10 Healthy Recipes for the Holidays

Appetizers, sides, drink and dessert to make the season merrier
Mug of chocolate hot cocoa with cinnamon stick

With the official start of winter just around the corner, the desire for cozy, satisfying, sit-by-candlelight meals really starts to kick in. But so does the holiday rush – and with it the desire to not add to the stress by spending hours shopping and chopping.

We asked our resident food and nutrition experts, Christina Vollbrecht, chef educator, and Joyce Huang, registered dietitian, both from The University of Vermont Medical Center, to come up with some recipes that were festive and flavorful, rich in nutrients and not too heavy. They embraced late-fall harvest ingredients like winter squash, apples and pears, and complemented them with the warmth of spices like cinnamon, ginger and a touch of cayenne. Vollbrecht also prioritized dishes using easy-to-find, affordable items from local farms and supermarkets.

Celebrate the season with these 10 healthy, elegant-but-approachable sides, drink and dessert!

Fire Flax Crackers

These fun, kid-friendly, DIY crackers take the place of chips as a crunchy snack. They’re great with hummus, spreads and dips.

Yield: About 100 crackers


1 medium zucchini, chopped

1 medium bell pepper, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons chili powder or smoked paprika

1 cup water

2 teaspoons lemon juice

3 teaspoons salt

½ cup cilantro

1½ cup flax seed, whole, soaked at least 10 minutes

1½ cup flax seed, raw, freshly ground


  1. Set dehydrator to 145 F or oven to 300 F.
  2. In a food processor, combine zucchini, bell pepper, onion, garlic, chili powder, water, lemon juice and salt. Process until smooth.
  3. Add cilantro, pulse to incorporate.
  4. Transfer to large mixing bowl. Add soaked whole flax seeds and ground flax seeds and stir well to combine.
  5. Dehydrator method: Spread mixture thinly on Teflex or similar non-stick sheet and dehydrate for 2 hours until mostly dry. Then reduce temperature to 115 F, flip onto second side, and continue to dehydrate 8-12 hours or until crisp.
  6. Oven method: Line baking sheet with parchment paper and grease paper with 1 to 2 tablespoons oil (or use a silicone mat). Spread mixture thinly so that there is only 1 to 2 layers of seed.
  7. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until crackers begin to brown. (If the crackers are a bit thick and not getting crispy, flip them over and continue to bake until the desired texture.)
  8. Allow crackers to cool before removing from sheet.
  9. Repeat until all mixture has been used, approximately 6 rounds on a regular baking sheet. Freeze any unused mixture.
  10. Once crackers have cooled, break into pieces and serve. Store in an air-tight container for up to 1 month.

Nutrition Notes: Flaxseed contains vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant for brain and skin health. Omega-3s are important for heart health.

Cannellini Olive Dip

Olives make this dip just a little more exciting than your run-of-the-mill hummus or white bean dip. The flavors also pair well with a cheese board.

Yield: 6 servings


1 16-oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and rinsed

¼ cup fresh basil

1 clove garlic

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

½ teaspoon salt

1 pinch cayenne

1 to 2 tablespoons water


  1. Combine all ingredients except water in food processor and process until smooth.
  2. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  3. Add water bit by bit until the dip is the texture that you prefer.
  4. Serve with vegetables, crackers, chips or on bread. Use within 7 days.

Nutrition Notes: Plant-based proteins like beans are rich in fiber, which increases feelings of satiety and promotes a healthy gut microbiome. Other white beans like northern beans and navy beans are also healthy and work just as well in this recipe.

Texas Caviar

Texas caviar bean dip appetizer

This affordable, 10-minute dish is great for potlucks and parties. Serve with chips and crackers, on eggs or as a side dish.

Yield: 12 servings


1 to 2 cans black eyed peas, drained and rinsed

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can corn, drained and rinsed

1 medium red onion, minced

1 to 2 bell peppers, diced

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons salt

To personalize to your taste, add as desired:

1 avocado, chopped

1 cup tomatoes, chopped

1 jalapeno, minced

2 to 5 cloves garlic, minced

¼ to 1 cup cilantro, chopped

3 scallions, chopped

1 lime, juiced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ tsp smoked paprika or cayenne


  1. Combine all desired ingredients in a bowl. Stir.
  2. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt or vinegar if necessary.
  3. For optimal flavor, allow mix to sit at least 30 minutes before serving.
  4. Store refrigerated in a tightly sealed container for up to 5 days.

Nutrition Notes: Avocado is a good source of unsaturated fats which are beneficial to the heart. It also contains more potassium than a banana.

Fennel Chickpea Soup with Orange Zest

The flavor combination of fennel and orange brightens up the darkest of winter days.

Yield: 6 servings


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, diced

1 teaspoon salt

3 fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced thinly

4 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon oregano, dry

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, ground

Zest of one orange

8 cups vegetable broth or water

2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

3 tablespoons lemon juice

To taste, fresh mint, chopped

To taste, fresh parsley, chopped


  1. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and salt and stir occasionally until onions are soft and translucent.
  2. Add fennel and sauté 5 minutes or until fennel and onions are golden brown.
  3. Add garlic, oregano, cinnamon and orange zest and sauté for 1 minute.
  4. Add ¼ cup broth and stir for 30 seconds.
  5. Add remaining broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
  6. Optional step: For a creamier soup, blend 1/3 of the current mixture, then add back to pot.
  7. Add chickpeas and simmer for 5 minutes.
  8. Remove from heat.
  9. Add lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning with lemon juice, salt or orange zest if necessary.
  10. Serve in soup bowls and garnish with mint and parsley to taste. Use or freeze within 7 days.

