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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Merry Brunching: Put a Healthier Twist on Favorite Recipes

Nov 30, 2022 07:30AM ● By Sheila Julson
Table full of various plated brunch dishes and foods alongside mugs of coffee, small pumpkins, cinnamon sticks, leaves and other autumn decor


When hosting a holiday brunch, it may be tempting to serve breakfast and lunch classics like quiche, eggs Benedict and huevos rancheros, but many of these dishes can be full of hidden calories, unhealthy fats and too much sodium. With a few easy modifications, healthier versions are possible.

According to Jessica Levinson, a New York registered dietitian and author of 52-Week Meal Planner, it’s important to read nutrition labels, remove empty calories and introduce nutritious alternatives. As an example, yogurt and granola parfaits may seem innocent, but are often loaded with added sugar. “A serving size of most granolas is only one-quarter of a cup, which isnt much, so use granola sparingly,” she says, adding that parfaits made with low-fat Greek yogurt and fresh fruit instead of jam are healthier choices.

Traditional quiches are usually made with heavy cream and a buttery pie crust. Levinson recommends a crustless vegetable frittata instead, as it is naturally gluten-free. “If you don’t want to skip the crust altogether, look for a pre-made, whole wheat crust or make your own,” she says. To eliminate dairy, consider using non-dairy milk and omitting cheese in the recipe.

For eggs Benedict, Levinson suggests skipping the hollandaise sauce, topping the poached eggs with mashed avocado and using a whole grain bread or English muffin for the base. “Instead of ham, try smoked salmon, which has beneficial omega-3 fatty acids,” she says.

Whole grain oats are a heart-healthy option, but oatmeal served brûlée-style is topped with additional sugar, notes Frances Largeman-Roth, a New York registered dietitian and author of Smoothies & Juices. “Its better to opt for oatmeal and fruit, with a drizzle of real maple syrup,” she says. Largeman-Roth likes mixing savory and sweet, to add variety and protein to the brunch plate. “Instead of just having a stack of pancakes, split it with your friends or family, and then have a small, veggie-filled omelet. Youll feel much more satisfied.”

Planning the Holiday Brunch Spread

When putting together a menu, Levinson advocates incorporating all of the components of a balanced meal: lean protein, carbohydrates from whole grains, fruit and veggies, and low-fat dairy or plant-based substitutes. She says, “If you’re making pancakes or waffles, use whole grain flour when possible, and serve with a side of yogurt, fresh fruit and real maple syrup.” 

According to Largeman-Roth, egg lovers will enjoy a veggie-packed omelet or frittata with either potatoes or bread on the side, but not both. Watch out for fried foods and use sauces and cream sparingly or find substitutes. If the family is dining out, she cautions that brunch dishes are often served with extra sauces and syrups, adding sodium and sugar. “Try to ask for them on the side,” she advises. “Its not about completely avoiding them, but its nice to be able to control the amount that youre adding to your pancakes or waffles.”

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings.

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