Deciding on a main course for Christmas dinner is the easy part. It’s often the same every year as a family tradition, such as a ham, or if your group is vegetarian, a luscious vegetarian main course such as lasagna or moussaka.
What to serve on the side, though? While it can be a challenge to come up with Christmas dinner side dishes, it’s also a chance for cooks to shine — side dishes decide the tenor of a meal. They may be elaborate or simple, elegant or down-home. Learn here how to select healthy Christmas side dishes to have a balanced variety of offerings to please everyone at your holiday celebration.
There are four basic categories of side dishes: salad, potato (includes other starchy vegetables like corn and sweet potato), cooked vegetables (other than potato), and dinner rolls. How many of these types of side dishes you offer depends on the size of your gathering and on your ambition — and on other cooks you might be able to delegate side dishes to! However, even with as few as six guests, three to four side dishes are recommended if possible. No one minds having leftovers available to take home, especially from a special occasion such as Christmas.
Nearly all salads are healthy until the dressing is applied. At holidays and special events there’s a tendency to drown a salad in oil. Instead of dressing the salad before serving, put the dressing on the table and allow guests to add what they like. Remember, the fat in salad dressing does assist the body in absorbing the salad’s nutrients, so use a little bit.
A healthy salad might be spinach tossed with dried cherries and pine nuts, served with a light vinaigrette. The spinach provides the benefits of dark leafy greens (which iceberg lettuce does not), while dried cherries are packed with flavonoids and vitamin C. Pine nuts provide fiber and protein and monounsaturated fats, and pack a wallop of iron. A salad like this is also festive and colorful with its green and red tones.
To pack an extra nutritional punch, try serving mashed sweet potatoes instead of white. Go savory, not sweet — with all the treats at Christmastime, no one wants cloyingly sugary potatoes at dinner. Sweet potatoes have loads of the antioxidant beta carotene as well as vitamin C vitamin B6, potassium and fiber. Sweet potatoes also add color interest to the Christmas dinner table with their vibrant orange color.
Think whole grain when trying to decide on healthy dinner rolls. Whole grains are higher in fiber and nutrients than refined grains, particularly micronutrients like vitamin E and folic acid. They also contain antioxidants and other phytochemicals which help keep us healthy.
Whole wheat isn’t your only option. There are many readily-available flours on the market now, such as whole grain spelt, barley, even oat. If you have a favorite whole grain bread recipe, easily turn it into dinner rolls by dividing the dough into greased muffin tins.
Many Christmas dinners also have a cooked vegetable (or two, or three…) side dish. To keep them healthy, you can do the obvious, like limiting oil and cream in the vegetables, but remember also that processed foods are often very unhealthy. For instance, the classic green bean casserole calls for highly-processed, extremely high-sodium canned cream of mushroom soup. In a case like this, you’re better off making your own white sauce base with mushrooms and cooking the beans in that instead.
Herbs and spices kick up the flavor of cooked vegetables naturally. Try cutting the amount of oil or fat used in cooking your favorite vegetable side dishes in half and adding basil, thyme, rosemary, or even cinnamon or fennel to add flavor. Your guests won’t even miss the fat. Also keep in mind that nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, while high in calories, pack a nutritional punch. Dress broccoli with sesame seeds, or mix a few dried cranberries into cooked carrots.
Just remember these tricks: use herbs, spices, and nutrient-dense nuts and fruits to add flavor and nutrition to any side dish. Select nutrient-packed and whole grain alternatives to the obvious, traditional choices. Christmas is a time for celebration and caring, and you can care for yourself and your guests with healthy Christmas dinner side dishes like these suggestions — while still having a delicious, wonderful celebration.
The Whole Grain Guide: https://www.cspinet.org/nah/wwheat.html
Nuts for Nutrition: https://lancaster.unl.edu/food/ftmar04.htm