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Celebrate Healthy Holidays With Michigan Apples

The holiday season is here, but this year our celebrations will look a little different. Instead of crowded seasonal events, most of us will be staying close to home and enjoying smaller get-togethers with close friends and family (depending on where you live, as gathering restrictions may keep things smaller). Perhaps our best gift this season will be to keep those close to us safe and healthy as we look forward with optimism to the New Year. As you begin to plan your holiday gatherings, here are several things to consider to help protect yourself, family and friends during the pandemic:

  • The location of the gathering – Indoor gatherings generally pose more risk than outdoor gatherings so think about holding some celebrations and activities outdoors if possible. Bundle up around a bonfire; have a snowman building contest; take a winter hike or host a sledding party. Warm everyone up with some hot Mulled Michigan Apple Cider and Maple Glazed Apple Cookies (recipes below). Keep indoor gatherings shorter in duration and if it’s not too cold, open a window or two for some ventilation.
  • The number of people at the gathering – Gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people. The size of a holiday gathering should be determined based on the ability to reduce or limit contact between attendees and the risk of spread between attendees. Encourage social distancing by placing tables and chairs a safe six feet apart.
  • The locations attendees are traveling from – Gatherings with attendees who are traveling from different places pose a higher risk than gatherings with attendees who live in the same area. Higher levels of COVID-19 cases and community spread in the gathering location, or where attendees are coming from, increase the risk of infection and spread among attendees.
  • The behaviors of attendees during the gathering – Gatherings with more preventive measures, such as mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing, in place, pose less risk. Communicate clear ground rules for guests regarding face masks, seating, distancing and food service.
  • The ways to make things safer – In the restroom place disposable towels along with lots of soap and hand sanitizer. Place some touchless garbage cans in the kitchen.
  • The food you serve – Help guests stay well by choosing a healthy menu. Try a few new recipes that incorporate nutritious ingredients such as whole grains, and fruits and veggies like Michigan Apples. The addition of apples provides more nutrition in our Apple, Cranberry Wild Rice Stuffing and Apple and Butternut Squash Salad recipes below.
  • The way you serve food – If you are serving food buffet-style, place protective barriers over any exposed food and have hand sanitizer readily available for guests. Assign one person to serve shareable items or have portions individually plated. This works well for dessert like our Caramel Apple Bites (recipe below).

In addition, keep all food safe by following the core four practices from the Partnership for Food Safety Education: clean, separate, cook, chill. Be diligent about cleaning hands and surfaces and watchful about cross-contamination. Cook foods to appropriate temperatures, and refrigerate them promptly.

Although we may be celebrating in new ways this year, one thing is certain – good food will play a dominate role. Typically, the turkey, ham or roast is the star of the holiday table but delicious side dishes enhance and complete the meal while adding seasonal flavors. This year why not try a mix of some traditional favorites along with some new options. Our recipes below combine nutrient-rich ingredients like Michigan Apples, in some fun and flavorful ways to add diversity and health to your menu.

Hot Mulled Michigan Apple Cider – When the temperatures get cold, you’ll love celebrating the season with a mug of this delicious cider.

Makes 16 (1 cup) servings


1-gallon fresh Michigan Apple Cider

2/3 cup fresh orange juice

6 cinnamon sticks

12 whole cloves

12 whole allspice

1 sliced Michigan Honeycrisp Apple, for garnish


Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Let cook for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into mugs and serve.

Note: Can add dark rum if desired.

Nutrition information per serving: 125 calories, 0 g fat, 30 g carbohydrate, 0 g protein, 1 g fiber, 5 mg sodium


Maple-Glazed Apple Cookies – Bake up a double batch of these delicious Maple Glazed Michigan Apple Cookies and pack them in decorative tins or boxes – a perfect idea for when you want to give a special gift of appreciation this season.

Makes approx. 2 dozen cookies


1 stick butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup milk

1 egg

2 cups white whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 small Michigan Apples, chopped (Golden Delicious, Fuji, Gala)


1/3 cup pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 375°F. Cream butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Add egg and milk; stir to combine. Stir in flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and baking soda. Gently fold in the apples.

Drop by heaping tablespoons onto a baking sheet that has been coated with cooking spray. Bake for approx. 10-12 minutes or until tops of cookies are dry.

To make the glaze, bring the maple syrup, butter and milk to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla. Gradually whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth; whisk gently for 3-5 minutes or until mixture thickens and cools slightly. Drizzle each cookie with glaze.

