The holiday season is here! But besides the quality family time, festive activities, and giving, this time of year presents a bit of a dilemma…
Trying to stick to a nutritious, bone-healthy diet!
It can be difficult to stay on track and avoid the temptation of sugary, fatty snacks and foods that do your bones no favors.
But don’t worry, we’ve got your entire festive menu planned out. And you don’t need to sacrifice flavor or your bone health!
We’ve compiled a menu of 19 festive recipes that will keep your taste buds and your bones happy. Our dishes include healthy entrées, sides, snacks, and deceivingly indulgent desserts that’ll please even the pickiest palates.
So read on to discover how this can be your most delicious, bone-healthy Christmas yet!
Your Bone-Healthy Holiday Menu
We have 19 food and drink ideas for you to try this holiday season! Some are traditional favorites with a few bone-friendly tweaks, while others are completely new. Scroll down to read through the entire menu, or click on a link below to jump straight to that dish.
10 Bone-Healthy Holiday Dishes + Tips
- Why an Organic Roast is Best
- Salmon: A Healthy Protein Choice
- You-Can’t-Tell-It’s-Not-Potato Mash
- Seasonal Salad with Omega Dressing
- Homemade Cranberry Sauce
- Savory Stuffing
- ‘Good to the Bone’ Gravy
- Candy-Colored Yams
- Healthwise Green Bean Casserole
- Baked Bread with Herb Butter
3 Party-Pleasing Snacks for Healthy Bones
6 Decadent Desserts and Drinks
10 Bone-Healthy Holiday Dishes
Each of these dishes features ingredients that benefit your bones. So load up your plate while the compliments come flying in from your family and friends! It’s everything you want in a holiday meal, with none of the guilt.
Why an Organic Roast is Best
A beautiful roast is always the main event at my family’s festive dinner. And nowadays, we opt for organic, free-range turkey or beef.
Why? Well, organically raised animals eat a healthy diet free of antibiotics and hormones. This is better for the animal, and for you. Organically raised meat also tends to contain less saturated fat and more omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s are crucial to overall health — and that includes your bones.
As you probably know, beef and poultry are also good sources of protein, which is important for bone health. Turkey, in particular, is high in B vitamins (B2, B6, B12), which may play a role in reducing the risk of low bone density and associated fracture. (Note: Organic or free-range pork may be difficult to find. And pigs tend to be fed grain and soy meal unnatural to their forager diet, which disrupts their omega 3-6 fat balance.)
Salmon: A Healthy Protein Choice
If you’re not big on the proteins typically served at a holiday meal, consider wild-caught salmon instead. My favorite is Chinook (also called King or Spring salmon) because it’s absolutely delicious and packed full of vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids!
Try stuffing your salmon with lemon slices, dill, and almonds, and baking it whole. It’s sure to have that “Wow!” factor when you place it at the center of your table.
Mashed potatoes are a staple of almost any family feast, but I’ve got a tip for you to give this classic dish a bone health makeover…
Replace traditional mashed potatoes with steamed, whipped cauliflower, and see if anyone notices!
|Prep Time||10 minutes|
|Cook Time||15 minutes|
|Total Time||25 minutes|
- With a hand blender, whip lightly steamed cauliflower. (If you don’t have a steamer and decide to boil your cauliflower, make sure to strain it before blending to get rid of any excess water)
- Add the organic butter, dried (crushed) rosemary, garlic, Himalayan sea salt and pepper.
- To make it creamier, add two tablespoons of milk. (Consider sheep’s or goat’s milk for easier digestion and nutrient absorption that have as much calcium as cow’s milk.) Make sure it’s 2% or whole milk because studies show it’s more difficult to absorb vitamin D without milk’s fat (skim milk).
Bone health bonus: In addition to curbing your carb intake, using cauliflower adds almost twice the amount of calcium that potatoes provide. (Cauliflower = 22 mg calcium per 100 grams, potatoes = 12 mg per 100 grams).
