How to Have a Healthy Holiday


For most health nuts, the holidays are one of the few times of the year that it is okay to indulge. Faced with a month-long celebration of decorated cookies, seasonal coffee drinks, festive cocktails, and comfort food, most people just give in. Knowing that the New Year’s Resolution reset button is right around the corner, most of us will feast our way through December. Personally, I have always maintained my vegetarian diet through the holidays, but I have indulged in more gingerbread cookies, peppermint mochas, winter ales, and seasonal cocktails than I normally would.


This year, I am hosting Christmas dinner at my house for the very first time. It is actually the first time I have spent Christmas in Virginia, and Kyle and I are very excited to spend our first Christmas morning in our new house. Because I get to plan the menu, I want to have plenty of healthy options and serve some really delicious food at the same time. My first Christmas dinner at home presents a few challenges though. I will have two vegetarians at the table, a few people who would prefer to see meat on their plates, and one guest who is following a very strict low-carb diet. I need to serve some meat, some high-protein vegetarian dishes, and several low-carb items. At first the task was a little daunting, but I am always up for a challenge. No, really. Like, always. Maybe to a fault.


Since I love a good problem-solving session, I can honestly say I’ve had a blast working through a menu. I have a lot of ideas and I haven’t narrowed it down completely, so I thought I would share a few of my thoughts here with you. I am positive that some steamed vegetables will make an appearance, but I found the dishes listed below to offer something a little more special on the table. If you too are trying to build a health-conscious holiday menu, maybe some of these dishes will make your list.

As always, please note that I am no expert and if you have a restrictive diet for medical reasons, you should consult with a registered dietitian and your doctor before making any changes to your diet. Or else I might unwittingly lead you down a path paved with peppermint mochas and fried tofu, to possible digestive ruin.

The following recipe collection is very carbohydrate conscious. There are several options that I think would work for those who are watching their blood sugar. I hear that people on the paleo diet also watch their carbs, so some of these might work for them too.

If you are worried less about carbs and more about what to serve your herbivorous guests, check out my post on What to Serve Vegan and Vegetarian Party Guests or my Vegetarian Holiday Recipe Roundup.

Have ideas of your own that you would like to share? Please comment below with your favorite healthy holiday dishes!

BYOBB Lunches: Mediterranean Sandwich

Onward with the BYOBB lunches. . . Need an idea for a delicious bring your own brown bag lunch this week? Have a sandwich that is more exciting than your average PB&J.

Mediterranean Sandwich

Between two slices of whole wheat bread, pile on the following toppings:

  • thinly sliced cucumber
  • roasted piquillo peppers from a jar
  • 2 tablespoons hummus
  • spring mix
  • fresh crumbled feta
  • 2 teaspoons TJ’s Goddess dressing

Pack up with two healthy sides like lowfat yogurt and berries (mine are frozen) or carrot sticks and an apple. Refrigerate until lunch time and then dig in!

BYOBB Lunches: BBQ Tofu Salad

I mentioned last week that we started a BYOBB (bring your own brown bag) lunch movement at my office. It has pushed me to come up with interesting ways to practice the art of lunch making. Here is a delicious salad that breaks up the monotony of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The BBQ tofu can easily be made at the beginning of the week, then all you have to do is assemble sandwiches or salads throughout the week to bring to work or school.

The night before this lunch, I was involved in some major make-the-night-before action. Notice in the above photo that besides making my lunch the night before, I made overnight coffee and overnight oats in a jar. This OOIAJ featured a peanut butter jar and a generous heap of strawberry preserves in the morning.

Is this post becoming a little acronym-heavy, or do you want more? More, you say? How about this: PBJOOIAJ. Bam! Peanut butter and jelly overnight oats in a jar. So when you have your PB&J for breakfast, you need a little something different for lunch. Make some barbecue tofu ahead of time. You can thank me later.

BBQ Tofu Salad

Make this super easy BBQ tofu by cutting a block of tofu into small chunks and sauteing in an oiled pan over medium heat. Break up the chunks as the tofu cooks and brown like ground beef. Add bottled barbecue sauce to taste, and add salt and pepper if you wish. I also added a pinch of cayenne for extra kick. Cook for a few minutes more and then remove from heat. Refrigerate for up to 4 days and use on sandwiches and salads throughout the week.

