There is no mistaking the enticing aroma of a holiday kitchen—then cue the stretchy pants. But with conscientious preparation, waistlines can be kept in check by focusing on healthy ingredients for both mind and body.
Los Angeles chef and cookbook author Gwen Kenneally, who specializes in catering for all dietary needs, recommends cutting down on the use of butter and oil by layering flavorful herbs and spices. “You don’t need to make your grandma’s sweet potatoes with mounds of butter,” she says. She recommends mixing fresh seasonings with a favorite broth to add richness to a variety of sides and entrees.
Kenneally shares five of her favorite holiday herbs and spices, plus cooking tips to add a creative pop of healthy flavor this holiday season.
Why it’s good for you: The sweet aromatic scent of cinnamon, which is culled from the inner barks of trees in Southeast Asia, makes it a star holiday spice. It is also known to have healthy medicinal properties. Among its many powers: anti-inflammation and antioxidant properties that may also lower blood sugar and cholesterol.
Pro Tips: Add cinnamon for sweetness to cut down on sugar. Enjoy a sprinkle in your oatmeal or on sweet potatoes. Add to coffee for a festive twist or use a cinnamon stick in tea.
Native to an evergreen tree in India and found in Ayurvedic medicine for 5,000 years, cardamom is a sweet and pungent spice used for digestive problems, infections and even as an aphrodisiac.
Pro tips: Pair with cinnamon, ginger, and/or cloves to add warmth and richness to soups, curries and yams. Add a sprinkle to a champagne Bellini, along with a squeeze of orange. Top a crostini with poached pears or apples, add bleu cheese, and sprinkle with cardamom for a quick appetizer.
Why it’s good for you: Fresh ginger can be pickled, preserved, crystallized and powdered. It is known as a powerful anti-inflammatory and has been studied for its effect in relieving motion sickness symptoms.
Pro Tips: Give fruit salad a little heat with freshly grated or thinly sliced ginger. Make a salad dressing by pureeing mango and avocado with ginger and mint. For a soothing tea, pour boiling water or green tea over six, thin slices of ginger.
Why it’s good for you: The Mediterranean herb is known to be a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which are said to alleviate muscle pain, improve memory, and boost the immune and circulatory systems.
Pro Tips: Roast vegetables and fish with rosemary sprigs, along with a sprinkling of olive oil, salt and pepper. Combine with ginger for a soothing tea, good for digestion. Because it has a strong flavor, add conservatively to baked goods such as lemon rosemary pound cake or roasted garlic, cranberry and rosemary biscuits.
Why it’s good for you: Hippocrates, known as the “father of Western medicine,” recommended thyme as a remedy for respiratory diseases. It is known to have among the highest antioxidant levels of all herbs and is used to ward off infections.
Pro tips: Add thyme leaves to mushroom soup to jazz up flavor—or whole sprigs to a holiday brisket or chicken. For a sweet and savory taste, sprinkle it in a scone recipe with a little ginger.
Cheers to a happy, healthy, herb-a-licious holiday season!