Healthy holidays to you with these easy plant-based recipes

Though, sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic is the Grinch that’s denying us our usual parties and family get-togethers this holiday season, it doesn’t mean that we’ll all be eating healthy.

In fact, overindulging as a way to cope with the stress has ushered in terms like “COVID curves” and the “Quarantine 15.” And I can’t imagine that changing as we approach Christmas and New Year’s.

But as an omnivore, I’m always interested in introducing more plant-based dishes into my diet — especially during times when I know I’m going to be consuming more fat and calories than I should, and maybe more alcohol, too.

With that in mind, I recently asked Healthy Eating 101 chef Megan McCarthy to share some recipes that could offer a weeknight respite from heavy holiday eating.

McCarthy is the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Edible Garden chef, and she’s taught healthy cooking and lifestyle classes at Whole Foods Markets and the Cook’s Warehouse.

This year, though, she’s become more of an influencer and blogger, while continuing to teach online via Zoom, with corporate “lunch and learn” and high school classes.

McCarthy is also an Ambassador in Action for the Produce for Better Health Foundation, charged with “promoting fruit and vegetable consumption for everyone.”

”I’m more plant-based, now, but I’m open to all things, just making them in a healthier way,” McCarthy said. “In one way, COVID has been great, because everybody’s been home cooking, and they’ve had to learn how to cook.”

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Credit: Courtesy of Megan McCarthy

Credit: Courtesy of Megan McCarthy

At the beginning of 2020, McCarthy vowed to take an even more DIY approach to cooking at home, challenging herself with a list of 10 to-dos.

”Whatever I do for me, I can then turn around and teach that,” she said. ”I’m making my own yogurt, now. I’m obsessed with making shawarma with chicken thighs. And I’m making my own ricotta.”

As far as her philosophy of healthy eating, whether it’s every day or a holiday, McCarthy said it’s always the same.

“I approach it like my finances,” she said. “I’ve always called it the Megan School of Money Management. That is, if you spend money the same way, whether you have a lot or a little, you’ll be fine. So with food, even if it’s a holiday, that doesn’t mean you need to go off the deep end and overconsume.”

When she writes recipes, McCarthy likes to focus on one ingredient to build a dish around. And right now, farro is one of her favorites.

”At the Botanical Garden, I usually feature something that’s growing that season,” she said. “But farro has been one of these really fun heirloom grains that has a bit more texture and flavor to it. I often use farro in place of pasta. It’s so toothsome and nutty.

“But I think of my recipes as a template, where you can interchange and substitute different ingredients. And just having simple ingredients like olive oil and balsamic vinegar for flavor, and then sea salt and pepper, you can build almost anything in a healthier food and lifestyle direction.”

RECIPES

These plant-based recipes from Healthy Eating 101 chef Megan McCarthy offer a creative and delicious respite from heavy eating over the holidays.

Farro With Toasted Pecans and Dried Cherries

As with most of McCarthy’s recipes, feel free to substitute ingredients to suit your own tastes. For instance, use kale instead of spinach, cranberries instead of cherries, or almonds instead of pecans.

Credit: Megan McCarthy

Credit: Megan McCarthy

Plant-Based Buddha Bowl

Though the Buddha Bowl is a colorful, nutrient-rich vegetarian meal, McCarthy encourages adding chicken or salmon if you want to make it even hardier. Just don’t take away the sweet potatoes!

Credit: Megan McCarthy

Credit: Megan McCarthy

Zucchini and Eggplant Lasagna

Worthy as a weeknight meal or Italian Christmas Eve treat, this plant-based lasagna can be made with vegan cheese. But McCarthy has a recipe for whole milk ricotta that’s surprisingly quick and easy, plus really fresh and smooth.

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