Cookbook author and educator Martha Rose Shulman

by Martha Rose Shulman

Anybody who has turned on the television lately knows that the holiday season started the day after Halloween. It’s ludicrous and it’s distasteful, but there it is. Maybe the advertisers decided to get a jump on things because the holidays in fact are beginning early this year, with Thanksgiving upon us and Chanukah beginning on Dec. 4.

So does this mean that everybody who tends to gain weight during the last month of the year will have two months to do it this time around?

I have a few suggestions for those who dread the caloric content of the holiday season. The most useful and doable one is to take advantage of the produce that the early winter months bring to us. The holiday season is, after all, a growing season too.

At the moment on my website, I’m focusing on seasonal items like beets and their greens, but go to the farmers’ markets and/or your local Whole Foods stores, and you’ll find greens like kale and chard (red, green and yellow), savoy and regular cabbage, winter squash, sweet potatoes and wild mushrooms in abundance.

You don’t have to forego the turkey and trimmings, but you might want to rethink what those trimmings are going to be. Sweet potatoes, an incredibly nutrient- and fiber-rich vegetable, can replace mashed potatoes (which, let’s face it, require tons of butter to be really good), and they don’t have to be candied. I’ve been making the same sweet potato and apple puree every Thanksgiving for the last 20 years. I love it and my guests and family love it so much, I wonder why I don’t make it regularly during the rest of the year.

Rather than moisten my turkey with gravy, I make a wild mushroom ragout; the leftovers can go into a risotto, an omelette, pasta, or a cobbler. The salad I serve is likely to be a beautiful arugula or mixed greens salad with walnuts and roasted beets.

Main dish salads are a great way to go throughout the holiday season. The goal is to move the more fattening foods away from the center of the plate, and many of my salads make a meal.

On New Years Day, I have an open house that features black-eyed peas for prosperity and good luck (a Texas tradition that I picked up during the 12 years I lived there, and have taken with me to Paris, Berkeley and now Los Angeles). But I don’t cook up a big pot of beans with ham hocks; I make a warm bean salad with a cumin-scented vinaigrette, diced red and green peppers, and cilantro.

Everybody goes crazy for it, and because I always make more than I need, I enjoy the leftovers for days. I also put out a festive fennel, red pepper and mushroom salad, a great one for a buffet because nothing will wilt, and my party goes on for several hours.

The other substantial fall/winter salad I tend to make for holiday buffets is a wild rice and broccoli salad; this one makes a great opener for a Thanksgiving meal.

I have one other suggestion for a strategy for healthy eating during the holidays (and during the rest of the year, for that matter). This is something that I recently suggested to a friend; she followed my advice and has since lost six pounds: Eat yogurt for breakfast. When you’ve been to dinner parties and holiday parties at night, it’s tempting to skip breakfast because you’re not particularly hungry. The problem is, if you don’t give your body some nutrient-rich calories to burn, it might think it needs to store fat, not burn it, in case there’s a famine.

A half cup of plain yogurt, with some fresh fruit if you don’t like it on its own, is all you need to keep you going until lunch. If you’re wondering about the small amount, look at all those thin French women: the yogurt they eat comes in 1/2-cup containers.

You could also use more and make a smoothie with bananas and vitamin-rich berries. When you’ve eaten some good lean protein for breakfast, you won’t feel like snacking before lunch. An added benefit is that yogurt is a great source of calcium.

Finally, to be really healthy, a measure of balance should be part of the equation. If you’re shopping the farmers’ markets, eating lots of vegetables and salads, and having that yogurt in the morning, why shouldn’t you have a slice of pecan pie after Thanksgiving and/or Christmas dinner?

Martha Rose Shulman is the author of more than 25 books, including "Mediterranean Light," the Julia Child Award-winning "Provençal Light," and the IACP Award-winning "Entertaining Light." Her latest book, "Mediterranean Harvest," has just been published by Rodale Press. To learn more about Martha, visit her website at

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