Nutrition information per cookie: 134 calories, 22 g carbohydrate, 4.5 g fat, 2 g protein, 1.5 g fiber, 236 mg sodium


Apple-Cranberry Wild Rice Stuffing – This holiday stuffing recipe is filled with fiber-rich Michigan Apples and nutty brown rice, along with naturally sweet cranberries and fresh apple cider. The perfect complement to your holiday meal!

Makes 8 servings


2-1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2/3 cup raw wild rice
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
2 medium Michigan Apples, cored and diced
2 cups cubed whole grain bread

1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1-1/2 teaspoons dried sage, crumbled

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram, crumbled

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Michigan Apple cider


Bring the broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in the wild rice, then cover and simmer gently until the liquid is absorbed, about 35-45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Heat the oil in a medium-size skillet. Add the onion, and sauté until soft. Add the celery, and sauté over medium heat until both are golden.

Combine the onion-celery mixture with the cooked wild rice and all the remaining ingredients except the apple cider in a mixing bowl. Stir well to combine. Drizzle the apple cider in slowly, stirring all the while, until the mixture is evenly moistened.

Transfer the mixture to a large shallow baking dish that has been coated with cooking spray. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top begins to get slightly crusty.

Nutrition information per serving: 178 calories, 6 g fat, 28 g carbohydrate, 5 g protein, 4 g fiber, 92 mg sodium


Apple and Butternut Squash Salad – Crisp Michigan Apples, roasted butternut squash, fresh greens and crumbly goat cheese make this a perfect salad for fall and winter meals.

Makes 4 servings or can make into smaller salads


1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups butternut squash cubes (look for peeled, precut squash in the produce dept.)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 cup red onion, sliced thin

6 cups prepared salad green mix with spinach

2 Michigan Apples, sliced (Gala, Honeycrisp, Fuji, Empire)

1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup dried cranberries, if desired

Light balsamic vinaigrette dressing


In large skillet over medium low heat, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil; add butternut squash and cook covered, stirring occasionally until butternut is slightly golden and is tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and red onion; cook uncovered for 2-3 minutes.

Place 1-1/2 cups salad greens on 4 plates, top with divided squash mixture, apple slices, goat cheese, walnuts and cranberries. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette.

Recipe & photo adapted from Kroger.com

Nutrition information per serving (based on 4 servings):  324 calories, 16 g fat, 35 g carbohydrate, 10 g protein, 6 g fiber, 438 mg sodium


Caramel Apple Pie Bites – These little bite-sized servings are perfect for a fall or holiday celebration. Makes 24 bites.


1/2 of a 17.3-ounce pkg. frozen puff pastry sheets    

(1 sheet), thawed

1-1/2 cups finely chopped Michigan Apples

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

10 caramels, unwrapped

3 tablespoons half-and-half

3 tablespoons chopped pecans

Sea salt flakes


Preheat oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface, unfold puff pastry sheet. Roll pastry into a 15×10-inch rectangle; cut into twenty-four 2-1/2-inch squares. Using a mini muffin cup pan, fit each square into each cup.

Stir together apples, sugar and cinnamon. Spoon mixture evenly into the puff pastry-lined cups. Bake about 15 minutes or until pastry is golden. Cool 5 minutes in pan. Carefully remove bites from pan.

While the bites cook, heat and stir caramels and cream over very low heat until melted and smooth. Drizzle bites with caramel sauce and sprinkle with pecans. Add a bit of sea salt and serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Magnolia Journal

Nutrition information per bite: 145 calories, 9 g fat, 14 g carbohydrate, 2 g protein, .6 g fiber, 70 mg sodium


Meet the Author

Shari Steinbach

Shari Steinbach, MS RDN
Shari Steinbach & Associates, LLC

For the past 26 years, Shari has worked as a dietitian in the grocery industry for two major retailers in the Midwest. In her retail roles, Shari has managed consumer health communication, health influencer partnerships, nutrition programs, and solution-selling strategies.

Shari has served as a nutrition expert and corporate spokesperson, providing food and nutrition advice through monthly television spots on ABC, NBC and FOX affiliates and local radio segments. She has also conducted numerous educational presentations to community groups and professional organizations throughout the country. Her timely nutrition and food product information and strategic social media messages have reached millions of consumers.