Enjoying Pork at the Center Table
How pork can fit into any holiday meal.
Author: Renee Korczak Ph.D., RDN, CSSD, LD
The season of entertaining is upon us, which means two things: delicious, nutrient-dense food and an inviting atmosphere that includes a warm, holiday table for family and friends to gather around. Before we dive into what makes a nutritious and satisfying holiday meal, let’s talk about decorating your holiday table.
For starters, I recommend organizing your decorations based on the type of table that you have. For example, my dining room table is long and rectangular in shape; therefore, using a neutral color runner (or a seasonal printed runner) as your foundation sets the tone for the remaining decorations. Next, consider using some faux garland or leaves to add color and movement across the table. Keeping decorations and any centerpieces low, will also allow guests to see each other, while also keeping plenty of room for food on the table. Last, but certainly not least, add small pumpkins or squash to help bring everything to life. Adding a couple of candlesticks and candles is also a nice complement to any table.
Now for the food! A holiday meal can be served in many ways. Some prefer buffet style, where all the food is set out at once and guests can self-serve themselves. I prefer a plated meal for a few reasons: 1) It allows for an equal distribution of food groups including a source of high-quality protein, fruits, veggies, and healthy fat 2) The presentation is impressive 3) Providing sensible portions means you still have room to enjoy your favorite cocktail, glass of wine or beer and still have room for an enjoyable dessert.
This holiday season, I am serving a roasted, apple-infused pork tenderloin with cranberry sauce, a lightened-up version of sweet potato casserole, and green beans with a mushroom sauce. This can be served with a simple mixed green salad with fresh cranberries as décor.
Choosing pork for my holiday meal is easy because not only is it affordable, but it is also versatile and easy to work with. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I also value trying to keep it lean and put my health first. The good news is pork tenderloin provides 30 grams of high-quality protein per 4 ounce serving, which helps to keep you satisfied, as well as a blend of nutrients including B-Vitamins (Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, and Vitamins B6 and B12). An added health benefit of choosing pork tenderloin for your holiday meal is that it is naturally low in sodium and potassium; two nutrients that work together to help regulate blood pressure. If you are worried about your heart health, another bonus is that some cuts of pork meet the American Heart Association (AHA) Heart checkmark; meaning it contains less than 5 grams of fat and 2 grams of less of saturated fat per label serving.
To help round out the key nutrients on your plate, colorful sides such as sweet potatoes, green beans, fresh cranberry sauce and a simple mixed green salad also means that you are getting plenty of fiber for digestive health, beta-carotene (a form of Vitamin A), Vitamin C, Vitamin K and Folate. All these nutrients are required in your diet daily to help support a healthy lifestyle.
Pork tenderloin is a lean, nutrient-dense, protein-packed option that can fit into any holiday meal. Its versatility means it will pair well with just about any flavor you wish to incorporate. Enjoy your holiday meal, gather safely, and remember to nourish yourself.
Apple-infused pork tenderloin
2 lbs. pork tenderloin-This is enough to serve 6 guests if you are portioning 3-4 ounces per plate-Adjust total amount of pork that you buy if you are entertaining more guests
2 medium-size honeycrisp apples, peeled and diced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 350F. Take a filet knife and make four incisions (in the shape of a diamond) in the center of the pork tenderloin. Make the incisions deep enough to fill each with diced apples. Stuff each slit with diced apples. Season pork with salt, pepper and olive oil and place into a roasting pan. Place the pork tenderloin into the oven for 20 minutes per pound or until the internal temperature reads 145F. Let the pork rest on a meat cutting board until you are ready to plate with your sides.
Fresh Cranberry Sauce
1 cup orange juice, no pulp
¼ cup sugar
1, 12-ounce package fresh cranberries
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the orange juice. Add in the cranberries, stir, and cook until the sauce thickens (about 10-15 minutes). Remove the saucepan from the heat and transfer to a bowl. The sauce will naturally thicken as it cools down.
Lightened-up Sweet Potato Casserole
5 medium sweet potatoes
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
½ cup skim milk (can be substituted with 2%, whole milk or a plant-based milk)
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. allspice
¼ cup pecans
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 400F. Wash potatoes and dice into quarters. Add to boiling water until the potatoes are soft enough to pop out of the skin (about 20-25 minutes). Drain the potatoes from the water and allow to cool. Once the potatoes are cool, pop them out of the skin and place into a mixing bowl. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes. Add all ingredients to the potatoes (maple syrup through egg) and blend with an electric mixer, blend until smooth. Spray an 8 x 8 pan with a nonstick cooking spray and add the casserole mix. Put into the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Add pecans to the top of the casserole for décor.
Mushroom green bean casserole
1 can (10.5 oz.) low-sodium cream of mushroom soup mix
3 cups steamed green beans, ends trimmed
¼ cup slivered almonds
Preheat oven to 350F. Combine the soup mix and green beans in a mixing bowl. Spray a casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray and add the green bean mix. Place into the oven for 25 minutes or until hot. Top with slivered almonds when cool and ready to serve.