Adapting Holiday Recipes

  • December 9, 2022

Thanks to my years of recipe development for Pritikin ICR, I’ve become pretty good at adapting well-loved recipes into accessible heart-healthy versions. Some recipes pose a special challenge, but I’ve come up with a few helpful tips that just about always do the trick.

  • Use what you have on-hand.
  • Focus on foods you already like.
  • Think seasonally.
  • Look for healthy swaps.

In one of my earlier blog posts, I explored each of the tips above and offered a few examples to help get you thinking of ways you can apply them to your favorite recipes.

As we look towards the holiday season, I thought we might revisit the topic with a special focus on adapting seasonal recipes. For this exercise, I thought we could use one of my favorite holiday recipes...


Savory Stuffed Butternut Squash  

Serves 8: ¼ squash per serving

2 large butternut squash (about 3 to 4 pounds each)
1 to 2 tablespoons Pritikin Savory Spice Blend, divided
Canola oil cooking spray
1 pound (16 ounces) lean ground turkey
½ cup diced red onion
½ cup shaved carrots
½ cup diced celery
1 medium-sized sweet red apple, diced
15-ounce can no-salt-added garbanzo beans
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon julienned fresh sage
2 cups cooked long-grain wild rice
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
½ cup low-fat feta cheese (optional)

1. Carefully slice each butternut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Lightly season the cut sides of the squash with 1 tablespoon Pritikin Savory Spice Blend, and then arrange the four halves facedown on a nonstick sheet pan. Bake at 400°F until the flesh is just fork tender, about 45 minutes. 

2. While the squash is baking, lightly mist a large sauté pan with canola oil cooking spray and warm over medium-high heat. Sauté the ground turkey, gradually breaking it apart with your spoon or spatula, until cooked completely through. Remove from heat and drain thoroughly. 

3. Wipe the sauté pan clean and return to medium-high heat. Lightly mist the pan with canola cooking oil spray and add onion, carrots, and celery. Sauté vegetables until just soft, about 5 minutes. 

4. Add apple, garbanzo beans, spinach, garlic, sage, and the remaining tablespoon of Pritikin Savory Spice Blend to the pan. Stir well to combine. Cook until mixture has heated completely through and flavors have combined about 5 minutes. 

5. Remove mixture from heat and add cooked turkey, cooked wild rice, oregano, parsley, and low-fat feta, if desired. Stir to combine all ingredients.

6. Once the baked squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh, leaving about a ½-inch border around the sides and bottom. Cube approximately 2 cups of the squash you have removed, and add it to the stuffing mixture. 

7. Generously spoon the stuffing mixture into each of the squash halves. Once filled, bake at 400°F for 10 to 15 minutes, or until heated completely through.


First, let’s work with what you already have on-hand in your kitchen.

The recipe may call for long-grain wild rice, but if you already have Minute® Instant Brown Rice or some leftover cooked quinoa on hand, use what you have! Of course, you can always substitute any vegetable with another that’s available.

Next, let’s focus on the foods that you already know that you like.

I typically love adding a bit of acidity to a dish like this so I might add a splash of vinegar as I’m sautéing the stuffing mixture before adding it into stuffing the squash. Along those same lines, if I knew I didn’t like the flavor of spinach, I might just leave it out.

Think seasonally.

It’s pretty clear that this Savory Stuffed Butternut Squash recipe was designed with seasonality in mind. That said, if I wanted to incorporate even more seasonal flavors, I may swap in a tart Granny Smith apple in place of the sweet red apple the recipe calls for.

Look for healthy swaps.

While this recipe is already pretty heart-healthy as it is, you may want to make additional adjustments based on your specific dietary needs. For example, if I were looking to further lower my cholesterol, I may decide to swap out the ground turkey for a healthier textured vegetable protein (TVP) option.

Below are a few additional modifications that could be made to this recipe that can help to make it more your own:

  • Swap your gourd or squash with any of the following: Acorn squash, butternut squash, pumpkin, large yellow squash, or zucchini.
  • Pick your protein: no salt added canned beans, textured vegetable protein, lean ground turkey or bison
  • Change up the whole grain with any of the following: brown rice, quinoa, whole grain couscous, or long grain wild rice.
  • Mix up your Vegetables/greens with any of the following: onion, celery, carrots, broccoli, kale, or spinach.
  • Change up the sweetness or tartness with any of the following: apples, pears, tomatoes, or low-sugar dried cranberries.
  • Modify the recipe’s flavor profile with one or more of the following: garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley, crushed red pepper flakes, or my favorite – a little splash of Champagne Honey Mustard Dressing.

As you prepare and enjoy holiday recipes this year, I encourage you to keep these tips in mind. With a bit of forethought and a few simple adaptions, you can enjoy all the season has to offer!

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