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In many African-American families, holiday meals include sweet potatoes or yams…and often they’re prepared simmering in butter, brown and white sugar, and possibly even marshmallows. In other words, fat, sugar and more sugar. This type of preparation probably negates the incredible nutritional value of sweet potatoes. Known as a ‘superfood’, sweet potatoes are packed with fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, potassium and manganese. They can also help stabilize blood sugar, which means they're a good choice for diabetics. And bonus: they're relatively low in calories (only 95 per potato) for all of the nutritional power they pack!

I clearly remember my grandfather’s sweet potatoes served at Thanksgiving and Christmases in Asheville, NC. He prepared his in a square Corningware dish, sliced thick and swimming in butter and sugar. Seriously…I can taste them now! They were my favorite part of the meal, usually taking up more space than the meat, stuffing or other veggies. And I always went back for seconds.

After getting married, at my first opportunity to make a dish for my in-laws’ Thanksgiving meal I offered up my grandfather’s sweet potatoes. I had to call my dad to get the recipe…and of course there wasn’t one so he just walked me through it. They weren’t as good as grandpa’s (is anything as good as the way your grandparents made it?) but they still held a hint of the holiday memories in Asheville.

Probably a year or so after making that dish I started working on childhood obesity prevention and became hyper-aware of healthier eating and nutrition. 23 million of our children are overweight or obese and rates are higher among African-American children than other populations. In our community, “soul food” like sweet potatoes, collard greens and fried foods have been made in unhealthful ways for generations. With obesity rates, and subsequently, diabetes and heart disease rates, higher among African-Americans, many community organizations across the country are now helping families overhaul our traditional dishes to reduce the fat and sugar yet still keep the taste.

So with that in mind and as the holidays neared again, I went on a search to find a healthier way of preparing sweet potatoes. From then on, whether Thanksgiving or Christmas, my parents or my in-laws, my contribution became roasted, mashed sweet potatoes. I prepared them by roasting them in the oven, mashing them and replacing the butter and sugar with a little maple syrup and allspice. I admit it was hard to resist the temptation to toss in a stick of butter and multiple scoops of sugar!

This year, I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time. My family traveled from Virginia to join my husband and daughter and feast on a menu that included home-made cranberry sauce (a healthy departure from the canned option), turkey, collard greens and of course, sweet potatoes. Since I had a larger list of dishes to prepare than my usual one dish contribution, I took a short-cut on time and cut up the sweet potatoes instead of roasting them whole. However I didn’t cut them uniformly so when I took them out of the oven, some were done perfectly, some a little over-done, and some were “al dente”. But I worked with it and started mashing, adding almond milk for a little extra protein and calcium, cinnamon, a little butter and a splash of Grand Marnier. Hey, my house, my dish…

As the family dug in, my dad commented how delicious the potatoes were and asked “what is the crunch…did you add apples?” Since it was my family I had no problem being honest, but in an embarrassed sort of way responded “No, they’re undercooked potato pieces”. The whole table fell out laughing. Still a healthy dish, if just a little ‘al dente’!

This post is part of the MomsRising Healthy Holiday Food Blog Carnival.

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