I ate this tofu over spring mix, diced cucumbers, and diced tomatoes with a bit of TJ’s Goddess dressing, with steamed broccoli on the side. I steamed the broccoli the night before, seasoned to taste, and packed it with the salad to store in the refrigerator overnight. I kept it in the work refrigerator until lunch time and ate it cold. It was very satisfying and kept me full all afternoon.

Happy lunching!


BYOBB Lunches

I’ve already learned to evade the Starbucks trap by making healthy breakfasts at home. I make these breakfast cookies about every other week and they have worked wonders for my wallet and my waistline. My next challenge is lunch. I used to go home every day for lunch, which saved me money and ensured that I ate a healthy homemade meal. Plus, 30 minutes in front of mindless TV in the middle of the work day definitely helps to preserve your sanity. Since starting a new job in January, I haven’t gone home once for lunch and I’ve only brought my lunch a handful of times, for these reasons.

  1. My new office is too far away from home to squeeze in another commute in the middle of the day.
  2. I am working downtown, surrounded by tons of awesome lunch spots.
  3. Most of my coworkers grab lunch out, and it’s hard for me to say “No thanks, I brought a sandwich.”

Lucky for me, my company has started a new healthy eating initiative in which we are encouraged to bring a healthy lunch to work 3 days a week. My coworkers have organized a lunch club that gathers to eat a healthy brown bag lunch (Bring Your Own Brown Bag!) and track our progress daily. Because I have been lazy about getting creative in the kitchen for my daily lunch, I am excited that this program is giving me the extra push I needed.

BYOBB is more fun with reusable bags

I plan to start featuring at least one fun and healthy lunch per week in case you want to join me and need some ideas. I get bored easily, so it should be no problem to come up with some interesting ideas for brown bag lunches. Added bonus, all of my lunches are vegetarian by default, so if you are trying to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, if you need to avoid meat on Fridays for Lent, or even if you want some fresh ideas for your school-aged vegetarian son or daughter’s lunchbox, hopefully you will find some inspiration. Here are three lunches to get us started.


Vegetarian Gumbo with Brown Rice

This should be made the night before, and it keeps well in the fridge so you can get several lunches out of it. This is more Creole-style than Cajun gumbo, because you don’t have to worry about making a roux. Beans replace the meat that is found in traditional gumbo to offer a source of lean protein.

  1. Start with some cooked brown rice. Hint: try to make a few servings of brown rice early in the week and keep in the fridge so you can grab a healthy grain whenever you need it.
  2. In a slow cooker, combine the following ingredients: frozen gumbo vegetables or frozen okra (example), frozen vegetable soup vegetables, 15 oz can black, kidney or mixed beans, 15 oz can diced tomatoes, 1 Tbsp Creole seasoning (or any combination of herbs and spices that appeal to you), salt and pepper. Cook on high 2-3 minutes then season to taste.
  3. Store rice and gumbo separately overnight, and in the morning pour one serving of gumbo over one serving of brown rice in a portable dish. Add hot sauce for extra spice. Refrigerate then reheat at work.

Tempeh Veggie Sandwich on Whole Wheat Bread

Make the tempeh the night before, then assemble the sandwich in the morning. Serve with fresh cut carrot sticks and hummus or the dip of your choice.

  1. Prepare tempeh. Cut one block into thin strips and saute in olive oil in a pan, browning on all sides until it is crispy on the edges. Add your favorite Asian marinade or stir fry sauce to the pan (just enough to coat), lower heat, and simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. Assemble sandwich. Between two slices of whole wheat bread, place a layer of tempeh, baby spinach leaves, thinly sliced cucumber, sliced tomato, fresh cilantro, and light mayo or vegannaise. Refrigerate or pack with an ice pack during the day and eat cold.

Kale with Chickpeas and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

This recipe is from the March 2011 issue of Real Simple magazine and the original is found here: Chickpeas with Chard and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes. I adapted it to what was in my refrigerator, substituting kale for chard and adding a little parmesan for deeper flavors. If you are sick of brown rice, you could serve this with couscous or another grain. Cook the night before (it’s really quick), refrigerate overnight, and reheat the next day.


With a little planning, I think I can successfully overhaul my lunch routine to make sure I get all the nutrients I need to stay sharp in the afternoon, and save a few bucks while I’m at it.

What are your tricks for healthy brown bag lunches?