- 1 head cauliflower
- 2 tbsp milk
- 1 tbsp butter organic
- rosemary , dried
- Himalayan sea salt
- black pepper
Seasonal Salad with Omega Dressing
Salad made with a mix of green and red veggies is the perfect way to add a dash of festive color to your dinner spread. It’s super-easy to make and it’s loaded with bone-healthy nutrients. Take some of the stress out of mealtime prep by assembling the salad ahead of time and adding the dressing at the last minute.
Here’s how to make the salad:
- Choose from your favorite high-calcium greens. These can include:
– collard leaves (83.5 mg calcium per cup)
– kale (53.3 mg calcium per cup)
– spinach (29.7 mg calcium per cup)
– watercress (40.8 mg calcium per cup)
– arugula (32 mg calcium per cup)
- Add vitamin C-rich red bell pepper and orange slices. These give the salad a little extra texture, and they’ll help you absorb the minerals in the greens.
- Before serving, top your salad with this simple but delicious dressing. In a bowl, simply combine:
– ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
– ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
– 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
– salt and pepper to taste
*If you like, also add 1 tbsp dijon mustard, 1 garlic clove (minced), and 1-2 tbsp honey.
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Besides Santa Claus and Rudolph, I’m not sure there’s a more iconic Christmas duo than turkey and cranberry sauce! Now, it’s convenient to just pick up a jar of cranberry sauce at the store, but did you know making your own gourmet version is incredibly simple?
Here’s how to make it:
- Add 2 cups of fresh or frozen cranberries (thawed) to a medium bowl.
- Stir in 1/2 cup of sugar (this is about two-thirds the sugar in traditional cranberry sauce).
- Add the freshly-squeezed juice of one orange, one tablespoon of grated orange zest (peel), and one teaspoon of cinnamon.
- Transfer your mixture to a pot and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves — about 10 minutes.
- Increase the heat to medium and continue cooking until the cranberries start to break down — about another 10 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to low and keep stirring for about 5 minutes. Taste your sauce and add extra salt, pepper, cinnamon, or orange zest, if you like.
The Bone-Health Bonus
Your homemade cranberry sauce will get rave reviews with less sugar, no preservatives, and an extra 40 mg of calcium and 85 mg of vitamin C from the orange! (Did you know orange peel has more vitamin C and calcium than the flesh?)
You probably know that fresh cranberries are rich in vitamin C, but they’re also plentiful in bone-building calcium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin K, and iron. Phytonutrients are in the cranberries’ skin and flesh (not the juice) — these phenolic acids, anthocyanins, and flavonoids fight inflammation that can increase bone degeneration.
Serve a memorable and nutritious twist on traditional stuffing by using cooked quinoa in place of bread.
Why quinoa? Well, besides complementing multiple ingredients, quinoa provides a generous amount of protein. In fact, the high-quality protein in quinoa provides all nine essential amino acids your body can’t make by itself — a rare attribute for a plant-based protein! Plus, quinoa’s flavonoid antioxidants (quercetin and kaempferol) are potent anti-inflammatories that protect bone and tissue health. And it has more oleic acid, omega-3s, and ALA fats than other grains.
Quinoa works well with traditional stuffing ingredients like chopped celery, onion, mushrooms, apple, dried cranberries, poultry seasoning, chicken broth, walnuts, garlic, and pinches of cinnamon and ground allspice. So you can experiment with your favorite flavors to make a stuffing your guests are sure to enjoy!
‘Good to the Bone’ Gravy
Gravies are traditionally made with fat drippings from the cooking pan. But by using a chicken stock, you can cut the amount of drippings in half without sacrificing the flavor!
Here’s how to make the gravy:
- Sauté the stock and drippings with whole-grain flour instead of white flour or cornstarch to thicken the gravy. Crushed flax seeds also thicken gravy well.
- Add dried spices and herbs instead of heavily salting. Powdered garlic, chives, parsley, rosemary, and freshly ground pepper are all great options!
