12/20/2022 | By Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, LDN

There’s nothing like the festive spread of beloved holiday meals to heighten the season’s celebratory gatherings. If you’re looking to enhance this year’s menu, try increasing the amount of plant-based holiday foods. Adding plant foods, like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and whole grains, is a great way to make a meal healthier.

And don’t worry, there’s no need to replace or upstage the turkey, ham, or roast. You can still delight your guests with complementary plant-based foods that are just as satisfying and pack a flavorful and nutritional punch. Environmental Nutrition offers a few ways to add these nutrition powerhouses to this year’s holiday meals.

Start and finish with plants

Holiday meals can be rich and decadent, so do your guests a favor and skip the heavy charcuterie tray heaped with meats and cheeses and serve appetizers plant style instead. Veggie chips, whole grain crackers, and fresh vegetable slices are great dipped in nutrient-rich hummus, salsa, olive tapenade, or ranch or onion dip made with nonfat sour cream or yogurt. Nuts are always a treat, whether plain, spiced, or sweet.

Dessert is a must in most holiday traditions. Keep with traditional favorites, but add a bowl of fruit, fruit salad, or fruit tart. They’re as naturally delicious as they are beautiful.

Celebrate with seasonal plant-based holiday foods

Set your table with the season’s best offerings. Fall and winter produce is packed with nutrients, health-promoting phytochemicals, fiber, and low in calories and they are festively dressed in the colors of the season. Decorate your table with gorgeous cranberry, beet, and pomegranate reds, greens of Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, and spinach, winter white cauliflower, turnips, and parsnips, and the bright yellows and oranges of winter squash, carrots, and oranges.

plant-based holiday foods

Enhance every dish

Animal-based dishes are even better when paired with plant foods. Root vegetables, onions, winter squashes, and potatoes roast beautifully alongside any cut of meat or poultry. Top any dish — meat- and veggie-based — with sauces and dressings made from plants, such as tomato sauce or pesto. Chopped herbs, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit make excellent garnishes that kick up flavor and texture.

You can embellish and fill out any dish with plant foods, or you can even swap out some or all of the animal-based ingredients. Doing so boosts the nutritional quality of your favorite dishes in ways that can be so subtle nobody will taste the difference. In fact, the plant-forward version may even be better than the original. Using a heart-healthy poly- or monounsaturated fat like olive oil in place of some or all of the butter, which is high in saturated fat, can really kick up the flavor in a dish like mashed potatoes. Add chives or other herbs and spices to those potatoes and other dishes and you won’t need as much salt, or you may skip it altogether.

Bottom line

Holiday food traditions nourish our traditions and connections with loved ones. Why not nourish our bodies too with more plant-based foods at this year’s holiday table?

Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384.

©2022 Belvoir Media Group. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Read more holiday food articles like this one: Sugary Holiday Foods

Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, LDN

Food and nutrition expert Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, LDN is an award-winning, registered dietitian. She has written for and been quoted in hundreds of publications and media outlets, including Environmental Nutrition. She began her love of food and cooking as a girl. Her early food allergies gave her an understanding of how challenging eating can be for some. In deciding to become a registered dietitian, she combined these two parts of her life to help others eat healthfully and manage personal eating issues while enjoying the food they ate.