Did you know the Grinch has a sweet side? He also has a hidden reputation for being healthy, at least in the form of a kabob he does.
The Grinch Kabob is one of five nutritious treats Gretchen Berndt, food service coordinator for Summit Academy, recommends as a wholesome, affordable and festive alternative to candy canes and cookies this holiday season. Berndt presents these top picks parents and children can make and munch together during students’ winter break.
A mini marshmallow, strawberry (with the stem and base trimmed off), green grape and banana slice stacked and speared with a toothpick make a merry morsel that delivers vitamins, fiber and festive flair.
“The fruits are packed with nutrients that keep us alert and give us energy,” says Berndt, a registered dietetic technician previously with the Cleveland Clinic Nutrition Department. “These are fun and easy treats children and parents can make together over the holidays.”
Chickpea Cookie Dough
This delightful cookie dough provides fiber and protein that help boost and maintain energy throughout the day, according to Berndt, who earned her Bachelor of Science degree in nutritional science/dietetics from Oklahoma State University and master’s degree in exercise physiology from The University of Akron. Berndt shares simple steps to create this nutritious treat: Mash together chickpeas and oats and add chocolate chips, raisins, cranberries and/or chopped nuts.
“Perhaps best of all, you can nibble this cookie dough without worrying about salmonella bacteria found in raw eggs or E. coli from uncooked flour,” Berndt says.
Cinnamon-and-Honey Sweet Potatoes
Ring in the holidays with sweet potatoes cubed and roasted and topped with honey and cinnamon.
A mainstay on Summit Academy Schools’ weekly menu, sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A for healthy eyes and also combats dry skin, Berndt says.
“Research suggests that cinnamon can stabilize blood sugar levels, and honey provides disease-fighting antioxidants,” Berndt adds, noting that sweet potatoes are offered weekly – mashed or puffed and always a hit – at each of Summit Academy’s 24 schools throughout the state.
Macaroni-and-cheese meet merriment when it’s topped with chopped red pepper and broccoli or with a sprinkling of red pepper flakes for zest and heat. Make it a healthy holiday option by using whole wheat pasta blended with a mixture of pureed cauliflower and Gruyere or cheddar cheese, Berndt suggests.
“The hidden vegetables add extra fiber to this traditional dish,” says Berndt, adding that whole grain pasta is more nutritious than a white variety, especially for healthy digestion.
This seemingly decadent delight starts with a cup of spinach plopped into a blender.
“You won’t taste it, I promise,” says Berndt.
Add a banana, a couple of mint leaves or a drop of peppermint extract, two tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder and one-and-a-half cups of skim, cashew, coconut or almond milk, plus a drizzle of honey or maple syrup for sweetness. Teens and adults can include a scoop of chocolate protein powder for an extra boost of nutrition.
“The spinach offers iron, the bananas add fiber and potassium and balance electrolytes, and the mint leaves make this drink a pick-me-up,” Berndt says.
Whether it’s a smoothie, sweet potato or something in between, holiday foods don’t have to be unhealthy to be tasty and fun, Berndt says. She points out that a regular nutritious diet is beneficial for children and their growing bodies and parents with an eye on keeping fit.
“With all the options and a little creativity, there’s really no need to depart from good eating habits over the holidays. Your taste buds and tummy will both thank you,” Berndt says.