Tip: If you can, make your own homemade broth. It offers greater digestive, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting benefits. We have a delicious recipe for bone broth here. Some butchers and specialty grocers sell organic broth, which is nutrient-rich and full of flavor!
Make this holiday favorite just as mouth-watering without using the marshmallows or sugar.
|Keyword||maple syrup,sweet potato|
|Prep Time||20 minutes|
|Cook Time||20 minutes|
|Total Time||40 minutes|
- Roast maple-glazed red garnet sweet potatoes (often mistakenly called yams) at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) until tender.
- To intensify the natural sweetness, cut your sweet potatoes into one-inch pieces, and lightly coat with virgin olive oil, before you roast them.
- Add the maple syrup, organic butter, orange juice, vanilla, Himalayan sea salt, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
- Bake for another 20 minutes.
- Take out and present in a serving dish!
The Bone Health Bonus
Sweet potatoes are a top source of beta-carotene (the precursor for vitamin A). And when you add olive oil, the fat significantly increases absorption of beta-carotene. Sweet potatoes' antioxidants, called anthocyanins, have potent anti-inflammatory properties. These are beneficial for bone and joint health:in studies, sweet potatoes reduced NF-kB, iNOS and COX-2– all of which are markers of inflammation.
- 2 sweet potatoes
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp butter , organic
- 1 tbsp orange juice
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp nutmeg
- Himalayan sea salt
- black pepper
Healthwise Green Bean Casserole
Green bean casserole is another classic side dish for family gatherings during the holiday season. But you can make this recipe healthier with the following swaps…
Here’s how to make it:
- Pour 1 can of cream of mushroom soup into a casserole dish.
- Add 4 cups of organic green beans, ½ cup of milk, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, and a dash of pepper.
- Now, the traditional recipe calls for deep-fried onions to be added to the mix, too. But to make your casserole healthier, you can use sliced sautéed onions.
- To sauté the onions, add breadcrumbs and sliced onions to a pan and gently fry in a very small amount of olive oil until both are crispy, and sprinkle with Parmesan if you like. (Don’t add them all to the mixture, as you’ll want to save some for the topping.)
- Bake your casserole at 350° F for about 25 minutes (you’ll want to see it starting to bubble on top).
- Give your mixture a good stir and sprinkle an extra handful of your sautéed onions on top.
- Bake your casserole for 5 more minutes or until the onions are golden.
Fun Fact: Did you know green bean casserole was invented in the test kitchen of Campbell’s Soup in 1955?
The Bone-Health Bonus
Onions support bones!
Studies show that onions can help increase bone density in menopausal and older women, and may lower their risk of hip fractures! It’s the sulfur in onions that researchers believe could be the reason.
And the beans? Green beans are high in calcium. But perhaps the most important mineral they offer is silicon. Silicon is known as the “strength and beauty nutrient” because it builds collagen in connective tissue, skin and bone. Few foods have silicon, which is constantly depleted (through urine, hair loss, and nail clipping), so deficiency is common in older adults.
Baked Bread with Herb Butter
Bread is perfect as a side dish and for mopping up any extra gravy! But bread made with white flour and refined grains should be avoided, as they can promote inflammation that accelerates bone loss.
So why not bake your own festive bread using ancient whole grains like spelt, kamut, and rye flour? (Or use gluten-free quinoa, buckwheat, or amaranth flour.)
It’s much easier than you might think! To get you started, our resident Bone Health Expert, Lara Pizzorno, has shared her very own Gluten-Free Sourdough Recipe.
When your bread is done, serve it warm with this tasty herb butter.
Here’s how to make the butter:
- Whip softened organic butter with fresh minced garlic and parsley, which actually help absorption of the iron and zinc in the grains!
3 Party-Pleasing Snacks For Healthy Bones
The concept of healthy Christmas snacking seems impossible when you’re faced with party bowls filled with potato chips, crackers, and candies. Sure, these addictive treats taste good in the moment, but they’re high in fat, salt, and refined flour, and they’re devoid of nutrients.
