oats recipe and the apple filling gets a healthy spin sans refined sugar, which we adapted from this recipe.

Replace sugar with honey and add some complexity to these flavors with a dash of cardamom, an under-utilized spice that regulates digestion and is said to have cholesterol-reducing properties.

Ingredients:
4 large apples
4 tablespoons Chia seeds
Honey (to taste)
3/4 cup 100 percent apple juice (We used Evolution Organic Apple)
2 teaspoons organic cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon organic cardamom
2 cups Whole grain rolled oats
2 1/2 tablespoons Coconut oil

Directions:
The night before (or at least a few hours prior to) making your stewed apples, combine almond milk, half of chia seeds, half rolled oats, and a bit of honey into a bowl, whisking until thoroughly combined. Set in refrigerator until chia seeds and oats expand and soften, creating a pudding-like substance.

Peel and dice your apples into small, bite size chunks. Place them in pot with the apple juice, half the cinnamon, cardamom, chia seeds and honey to taste, depending on how sweet you like your apples. Bring to boil and then turn down to simmer for approximately 20-30 minutes, until apples are soft and most all of the apple juice is evaporated.

Stir in the juice of a quarter of a squeezed lemon into the mixture as it cools.

While apples are cooking, pre-heat oven to 200 degrees. Mix oats, the rest of the cinnamon, coconut oil and a sprinkle of sea salt in a bowl. Mash together until all oats are coated and mixture is well-combined.

Spread oat crumble onto oven baking sheet and bake until crisp and slightly browned (roughly 40-45 minutes).

In a mason jar (or any container you like) layer apple jam and oat crumble, with the chia seed overnight oats. Serve warm. Leftovers can be refrigerated and enjoyed later.

Libations: Lemon, Ginger and Turmeric Cocktail

holiday recipe hacks

Enjoy your Turmeric cocktail responsibility -- and preferably somewhere outside, with a view. Photo: Jason Briscoe

Superfood Spotlight: Ginger, Lemon and Turmeric
The single best food you can give yourself when you are feeling slightly under the weather is a squeeze of lemon juice. Add to that the healing properties of ginger and the trendiest ingredient of 2017, turmeric, and you have one killer combination.

I know there are some people who swear by it, but I’ve never really understood eggnog. I guess I’ve always preferred a lighter, refreshing beverage, which is probably the reason why I gravitate to all the ingredients in this super quick, easy and delicious concoction.

Plus, the warming properties of ginger will add a rosy glow to any party and liven everyone’s mood.

If you are planning on making this for a gathering, you can juice the lemons and ginger ahead and keep it refrigerated until it’s time to get festive.

Ingredients:
6 large lemons
1-2 inch piece of fresh Ginger root
Honey
Turmeric
Splash of 100 percent organic apple juice
Blue Agave Tequila (Vodka could also work here)
Optional -- a few pieces of candied ginger

Directions:
Juice your lemons and ginger root. Note: if you like a nice, cold cocktail, refrigerate ingredients ahead of time so your juice is fresh squeezed and chilled. If you don’t have a juicer, you can also finely dice your ginger.

Add a splash of apple juice (or more) to lemon and ginger, depending on how tart you’d like your cocktail.

Add honey and turmeric to juice and stir generously until combined.

Add shot of Blue Agave tequila (or several if you are making a larger batch) and shake to mix (optional to add crushed iced).

Divide evenly into cocktail glasses. Garnish with a piece of candied or fresh ginger, if desired.

Bonus: If you have leftover lemon-ginger juice, tuck this away in the refrigerator and add a splash or two to hot water to make a really yummy and healthy tea.

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