hot chocolate

The holiday season is full of treats and sweets that many people find hard to resist. Consider bringing your own healthy option to your holiday parties. Just because your dish is healthy doesn’t mean it has to be tasteless.

Holiday salad Spruce up a salad everyone will enjoy with some in-season produce. Starting your holiday meal with a salad is a great way to fill up on fiber and nutrients to help over-indulging in the meal.

Building a winter salad:

Start with base: greens of choice (mixed greens, spinach, etc.)

Top with

» Candied pecans or walnuts (recipe below)

» Roasted butternut squash: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss butternut squash (cut into 1-inch cubes) with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange squash in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake at 20-35 minutes, or until lightly browned.

» Dried cranberries

» Goat cheese or feta cheese

Winter salad dressing:

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup or honey

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard

Pinch of salt

Whisk together balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, olive oil, mustard, and salt until combined.

Holiday slaw

1 small head green cabbage, thinly shredded

1 cup thinly shredded purple cabbage, thinly shredded

2 sweet apples

½ cup dried cranberries

Optional ¾ cup pecans (or nut of choice)

Dressing ingredients:

½ cup apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ pepper

Combine slaw ingredients (aside from almonds and cranberries). Whisk together dressing ingredients, then add dressing to slaw, tossing gently. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Top with the pecans and cranberries.

Mashed sweet potatoes. Swap out the mashed potatoes this season with sweet potatoes which provide beta-carotene.

3 pounds sweet potatoes (about 6 potatoes), peeled and cubed

6 tablespoons grass fed butter (cut in cubes)

½ cup maple syrup

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Crushed pecans or walnuts (for topping)

Place cubed sweet potatoes in a large pot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Drain and return to pot. Mash potatoes with potato smasher while gradually adding butter, syrup and cinnamon. Top with crushed nuts.

Glazed pecans. This recipe is sweetened with a bit of maple syrup, and is high in protein which can help prevent that huge sugar spike. This also make great Christmas gifts.

2 cups roughly chopped pecans (or walnuts)

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup or honey

2 tablespoons grass fed butter

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Optional salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper.

In a large skillet, combine the butter, cinnamon and syrup over medium heat. Mix well. Once the mixture begins to bubble add the pecans. Mix and cook for 2-3 minutes until nuts are evenly coated. Spread the pecans over the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with optional salt. Bake for 6-8 minutes until golden. Cool on the baking sheet for 30 minutes before breaking apart.

Paleo pumpkin bars (from hummusapien.com). Lightly sweetened and vegan-friendly.

¾ cup creamy almond butter

½ cup pumpkin puree

1 overripe medium banana

¼ cup pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon coconut flour

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

⅓ cup dark chocolate chips and/or walnuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray an 8x8in square baking dish with cooking spray. Place almond butter, pumpkin, banana, maple syrup, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Stir until well-combined. Add the rest of the ingredients, stirring until smooth. Pour into prepared baking dish, smoothing with a spatula. Bake for 30 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Hot cocoa. No need to give up your hot cocoa this Christmas. Skip on the high sugar instant cocoa packs and opt for this creamy, healthier version.

Ingredients

1 cup almond or coconut milk

1 tablespoon raw cacao powder

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or honey

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional chia spice mix (1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon cloves, ¼ teaspoon ginger, pinch of cardamom)

Place milk in small pot over medium heat, heat for a few minutes (until warm). Add in rest of ingredients and whisk until well combined with no clumps.

Mandy Nix is a registered dietitian in Morganton who writes a weekly nutrition column for The News Herald. For questions, contact her at mandynix85@gmail.com.

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