Bank Healthy Meals for the Holidays

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto



Simple Split Pea Soup

Ready or not, holidays are on the horizon.  Decorations are on sale and lights are illuminating houses and businesses. I even saw a Christmas tree in the window of a home. 

The first step to eating healthfully over the holidays is to bank a few meals in your freezer to pull out when there’s no time to cook a healthful meal. We’re in for many such occasions, between shopping excursions, events and added holiday tasks.   Knowing you have a favorite meal waiting at home can help guard against mall snacking, fast food and other less-healthy and more-expensive meals. 

Many soups, stews and chili freeze well. If your recipe includes an ingredient like potatoes or squash that don’t hold up with freezing, cook and add them just before servings.  Here’s a link to my family’s favorite Chili recipe.  Many such comfort foods  do double duty – helping us nourish ourselves and de-stress. 

If you don’t have time to cook ahead, pull out the slow cooker and set it up before leaving in the morning.  Even if you are a pro with a slow cooker, you will likely find some valuable and entertaining information in this slideshow  “Slow Cooker Meals”   created byJulie Garden-Robinson, PhD, RD, North Dakota University Extension Service and Alice Henneman, MS, RD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.


November 11th launched Split Pea Soup Week, a reminder to stash a batch of this cold-weather comfort food. With or without a slow cooker it is ridiculously simple and inexpensive to make.  It seems traditionally American but as Wikipedia indicates, yellow and / or green split peas are used to make soup-like dahl in India, Guyana, Trinidad and the Fiji Islands. 

A 1/2-cup serving of cooked split peas is nutritionally equivalent to 2 ounces of meat per the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 and contains about 116 calories, 8 grams of protein and 8 grams of dietary fiber. Split peas are a good source of thiamin, folate, manganese and potassium and contain lower levels of many other nutrients.  They are considered “low glycemic” and gluten free, too.

My grandmother and mom used a ham hock to flavor split pea soup.  I avoid the solid fat it adds to the soup by using lean, top-quality nitrite and nitrate-free ham cubes, lightly browned and stirred in just before serving.  It is our tradition to serve this soup with green salad and sweet-potato corn bread but a loaf of crusty whole grain country bread would be good, too. 

Here are links to a couple of my other favorite slow cooker recipes on my website, a lean version of Carnitas and a Lentil-Tomato Sauce for pasta.


Split Pea Soup

Slow Cooker Recipe

It takes a good 10 hours to mellow out the raw onion and let the flavors meld.  To speed up cooking to 5 or 6 hours sauté the onion and carrots in a skillet with a little vegetable oil  until soft; meanwhile place  water, peas, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and 1 teaspoon of salt in slow cooker and get started on high heat. Add cooked onion and carrot to mixture in slow cooker. 


6 to 8 cups or more water

1 pound (about 2 ½ cups) split peas, rinsed, picked over and drained

2 cups chopped onion

2 cups peeled and finely chopped carrots

2 bay leaves

Sprig or two of fresh thyme (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 pound best quality lean, nitrate/nitrite-free ham, cut into bite-sized cubes

Chopped fresh thyme


In slow cooker, combine 6 cups water, peas, onion, carrots, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and 1 teaspoon salt.  Cook on high until liquid comes to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and cook for 9 hours, adding additional water as needed if soup becomes too thick.  If soup is too thin for your liking place the lid ajar and cook on high for an hour or until reduced to the consistency you desire.  To serve, remove bay leaves and thyme sprig and discard.  Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add ham and cook, stirring often, until browned.  Stir into hot soup. Taste and add additional salt and pepper to taste. To serve, spoon into bowls and sprinkle with thyme.   Makes 4 to 6 servings. 

 © 2013 Lorelle S Del Matto

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

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