Nutrition Notes: Citrus is rich in vitamin C, which helps your immune system.

Vermont Cranberry Bean Salad

Sweet, nutty and creamy Vermont cranberry beans are part of Vermont’s Seeds of Renewal Project, a mission to bring back indigenous native seeds from the Abenaki tradition.

Yield: 6 servings


1 cup cranberry beans, soaked overnight

2 inches kombu (optional)

4 to 6 cups water

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 lime, juiced and zested

½ tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons chili powder

½ teaspoon cumin, ground

½ teaspoon salt

1 bell pepper, diced

1 cup watercress, chopped (OR sprouts, microgreens, baby arugula or spicy salad mix)

¼ cup chives, thinly sliced


  1. Drain and rinse the soaked beans.
  2. Add beans, kombu and water to a pot and bring to a boil. Skim off and discard any foam that arises.
  3. Reduce heat to medium low, cover with lid, and cook 20 to 30 minutes or until beans are tender.
  4. Remove the kombu.
  5. Drain and rinse cooked beans and allow to cool to room temperature.
  6. In a large bowl, add oil, lime juice, lime zest, mustard, chili powder, cumin and salt and whisk until creamy.
  7. Add beans. Stir to mix.
  8. Add bell pepper, watercress and chives. Stir to mix.
  9. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled. Use within 5 days.

Nutrition Notes: Kombu is seaweed, and it’s a great way to add a mineral-rich, salty and umami flavor dishes. It is rich in iodine, which your body needs to synthesize thyroid hormones.

Spiced Sweet Potato Salad

When mashed sweet potatoes just won’t do the trick.

Yield: 6 servings


2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 teaspoons salt

1 to 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated

1 teaspoon cumin, ground

½ teaspoon paprika

3 large sweet potatoes, cubed

½ cup water

½ cup orange juice

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons maple syrup

12 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

¼ cup pistachios or almonds, toasted and chopped


  1. In a large skillet, warm oil over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and sauté 3 to 5 minutes or until soft and translucent.
  2. Add ginger, cumin and paprika and sauté 1 minute.
  3. Add sweet potato, water, orange juice, orange zest, lemon zest and a pinch of salt and stir to combine.
  4. Reduce heat to low, cover with lid and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Uncover and stir, cook another 5 minutes or until potatoes are tender and liquid is reduced to a glaze.
  6. Add lemon juice, maple syrup and olives. Stir.
  7. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, ginger, lemon juice or maple syrup as desired.
  8. Transfer to serving bowl. Garnish with parsley and nuts.
  9. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled. Use within 7 days.

Nutrition Notes: Olives and olive oil are rich in unsaturated fats including monounsaturated oleic acid which is beneficial for your heart.

Coriander Glazed Carrots

coriander glazed carrots

Coriander, the seed of the cilantro plant, elevates this comfort food.

Yield: 4 servings


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup maple syrup

¼ cup sherry, mirin or white wine

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

4 cups carrots, thick sliced on the diagonal

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground coriander

Black pepper to taste


  1. Add all ingredients to a skillet. Cover and cook over medium-low heat 12 to 15 minutes, or until carrots are tender.
  2. Uncover and cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes or until carrots caramelize.
  3. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  4. Serve hot. Use within 7 days.

Nutrition Notes: Carrots are an excellent source of beta carotene, which your body turns into Vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for eye health and your immune system.

Pumpkin Seed Brittle

pumpkin seed pepita brittle snack

This sweet and salty snack is accented with fresh ginger and cinnamon, reminiscent of cinnamon toast crunch! For a more robust flavor, toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry hot pan. 

Yield: 8 servings


2 cups hulled pumpkin seeds, soaked for a minimum of 4 hours and rinsed

2/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon salt

Cayenne, cumin and pumpkin pie spice to taste


  1. Preheat oven to lowest setting.
  2. Stir together all ingredients in a medium bowl.
  3. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and dehydrate for 2 hours or until dry and crisp.
  4. Store in airtight container. Use or freeze within 7 days.

Nutrition Notes: Pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium. Magnesium is important to muscle and nerve function.

Ginger Poached Pears

If you really want to impress your guests, once your pears have cooled, wrap them in strips of frozen puff pastry and bake until golden brown.

Yield: 4 servings


4 pears (Bosc, Anjou or Bartlett)

1-inch fresh ginger, sliced

1 stick cinnamon

1 lemon, zested

¼ cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon mirin or white wine (optional)


  1. Slice whole pears flat on bottom. Place upright in large pot.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, plus enough water to cover the pears.
  3. Cover pot with lid and bring to a boil. Immediately turn off heat.
  4. Allow pears to sit in cooking liquid until cooled to room temperature or desired eating temperature.
  5. Remove pears and serve. Use within 3 days.

Nutrition Notes: Ginger root contains antioxidants that can help reduce nausea.

Rich Hot Cacao

As comforting as hot chocolate, with the health benefit and energy boost of raw cacao.

Yield: 1 or 2 servings


2 tablespoons raw cacao powder

¼ cup maple syrup

2 cups milk (dairy, almond, oat, hemp, coconut or rice)

Cinnamon, ginger, vanilla or cayenne to taste


  1. In a small pot over medium heat, add cacao powder, maple syrup, and ¼ cup milk and heat until mixture begins to bubble.
  2. Slowly add remaining milk and warm to desired temperature.

Nutrition Notes: Cacao has a high concentration of antioxidants.

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