Brown-paper wrapped presents with winter greenery

Whether surrounded by family and friends or going solo, winter festivities are an opportunity to enjoy some of the most delicious meals of the year, and here at the Whole Grains Council we make whole grains an integral part of those meals. In the past we’ve explored the role of whole grains in traditional dishes, and discussed elevating holiday meals with whole grains. This year, let’s take a closer look at some of the Oldways staff’s favorite holiday dishes, and how we can incorporate whole grains to them to improve their flavor and nutrition.

Since it’s the middle of Hannukah when this article goes out, let’s start with some of my own Hanukkah favorites!

For many, the best part of Hanukkah is tucking into some freshly fried latkes. Whether you eat them with sour cream or apple sauce, there’s no denying that not much beats a salty, crispy latke. (For the record, I’m firmly on team sour cream.) My own family recipe is simple, with one batch featuring six potatoes, one onion, two eggs, and two tablespoons of flour. Swapping out the white flour for whole wheat was a no-brainer, and the small amount of flour meant that there was no textural or structural changes to the finished latkes.

Family passing latkes with a fully lit menorah in the background

Another Hanukkah classic that bridges the gap between sweet and savory is kugel, a noodle casserole that comes in as many shapes and colors as there are types of pasta. My family’s version is decidedly sweet, but always served as a side with dinner, never as a dessert. But this year I’m swapping out the usual refined grain egg noodles with a 100% whole grain variety, along with a swirl of mashed sweet potato to complement the whole grain pasta’s rich, nutty flavor. The boost of nutrition from the whole wheat pasta makes this a side dish I’ll be happy to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Hannukah, with its celebration of all things oily and fried, is typically not a holiday where health is high on the list of priorities. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t make a few quick swaps to zhuzh up the classics. Take jelly donuts, or sufganiyot. These desserts are amazing freshly filled with homemade raspberry jelly, and can be made even more delicious by swapping half (or even all) of the flour for whole wheat. We particularly recommend white whole wheat flour for its slightly lighter texture and flavour, which will keep your sufganiyot from feeling too heavy.

Now that we’ve got Hannukah covered, let’s see what my colleagues at Oldways look forward to eating on Christmas, and how we can incorporate whole grains into those dishes.

Three Tamales on Plate

Sarah Anderson, Heritage Diet Curriculum Coordinator at Oldways, referenced her Tex-Mex side and recommended tamales for Christmas. A perfect dish to bring Central and South American heritage cuisine to the table, tamales are made from a type of corn flour called masa, which has undergone a process called nixtamalization. Because that process can vary widely, not all masa is truly whole grain; some has lost too much bran. To ensure that you’re getting all of the nutritional benefits of whole grain masa, we recommend choosing one of the many masa products bearing the whole grains Stamp for your Tex-Mex Christmas.

While Sarah Anderson enjoys a southern-style Christmas, Sarah Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways, enjoys tucking into a Christmas lunch with family. The lunch features eggs benedict and fruit salad, as well as orange scones. The scones would be a perfect opportunity to slip in some whole grains, either by swapping out the flour as with the donuts mentioned above, or by trying one of our whole grain scone recipes. These Strawberry Barley Scones are particularly beautiful, and would look and taste amazing on any Christmas spread.

Strawberry Barley Scones

Finally, for those in-between meal moments, why not take inspiration from Kelly LeBlanc, our director of nutrition? Her family sets out a cheese and whole grain cracker plate every year. Pick a whole grain cracker or two from our list of Stamped products, and surround them with some local cheeses. Garnish with a tangy jelly, some honey for drizzling, or fresh herbs, and you have a plate worthy of celebrating.

What dishes do you look forward to during the holidays? Have you already had success adding whole grains to some old favorites, or will you try adding some this year? Let us know! (Rebecca)

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