Bloomington / Normal, IL

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

Healthy Holiday Entertaining


By Jackie Pope-Ganser, Culinary Director, Meadows at Mercy Creek

The holidays are nearly upon us. With celebratory opportunities around every corner, how does one commit to making wise food choices and stay on track throughout the season? It’s true, one should not plan on dieting from Thanksgiving to New Year’s because you set yourself up for failure. With office gatherings, school functions, cocktail parties, and family celebrations, there are simply too many temptations.

The holiday season is a time to rejoice, to give thanks, to share with family and friends and to celebrate with all the culinary traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. With good food comes the sharing of wonderful memories and wonderful recipes. This is something to be treasured, but we have an opportunity to adapt those recipes to something that can be healthier, yet deliciously indulgent.

When you think of Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s house, you may remember the wonderful aromas that filled the air the minute you stepped through the doorway. The family feast consisted of roasted turkey (and maybe ham too), stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, corn glistening with butter, dinner rolls, sweet rolls, pies, candies, cookies and more. Of course, we all loved those dinners, but we know now that too much of a good thing is just that… too much.

In senior living communities today, we are blessed to be able to share in the history of our residents through culinary traditions. And fortunately, for the healthful-minded chef, many residents will pass along those family favorites and allow us to create a more healthful adaptation of those traditional foods with a modern twist. Today’s markets are filled with vegetables of every color of the rainbow; we can update and improve the content of our meals using healthy grains, nuts and dried fruits; and we can use less heavy dairy in our food preparation by substituting healthy fats like olive oil and protein-rich Greek yogurt. The opportunities are endless.

This year, when you are planning a family gathering, surprise your guests with new versions of the traditional. Rather than roasting a turkey and basting it with butter while it cooks, make a mixture of olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs to rub under the skin and roast it upside down to seal all the juices in the breast of the turkey. Instead of a traditional stuffing with white bread, sausage, and giblets, prepare a savory delight that is made with whole grain bread, wild rice, mushrooms, toasted almonds, and broth. And that traditional marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole should be a thing of the past. Offer a side with roasted sweet potatoes, cranberries, pecans, and locally sourced honey vinaigrette.

If you are going to celebrate elsewhere, remember to take a dish you know you can eat whether it is a healthy appetizer, a vitamin-rich vegetable side dish, or a fruit-filled dessert that everyone can enjoy. If you know first-hand that every tempting food you ever loved will be offered, eat a large protein and vegetable-filled salad at home before you go and eat only enough of those calorie-laden treats to be polite. And if too many libations lead to your downfall, drink a glass of sparkling water between each cocktail.

Enjoying the holidays and all the gustatory delights they offer is no different from enjoying each precious day of our lives. It’s all about loving friendships, nurturing one another, and creating a harmonious balance to carry us through to the next day.

For more information about senior living at Meadows at Mercy Creek or to schedule a tour, you may contact Holly Hall at 309-268-1501. They are located at 1501 Mercy Creek Drive in Normal (near the intersection of Raab Road and Towanda-Barnes Road). They are currently placing interested seniors on their wait list for available apartment homes with a full array of services and amenities and independent living villa homes.

Photo credit: haoliang/iStock

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad With Cranberries and Pecans

This dish is gluten-free. Vegan option provided.

3 lb   sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into ½-inch chunks
3 Tbsp   olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup   pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup   dried cranberries
1/3 cup   fresh squeezed orange juice
3 Tbsp   local honey (or maple syrup for vegan version)
1/2 cup   thinly sliced green onions
8   kale leaves, stemmed and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place peeled and cubed sweet potatoes in large bowl and drizzle with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Toss to coat. Spread sweet potatoes out in single layer on large jelly roll pan or rimmed cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Bake in 375-degree oven, stirring occasionally, for 25-30 minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife.

In large bowl, whisk the orange juice, honey (or maple syrup) and remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil. Toss the hot roasted sweet potatoes with the orange juice mixture. Combine well. Set aside to cool 5 minutes. Add the pecans, cranberries, green onions and chopped kale. Toss well and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Serve at once while slightly warm or let cool to room temperature and mix again before serving.

Serves 8

Creamy Cucumber Vegetable Dip

2   cucumbers, peeled, seeded and grated
1 32 oz.   container plain Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp   lemon juice
2 Tbsp   olive oil
2    cloves minced garlic
1 Tbsp   fresh mint, finely chopped
1 Tbsp   fresh dill, finely chopped
 Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Place all above ingredients in large bowl. Mix to combine. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour for flavors to blend. Remove from refrigerator and stir to combine. Place in decorative serving bowl. Place serving bowl on large oversized platter and create a beautiful vegetable tray with fresh vegetable mix including carrot sticks; celery sticks; cherry tomatoes; broccoli and cauliflower florets; red, yellow and green peppers; olives; and whole grain crackers.

Makes 6 cups