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Superfoods to Use in Holiday Dishes

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
by Sidney Fry, MS, RD
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Superfoods to Use in Holiday Dishes

Not only does the holiday season shed lightness and brightness on the cold, dark days of winter, but it also happens to be peak season for some of the planet’s most powerful produce — or what some people like to call superfoods.
Technically speaking, a “superfood” isn’t expressly defined, but you can think of these foods as nutrient-dense items that have been linked to various health benefits. Thankfully, many of our favorite holiday dishes are perfect templates to add superfoods and a mighty dose of nutrients to each serving. Furthermore, they boast a rich profile that extends beyond just the belly-filling benefits — they’ll bring joy and light to your holiday table, too!
Superfoods to Use in Holiday Dishes
Dark leafy greens are packed with folate and phytochemicals, both of which have been linked to a lower risk of mental decline. Eating them may be one of the best ways to boost normal brain function and slow the development of dementia. Kale and spinach tend to lead the popularity pack in this holiday-ready and festive category, but don’t forget about peppery arugula, tender Swiss chard, turnip greens, radish greens and beet greens. Dark leafy greens boast a healthy amount of vitamin K, vitamin A, iron, folate, vitamin C and potassium. They’re all low in calories and loaded with fiber — a fair reason to call these greens super!
Here’s how to work them in: 

  • Toss a few handfuls of chopped spinach, kale or Swiss chard into your favorite holiday soups. Toss them in during the last few minutes of cooking and let simmer until slightly wilted.
  • Saute leafy greens with garlic and onions and stir them into your favorite breakfast casserole. Here’s one made with turkey sausage and spinach, while this low-carb recipe features butternut squash. This broccoli breakfast strata recipe has less than 300 calories per serving.
  • Pack them into your favorite hot appetizer dips, including this fan-favorite spinach artichoke dip.

Filled with hundreds of tiny red seeds called arils, the pomegranate is one of winter’s most delicious wonders. It’s an excellent source of fiber, giving you 7 grams per 1-cup serving. Bonus points: Eating pomegranates may even help lower cholesterol by preventing plaque buildup in the arteries. The vibrant seeds are filled with cancer-fighting polyphenols with a greater antioxidant potential than red wine and green tea. They’ll add a bright pop of flavor to salads, yogurt and even that holiday turkey in the center of the table.
While seeds have more fiber-boosting potential, pomegranate juice carries a number of benefits, too. It’s great as a replacement for orange juice in your holiday morning mimosa! Just beware of added sugar and buy 100% juice varieties where possible. Find juices stored in dark containers because these help keep the vitamin C in pomegranate from degrading due to light exposure.
Here’s how to work them in:

  • Pomegranate juice is a great tart-sweet addition to holiday sauces. Try this pinot-pomegranate sauce with pork, beef tenderloin and even turkey.
  • Sprinkle pomegranate arils over hummus or guacamole for a festive, fun holiday dip.
  • Roll your cheese ball or goat cheese log in arils for a colorful addition to the cheese board.
  • Sprinkle the arils over dark green leafy salads for a pop of bright, tart-sweet goodness.

Much like those pretty pomegranate seeds, beets are the color of the holiday season! They also have a powerful nutrient profile, boasting a hefty dose of antioxidants and 4 grams of fiber, at only 60 calories per cup. They contain more iron than spinach and are a good source of potassium (1 cup has as much as a banana) and folate. Of particular interest are the heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory properties of beets, which can be attributed to a pigment called betalain that gives beets their vibrant red hue.
Here’s how to work them in:

  • You can roast beets for a sweet, buttery addition to your holiday salad (made even better with a handful of crunchy walnuts!).
  • Serve in a relish that’s the perfect complement to a holiday ham, turkey or beef tenderloin.
  • Make them the star of the appetizer table with this beet hummus.
  • Shred and bake them into your favorite holiday muffin recipe — the naturally sweet beet is a perfect addition to baked goods!

A word of wisdom: Don’t toss those beet greens! Beet greens have one of the richest nutrient profiles of the dark leafy green family (see above), packed with folate, vitamin K, calcium and iron. The greens are slightly bitter, so try chopping them and sauteing in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper to eat as is, or toss into whole grains or roasted root vegetables.

