6 spins on your favorite Alabama holiday dishes + healthy options to eat out in your region

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Alabama Healthy
Get a full Birmingham meal from Ashley Mac’s. Photo via Hannah Chambley for The Bama Buzz

With the holiday season upon us and a table full of pies, turkey, ham and all the fixings, we’re wondering—how do you eat healthy and stay healthy during the holidays? Read on for insight from a qualified expert at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama.

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Where to find healthy options in your region

Alabama Healthy
We love a healthy spread. Photo via Ashley Mac’s Facebook page

Maybe you don’t have a knack in the kitchen or you just want to carry out. Or maybe you need help finding somewhere to shop healthy. Either way, we know of some healthy restaurants where you live.

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Birmingham: Real & Rosemary

Stay Healthy
With so many options, it’s hard to choose. Photo via Real & Rosemary’s Facebook page

Real & Rosemary feels like eating at home. This Birmingham favorite has some of your go-to comfort dishes, but without preservatives, food dyes or MSG.

Whether you’re looking for a salad loaded with protein and veggies or grilled chicken with mac and cheese, Real & Rosemary has everyone’s favorites.

Stop by and dine-in or order their catering to fill your holiday table with their yummy sides:

Other Birmingham favorites include:

Huntsville: Chef Will the Palate

Huntsville Restaurant
Chef Will showing kids how to cook healthy. Photo via Chef Will the Palate’s Facebook page

Chef Will knows how to make eating healthy a fine dining experience on a budget. Working with Huntsville farmers and market gardeners, he makes Alabama classics, but with a healthy spin.

With dishes ranging from $2-8, it’s fair to say you may have to order multiple items off the menu. Some of our favorites are the Portobello burger and blackened garden green bean salad.

Even if you’re not from Huntsville, it’s worth checking this spot out:

More Huntsville healthy options include:

Mobile: 1031 Meals

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On the go? 1031 Meals has you covered with pre-packaged, healthy meals. Photo via 1031 Meals’ Facebook page

Do you want to grab a meal in a restaurant and order healthy meals for the week? Well, Mobile has the place for you. Husband and wife Ben and Erin Akey are both certified personal fitness chefs and started 1031 Meals to make healthy eating accessible for everyone. While they may still be cooking for NCAA and NFL athletes, they’re making sure Mobile has healthy options too.

You can either order one of their yummy meals at the cafe or pre-order these dishes to eat at home for the week. We recommend the healthy spin on the comfort classic meatloaf with a cauliflower puree and sautéed green beans:

Mobile dwellers, here’s some places for you:

Montgomery: Plant Bae

Alabama Food
All your favorite Southern staples are now made vegan. Photo via Plant Bae’s Facebook page

This fully vegan restaurant is going to become your new favorite, Montgomery. After a couple years of being a vegan and traveling across the nation to try plant-based food, Quebe Merritt opened Plant Bae.

Never tried vegan food before? Don’t worry, Plant Bae has healthy spins on some of our favorites. You have to order the SeaBae plate, which comes with crispy mushrooms, vegan tartar sauce, plant fries, apple coleslaw and a pickle. Yum!

Try out this dish and the many other vegan options:

Montgomery, you’ll prefer eating out over staying in with these picks:

Meet the Expert

Blue Cross And Blue Shield Of Alabama
Julie Sears is a qualified medical professional.
Photo via Julia Sears

We know you want your healthy eating tips from a trusted source, so let’s meet our expert.

This is Julie Sears. She is a Certified Diabetic Educator with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama

Sears has deep knowledge of nutrition as part of her training and expertise. It’s safe to say she knows how to stay healthy during the holidays. Here are some of her healthy spins on six of our favorite Alabama dishes.

1. Cornbread dressing

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Can I fill my plate with just cornbread dressing? Photo via Real & Rosemary’s Facebook page

It’s always the classic debate of dressing or stuffing. No matter what you say, here’s how to make your recipe healthier:

  • Add vegetables, such as mushrooms, carrots or celery
  • Make homemade cornbread with whole wheat flour
  • Use a low sodium broth

2. Fried shrimp

Mobile, we know you love your seafood. Here are some lighter ways to serve your shrimp this holiday season:

  • Bake with panko breadcrumbs and lemon
  • Sauté with lemon, garlic and herbs
  • Steam with lemon, sea salt, pepper and garlic powder

3. Green bean casserole

This southern classic is oh so good, but it’s even better with a healthier spin. Here are some tips to make this holiday classic healthy:

  • Look for low sodium options of cream of mushroom soup
  • Sauté onions instead of frying
  • Top with panko breadcrumbs instead of fried onions
  • Use fresh green beans, not canned

“Go get some real green beans. One of the ways to do healthier dishes is to stay away from processed versions.

Make sure you’re using a real ingredients make it homemade if you can, because that instantly makes it healthier.”

– Julie Sears, Certified Diabetic Educator, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama
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4. Mac and cheese

Healthy Eating
With a plate looking like this, you’ll want to eat healthy all the time. Photo via Real & Rosemary’s Facebook page

Whether you’re from Florence, Mobile or somewhere in between, mac and cheese is a must-have side for all Alabamians. Check out these innovative ideas to healthify your mac:

  • Use half the suggested butter
  • Stay away from processed cheeses
  • Substitute cauliflower or spaghetti squash for pasta
  • Switch your usual pasta to whole wheat pasta
  • Use skim, oat or almond milk

“Just because the recipe says you have to put two sticks of butter in something, guess what?

It’s probably going to taste identical even if you delete a whole stick, so there are some compromises that you can make with the traditional recipes that you already have.”

– Julie Sears, Certified Diabetic Educator, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama

5. Pecan pie

Baldwin and Mobile counties, this one’s for you. You may grow the most pecans in Alabama, but we have a healthy spin for your sweet tooth. Here are some tips to make your pecan pie healthy this holiday season:

  • Half the suggested amount of sugar
  • Substitute almond or whole wheat flour for the crust
  • Use a natural maple syrup instead of sugar

6. White BBQ chicken

Are you from Alabama if you’re not feasting on some white BBQ chicken? Decatur may have been the founding place for this dish, but it’s now a staple on all of our holiday menus. We have some tips on how to make this Alabama classic healthy:

  • Pour sauce over dark meat instead of white meat
  • Serve in a festive salad with white BBQ chicken, spinach, pomegranates and pecans
  • Use Greek yogurt in white BBQ sauce instead of mayo

What else can we do to stay healthy?

Stay Healthy
What’s better than a walk in the crisp fall air? Photo by Pat Byington for the Bama Buzz

There’s more to staying healthy than just eating healthy. Here are some of Sears’ tips for feeling your best during the holidays:

  • Don’t go to the grocery store hungry
  • Don’t skip meals
  • Drink enough water
  • Eat in moderation
  • Take a walk after eating

“The biggest thing at the end is if you mess up, don’t beat yourself up.

Start over the next day.”

– Julie Sears, Certified Diabetic Educator, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama

Head over to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama for even more tips on staying healthy.

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