Ah, the holiday season: The sound of family and friends gathered in your home, the excitement of giving and receiving gifts, overly-catchy Christmas music playing at every turn, dropping temperatures and the promise of snow, hot chocolate by the fire…and food! Food as far as the eye can see! It’s not difficult to fathom, but as you are probably aware, the holidays seem to bring out the unintentional glutton in all of us.  But, one of our Grow Appalachia required workshops is heart-healthy cooking. Of course, that usually entails participants bringing in what they’ve grown from their gardens, but who’s to say you can’t incorporate garden-fresh vegetables into your holiday meal? It seems oxymoronic almost: eating healthy with two upcoming holidays notorious for food, most of it far from healthy. But fear not- you can still have your turkey and eat it too.

For starters, the canned vegetables you’ve put back this year make excellent additions to your holiday main courses. Since you likely canned them yourself, you know exactly what is in them: no preservatives or added salts. Bake up a few potatoes or sweet potatoes from your garden (you may still be digging a few up), or mash them for an updated spin on mashed potatoes. Also, if you subscribe to a CSA that operates during the winter months, now is a perfect time to use up your CSA box veggies. Mashed turnips, anybody?

If you’re looking to be mindful of healthy cooking and eating habits this holiday season, here are a few tips and tricks:

  1. Balance your plate with more plant-based foods (veggies!), rather than meats or carbohydrates (breads!). Try a meatless stuffing, or multiple varieties of vegetables (i.e. sauteed mustard or turnip greens, a salad made with lettuce and raw fall greens, roasted broccoli, roasted squash, mashed pumpkin, etc).
  2. Less is more! That is, use as little fats or oils as possible when cooking, so that vegetables retain as much of their nutritional content- and natural flavor- as possible. Avoid the concept “swimming in gravy”. Use olive oil and butter, as compared to vegetable oil and margarine, when cooking- a little goes a long way.  Avoid oils high in saturated fats, such as coconut oil. Try steaming vegetables as well.
  3. If you are having a turkey, roast it, do not deep fry it! Plus, you get that wonderful smell throughout the house of the turkey cooking all day!
  4. With your vegetable-based side dishes, try mixing in some fruit! Apples, pears, cranberries, and peaches are perfect for fall!
  5. Instead of store-bought rolls or breads, which often contain a lot of extra sugar, make your own. If you have children, this is a wonderful memory-making activity: baking bread together.
  6. If making dishes such as stuffing, avoid using prepackaged seasoning mixes, as they often contain much higher levels of sodium. Use fresh herbs as a substitute.

The above tips adapted from the American Heart Association.



We spent some time diligently perusing the Grow Appalachia blog archives to come up with a collection of recipes that emphasize using fresh ingredients for maximum flavor! Although these recipes are not necessarily “holiday” themed, give them a try at your next holiday meal, or serve them with your holiday meal leftovers.

  1. Broccoli Morsels: Try these as an appetizer, or leave them for the kid’s table. They’re small in size and easy to serve! Original recipe from Appalachian Sustainable Development.
  2. Acorn Squash Chili: Make a big pot of this to share! Original recipe from Hindman Settlement School.
  3. Pesto: This popular spread is best served on toasted bread, over pasta, on sandwiches, or with fish, but anything goes, really! Original recipe from Linwood.
  4. Green Bean Sizzle: Browned green beans, garlic, and dried apples? Yes! Original recipe from Appalachian Sustainable Development.
  5. Fresh Canned Green Beans: Got a weekend to yourself? Already an avid canner? Give these a go! Original recipe from Williamson Health and Wellness Center.
  6. Butternut Squash Soup: Enjoy this comforting soup with plenty of sauteed veggies on the side! Original recipe from Appalachian Sustainable Development.
  7. Broccoli Slaw: This cold salad is a nice compliment with leftover turkey- lunch time, anyone? Original recipe from ASPI.
  8. Yellow Squash Casserole: Casseroles + turkey= a match made in heaven. Although it’s getting a little late for summer squash. Zucchini would be ok in this as well. Original recipe from Williamson Health and Wellness Center.
  9. Roasted Beet and Carrot Salad: This can be served warm or cold. Bonus: Our funder visited GH17 in 2013 and this salad was part of the meal that was prepared- again, only using garden-grown ingredients. Yum! Original recipe from GH17.


Do you have any good garden or holiday-healthy recipes? Share them with us on our social media sites, or shoot us an email! Happy cooking…and eating, of course!

P.S. This delightful 2013 Scott County blog highlights a Thanksgiving dinner that was prepared using only vegetables from her garden…and local meat and butter, even! No last-minute trips to the store.

*Feature Image from the 2014 Appalachian Food Summit