I’m ready to change something.
I’m ready to change the assumption that holiday meals invariably lead to a ‘food coma’ or a food ‘hangover’. I’m ready to change this notion that we need stretchy pants and antacid for a successful Thanksgiving dinner.
It doesn’t need to be this way. Hear me…I’m not advocating getting rid of grandma’s famous pecan pie or mom’s marshmallow-studded buttery sweet potatoes. I’m advocating the introduction of some healthier real-food versions of our Thanksgiving favorites. Not healthier because they contain “low-fat” dairy or because they substitute artificial flavorings for sugar. I’m talking less quantity, higher quality of the good stuff—grass-fed, full-fat dairy, local eggs, natural sugars like maple and coconut. When you cook with these unrefined ingredients, you just don’t need as much, and they result in dishes that give you energy instead of zapping it.
This casserole is a great way to start. Reminiscent of the creamy, Funyun-topped Betty Crocker original, you don’t lose anything with my healthier version. In fact, it’s even more delicious, with a slight snap to the fresh, not canned, green beans, and the umami mushroom flavor isn’t masked by sodium. By reducing the base liquids and adding arrowroot or cornstarch, you achieve the signature “gooey-ness” that our taste buds have come to expect in a casserole.
This recipe requires a few more steps than most of my dishes, but they’re all simple, easy and complete 100% worth it. Add this to the Thanksgiving table along with those indelible indulgences, and know that you’re getting the best of both worlds. If you practice moderation with a meal that includes some healthier options, your body will thank you and the memories will be just as special.
Healthy Holiday Green Bean Casserole
8 cups lightly steamed green beans, cut into 2-3 inch pieces (you can also blanch and shock)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small sweet onion, sliced into 1/4 inch thick half-moons
10 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms (I get pre-sliced from Trader Joe’s)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups full-fat canned coconut milk
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (preferably organic and free-range)
2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons arrowroot starch (sub cornstarch)
1 cup gluten-free panko bread crumbs (or regular)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 casserole dish with olive oil or butter.
Heat a large sauté pan to medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Turn pan to coat with oil. Add sliced onions and allow to brown without stirring, for 5-6 minutes. You want to burn the edges slightly. Flip onions with a spatula and cook another 5-6 minutes to brown the other side. Add 1/2 cup water to the pan to deglaze, scraping the bottom and mixing it with the water. Turn down to medium-low heat and cook another 10 minutes.
Remove onions from pan and set aside. Add 2 more tablespoons olive oil to pan, turn to medium heat and add sliced mushrooms. Cook 3-4 minutes without stirring to brown slightly, then flip and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add minced garlic and saute 30 seconds, stirring.
Add coconut milk, chicken stock, tamari, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and oregano. Stir to combine. Cook for 15 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by approximately half and has thickened.
Whisk arrowroot starch with 6 tablespoons water and add to sauté pan. Stir to incorporate and cook another 2-3 minutes until liquid has thickened even more. Remove pan from heat.
Add steamed green beans and caramelized onions to casserole dish and pour mushroom mixture over. Stir to incorporate evenly. Top with Panko mixture. Optional but recommended: drizzle top with extra virgin olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving.
Oven-Fried Onion Rings (Optional)
1/2 sweet onion, sliced into 1/2 inch thick slices
2 eggs, whisked
Panko mixture above (make a double batch).
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line one large baking sheet with parchment. Grease with olive oil.
Place egg in a shallow bowl and panko in another shallow bowl.
Dip onion slices in egg, shake off excess then dip in panko. Place on baking sheet, side by side.
Bake for 20 minutes or until edges are golden brown. When casserole has been baking for 25 minutes, add onion rings on top and finish baking.
Tips for Portion Control
If you’re someone who has trouble with portion control during holiday meals, here are some tips to help tamper your temptation:
- Drink water throughout the day, as thirst can sometimes masquerade as hunger. Plus, a waterful-belly will give you a feeling of fullness. No need to overdo it, just make sure you’re well hydrated
- Don’t be afraid to eat before your meal. Start the day with a wholesome, low-sugar breakfast like scrambled eggs or avocado and feta toast. Have a few healthy snacks like nuts or veggies and hummus, or a light lunch depending on when you eat dinner. This will keep your blood sugar stable and prevent cravings.
- Wait before round 2. It’s so easy to finish your first plate of food and find yourself on the second plate before you can blink. Your body and brain need time to make sure your satiety cues are firing. Give yourself at least 20 minutes after round one before going back for seconds.
- Remember, it will still be there tomorrow! Unless you are the anomalous American family that eats every bite of food during the actual Thanksgiving dinner, there will be plenty of leftovers. Know that you don’t have to stuff your face like it’s your last meal. Fantasize about the incredible turkey sandwich you’ll reward yourself with the next day if you hold off on gluttony.
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Laura Lea is a Certified Holistic chef, recipe developer and food writer based in her hometown of Nashville. Her company LL Balanced is at your service to provide easy, nutritious, family-friendly recipes that will make eating healthy a pleasure and restore balanced to your life. Laura Lea is a Certified Holistic Chef, not a registered dietician, nutritionist or doctor, and her opinion should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult one such licensed professional before making any significant changes to your diet.