CLICK TO TWEET THIS ARTICLE > Supercharge your holiday dishes with these seven #superfoods, plus recipes! via @myfitnesspal #myfitnesspal #holidayrecipes

Blueberries are unsuspecting little parcels of power. A cup of fresh blueberries has 6 grams of fiber, 50% of your daily vitamin C and is ranked as one of the top sources of antioxidants. Anthocyanins (the purple color) offer brain-boosting benefits, while polyphenols help protect from heart disease, and flavonoids improve glucose metabolism. A blueberry-loaded breakfast is one of the best ways to kick off your day before a big holiday meal.
Here’s how to work them in:

Superfoods to Use in Holiday Dishes
Olive oil is super rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, skin-nourishing vitamin E and antioxidant-rich polyphenols. It’s the golden child of the heart-healthy fat family and the workhorse of a healthy holiday kitchen. In addition to being packed with good-for-you-fats, it also may reverse oxidative damage in our brain and bloodstream. Olive oil is beautifully complex in flavor and is often underused in cooking and “finishing” things like greens, roasted veggies and even mashed potatoes.
Here’s how to work it in:

  • Rub your turkey down with olive oil instead of butter. You’ll not only eliminate loads of saturated fat, but you’ll also end up with crispier skin. Butter is about 20% water and cools down the skin as it evaporates off, which keeps that skin from getting as crisp as an oil-rubbed bird.
  • Use olive oil in your pastry and pie crusts instead of butter. As a liquid fat, oil incorporates into the flour more easily than solid fat. Your pie crust ends up super flaky, rich and delightfully delicious. Use 3/4 of the amount of fat called for by substituting oil for butter; oil is 100% fat while butter contains fat, water and milk proteins.
  • Use garlic-infused olive oil in place of butter in your holiday mashed potatoes and roasted veggies, and you can make your mash even more “super” by using sweet potatoes or butternut squash instead of white potatoes.

We see, smell and decorate with loads of citrus during the holidays — but there are also many ways to add more of these bright, sunny fruits into your holiday dishes (even beyond the festive mimosa). The benefits of citrus (think oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, lemons and limes) extend far beyond the notable vitamin C boost. Citrus contains a powerful flavonoid called hesperidin, which provides heart-healthy benefits by improving circulation and helping lower blood pressure. Yes, you can drink your daily dose of citrus but it’s better when you can chew on it — juice is OK in small amounts but has a concentrated dose of sugar, too.
Here’s how to work it in: 

  • Go heavy on the citrus in your leafy green salads.
  • Serve a big boost of citrus in the morning over yogurt, or try these fun and festive crepes on Christmas morning.
  • Buy the easy-to-peel mandarin oranges and add to any cheese or charcuterie board.
  • Make a bright, sunny, citrus-based salsa to serve with seafood, turkey or even pork.

Superfoods to Use in Holiday Dishes
We aren’t talking lattes here, which can have upwards of 50 grams of sugar (that’s 1/4 cup!) in just a 16-ounce pour. We are, however, talking about real pumpkin with big-time benefits. That bright orange hue? All thanks to those beta-carotene loaded-antioxidants. Beta-carotene is good for our eyes and helps boost our immune system. A cup of pumpkin puree has more than 200% of your daily vitamin A needs, 1/3 of your vitamin K needs, 7 grams fiber, and micronutrients like zinc and magnesium that are important for mood, energy and hormone balance.
Here’s how to work it in:

  • Kick off your holiday meal with this heart-warming pumpkin soup.
  • Think beyond the pie when it comes to that can of pumpkin puree. You can add canned pumpkin to your breakfast smoothies, stir into chili or oatmeal, jazz up mac and cheese, or pour into pancake batter!
  • Make pumpkin a part of your hostess gifts! Make and take these Pumpkin Pie Power Bites to your friends and family instead of peppermint bark, candy and cookies. They also make a great snack for holiday road trips and fit perfectly into carry-on luggage.
  • Pumpkin-packed foods often pair well with cinnamon, another super-spice that has been found to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.


This holiday season, focus on building a super plate filled with various nutrient-powered foods. Don’t be distracted by labels. Stick to whole foods from a variety of categories and, most importantly, focus on your friends and family!
Ready to take the next step? Unlock MyFitnessPal Premium to access custom goal settings, quick-log recipes, and guided plans from a registered dietitian. Premium users are 65% more likely to reach their weight loss goals!

Sponsored By

Sponsored by - Sprouts Farmers Market
About Sprouts Farmers Market

Discover the goodness of the holidays with Sprouts Farmers Market! Make delicious memories this season with high-quality, ready-to-cook holiday meats like free-range, organic turkeys and uncured spiral-sliced hams. Plus, you can celebrate your way with a healthy assortment of organic, plant-based and gluten-free options to complete your festive feast.

About the Author

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
Sidney Fry, MS, RD

Sidney is a two-time James Beard Award-winning food and nutrition writer, editor and mom based out of Birmingham, Alabama. A registered dietitian with a passion for research and being proactive about health, she loves to eat, write, run and create simple, tasty meals with whole-food-based approach. Find out more from her website, Instagram or Twitter.


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