Instead, why not whip up these easy, good-for-you treats. They’re as satisfying as anything out of a bag or box from the supermarket. In fact, you and your guests may never want to go back to store-bought snacks again!
This snack offers a one-two punch: calcium to support bone health and vitamin D to help your body absorb it.
|Prep Time||5 minutes|
|Cook Time||20 minutes|
|Total Time||25 minutes|
- Pit the dates and cut an X into the top of each of your figs.
- Slide a sliver of cheese into each date and fig
- Bake the fruit in the oven to give it crunchy and soft, sweet and salty taste sensation! Bake the dates for 15 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and the figs for 5 minutes at the same temperature
- Drizzle a little honey over the figs and dates and serve warm.
Figs and dates may be the best fruit sources of calcium. At 241 mg of calcium per cup (13 mg each fig), a few figs go a long way to getting your daily calcium and satisfying your sweet tooth. Dates, too, are a natural treat, and each date contains a whopping 15 mg of calcium. For a decadent treat, and to add more calcium and some vitamin D, stuff these with a sliver of goat cheese. Goat cheese is full-flavored and easier to digest than cow cheese (it has less lactose, the fat molecules are smaller and fewer, and it's higher in vitamins D and K).
- 12 fresh figs
- 12 Medjool dates
- 6 oz goat cheese
- 1/2 cup honey
Nuts are festive staples that contain a double dose of bone- and body-boosting nutrients: calcium and polyunsaturated essential fats.
For a quick, easy, and healthy snack, roast your own nuts! Try roasting half of them and leaving the other half raw, then combine the two in a bowl. This preserves the benefits of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids from raw nuts, but still provides the rich flavor of roasted nuts. And it offers lots of calcium from both raw and roasted nuts.
Nuts are also high in protein — vital for muscle and bone development. Almonds contain about 20% protein, and one ounce offers 12% of your daily protein needs. Walnuts contain over 15 grams of protein per 100 grams of nuts, equivalent to a 3.5 ounce serving of chicken! This protein makes you feel satiated, so you won’t be as tempted to gorge on other foods. Pecans, almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts all work well raw and roasted.
Here’s how to make it:
- Choose 2 cups of your favorite nut mix and separate them in half.
- You can roast half of them dry on a baking sheet. If you decide to add sea salt, add a touch of extra-virgin olive oil or organic coconut oil when roasting to help it stick better.
- Bake at 250 degrees for 15-20 minutes (check every 10 minutes or so). Nutrients are best retained if you slow-roast the nuts in the oven at this temperature.
You may be wondering why homemade roasted nuts have an edge over store-bought ones. Well, store-bought roasted nuts go rancid quickly because roasting damages the fats and they “oxidize.” Oxidized fats are pro-inflammatory and can be unhealthy, contributing to bone and joint diseases including arthritis.
Yes, you read that correctly. Kale chips!
Oven-baked kale leaves make for a perfectly crunchy chip that’s sure to satisfy your snack craving. Plus, kale provides powerful antioxidants and it’s high in vitamin C and calcium — making it a healthy and satisfying alternative to fatty, run-of-the-mill potato chips!
Deck the Halls with 6 Healthy Desserts and Drinks
It wouldn’t be a holiday meal without dessert and a sweet, warm drink, right?
I agree. And during the holidays, we all deserve a special treat.
Fortunately, there are ways you can indulge your sweet tooth while sneaking in some bone-friendly nutrients. Your guests won’t know the difference… and you’ll all have that well-fed glow that proves the meal was a success!
Here are my favorite end-of-meal indulgences for this time of year.
Dark chocolate is my definition of a perfect pleasure food. It contains energy-boosting minerals and calming fats, and raises the “pleasure chemicals” serotonin and dopamine.
The 70-85% cocoa varieties of dark chocolate are very high in iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese. They also offer potassium, zinc, and selenium — all of which support bone health. And compared to milk chocolate, high-cocoa varieties of dark chocolate are relatively low in cholesterol and sugar.
