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The Main Ingredients Holiday Challenge: Chef's Conclusions

01/06/2014 02:08 EST | Updated 03/08/2014 05:59 EST

With all the conveniences of modern life and stores now offering huge shopping deals from November 1 for holiday gift giving, we should all be so relaxed by the middle of December that our healthy holiday menu is planned with time to spare, right? But it's just so crazy out there. I actually found myself cringing at the thought of hearing "Joy to the World" in the grocery store. Who would be agitated by a lovely song spreading joy around the world?

It seems that the more convenience and technology we have, the more frenzied the holidays get. So having meals and snacks under control is my way of taking charge. And based on all the families who participated in this month's main ingredient challenge, you all found some innovative ways to incorporate these nutritious offerings into your holiday table.

Arugula, Goat Cheese and Pear Salad

I'm excited that this challenge got you into a part of the more 'exotic' produce section of the supermarket where you weren't really venturing into before. So I would definitely say you're on the right track and I would deem your colourful salad a success. Now, the concept of eating more colourful veggies will become more familiar to your kids. I usually begin every dinner - once I've laid it on the table - by saying "Tonight's dinner is brought to you by the colour x and y," (whichever colours are most prominent in that evening's meal). My husband has a smile on his face every time.

Another part of your message that is inspiring is that you turned making brunch into an experience with the pomegranate tutorial, and your kids will remember that. Fantastic.

Festive Grain Salad with Beef

It's always handy to have a chef friend at the ready to help with food questions and emergencies. With just a few suggestions, he eased you into trying this wholesome combination of grains. Now it's just a matter of getting used to cooking with them. Now that you've tried them it will be easier to experiment with other cooking methods a bit more confidently.

To amp up the flavour, I would just add a simple good-quality olive oil and lemon dressing with tons of garlic and any fresh herbs, in lieu of the prepared low-calorie dressing.

Black Eyed Pea and Vegetable Soup

I find that most often, people gravitate to the ingredients and recipes they are most comfortable with. The more comfortable they get, the less likely they are to take a chance on something new.

Congratulations for taking the plunge and using some interesting deduction with your Greek salad combination of black-eyed peas and then turning that into a soup. I chose the black-eyed peas for this challenge because they are one of the few pulses that don't require soaking and can just be added to a stew or soup for that healthy boost of fibre and protein.

Since the soup worked out so well, I would suggest doubling the recipe next time you make it and freezing some for a day when you don't have time to make dinner.

Beef Stew, Rapini and Sides

It looks like you guys were on the same wavelength as I was with the winter classic challenge. I also made a beef stew with a side of sautéed rapini, so your choices are impeccable! Rapini is such a healthy cousin to broccoli and is a perfect alternative. For the beef, I would make a couple of suggestions that would improve your stew for next time. Instead of boiling the beef, which tends to toughen it, I like browning it in a bit of olive oil, to create a nice base of flavour, and then simmering it very gently for an hour before adding any of the grains. I would also add either the barley or brown rice instead of using both at the same time. Cooking the beef longer and slower will make it more tender for both your wife and son.

Thank you all for participating in this main ingredient challenge over the holidays. I know it took some extra work, but I trust that it gave you some inspiration for your holiday table!