Pie is another classic component of holiday meals. And here’s a tip on how to make them a little healthier: Use whole-wheat filo pastry (now available in most frozen food sections) instead of traditional high-fat shortcrust, flaky, or puff pastry. If you do use shortcrust pastry, only use a thin layer, and leave the pies open rather than latticed or covered. (The less pastry you use, the less carbohydrates your pies will have.) Check the label of the fruit mince, if store-bought, and choose one without suet (raw beef or mutton fat).
If your Christmas favorite is the traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, you have healthy taste! Pumpkin pie — especially made with less sugar and cream than the recipe calls for — is a great choice for bone health. Pumpkin is nutrient-dense, too! It contains potassium to protect bone density, vitamin C as a vital cofactor to make collagen, and beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation. For a decorative touch, sprinkle raw pumpkin seeds on top before baking, which also adds omega fats and antioxidants.
Looking for a vegan or gluten-free version of pumpkin pie? Check out our recipe here.
Festive Fruit Kebabs
Personally, I like to use papaya and bananas in my fruit kebabs (because they contain potassium) and strawberries, tangerines, and kiwifruit (they’re high in vitamin C and calcium).
But the great thing about this easy recipe is that you can customize it to suit your personal taste. Experiment with different fruits, berries, and extras to find a festive winner!
Here’s how to make the dish:
- Thread chunks of papaya, kiwifruit, and strawberries (or your choice of fruit) onto skewers.
- Add mini marshmallows and dried cranberries between the slices of fruit.
- Chocolate-covered strawberries add “special occasion” flair. Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler, in the microwave, or in a bowl over boiling water. Dip the strawberries so they’re half covered and allow them to cool on wax paper.
- Assemble your skewers with your chosen ingredients and serve.
To me, mulled wine is Christmas in a glass. And when you make your own, you get the added benefit of your entire house smelling divine!
Now, high alcohol consumption is associated with bone loss. It reduces calcium absorption and vitamin D metabolism, lowers estrogen levels, and increases your levels of cortisol and parathyroid hormone that accelerate bone breakdown.
However, enjoying a three-ounce glass of wine may have bone health benefits. This is because the resveratrol in wine has positive effects on inflammation and metabolic syndrome. (Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of many diseases including osteoporosis.) So the good news is you can enjoy a glass or two of wine over the holiday season… including mulled wine! Plus, adding mulling spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger to festive drinks provides a little extra health boost too!
- Combine 1 bottle (750 ml) dry red wine, 1 orange (sliced into rounds), 1/4 cup of honey or sugar, 8 cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, and 2 star anise pods into a saucepan. Place over medium heat. (Optional additions: nutmeg, vanilla, cardamom, and/or ginger.)
- Bring to a simmer, but not a boil! Boiling will eliminate the alcohol content.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer for a minimum of 15 minutes and a maximum of 2 hours.
- Strain and serve!
- You can also add garnishes such as cinnamon sticks and freshly sliced orange.
Eggnog is now available in lower-fat versions that still offer milk and eggs… good for bone health because of their calcium and vitamin D content.
Nogs made from dairy substitutes such as coconut milk and almond milk are remarkably similar to the original if you’re vegan or lactose intolerant. They’re available at many grocers now, too.
Tip: Add a bit of water to your eggnog to make it go further, especially if you’re having it with a shot of rum. And grate fresh nutmeg on top (rather than powdered) for extra flavor.
A tempting and comforting alternative to caffeinated coffee and teas is to make hot cocoa from scratch, using just a teaspoon of sugar. You can even forego milk, depending on how you take your coffee. (See the dark chocolate section above for cocoa nutrition.)
Happy Holidays from AlgaeCal!
It may be the holiday season, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice eating a healthy diet or enjoying a delicious festive feast!
I hope you’ll try some of the bone-healthy recipes and twists on traditional classics I’ve shared in this post. They should take the stress and guilt out of making a special Christmas meal the whole family will enjoy!
What’s your favorite dish during the holidays? Please share it with us and the community in the comments below!