By Marshall O'Brien, written for Produce for Kids

There are three things I look forward to with the holidays – the food and catching up with family and friends.  And I definitely get plenty of the food. At the table, if the conversation wanes, I can turn to the other person next to me. And if the potatoes are a miss, I can try the sweet potato pie instead. When a dish isn’t a favorite in my mind, it’s usually because it came from a box or can.

We are busy and that’s a fact of life. With the holidays, shouldn’t we take the time to cherish the people we love by making homemade, nutritious food? If you want to make a hit with your holiday dishes by making them taste great and even healthier, here’s some simple tips to consider.

Fresh ingredients can be substituted for canned items, such as green beans, sweet potatoes/yams, and cranberries.

Fresh cranberries, a Thanksgiving staple, are tart as ever. If you want to sweeten them, use honey or agave nectar. Or add some diced or chopped naturally sweet fruit.

Creamy mashed potatoes are as good as it gets but sometimes they’re a miss because they can be heavy, especially with gravy. To keep them light, substitute half the potatoes with fresh cauliflower.

When it comes to vegetable dishes, candied yams are popular. If you have little ones get them in the kitchen  to help you peel those fresh vegetables. Yams are naturally sweet, so take advantage of that and add just a bit of honey, agave nectar or turbinado (unrefined) sugar.

Stuffing is a staple on my plate for Thanksgiving. Here’s a dish that tends to have lots of salt and preservatives if it’s made from a box. Take old bread (your favorite preferred) and cut into bite sized pieces, like a large crouton.  Then mix them in a bowl with sage, parsley, oregano, celery, mushrooms, eggs, etc…

Fresh herbs like parsley and mint can be more than just garnishes. Try using herbs as greens in a salad. Tear up bite sized pieces of fresh basil and toss into a bowl with spinach, pomegranate, toasted pecans, and thinly sliced red onion. Then drizzle on a homemade vinaigrette of fresh squeezed orange juice, minced thyme, honey, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Substituting fresh and/or homemade ingredients for canned/boxed items are ideal because you can control the salt, preservatives, and flavor for each dish.

Speaking of flavor and salt, citrus and fresh herbs are great for enhancing the taste. Since there’s already so much salt in the foods we eat, some people need to limit their intake., You can make a paste with fresh garlic, rosemary, basil, thyme, fresh lemon juice and olive oil to tenderize and add tremendous flavor to your next batch of chops or roast. This same paste works wonders for vegetables. Salt gets a bad rap. It can bring out the flavor in ingredients, which is a good thing. Just pay attention on how much you eat.

In addition using to using fresh ingredients, there are plenty of better tasting and healthier cooking techniques besides boiling. Granted, potatoes can get a pass with this, but carrots, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower are delicious broiled or roasted. Just season them with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper (a bit of honey and lemon on the carrots will give a tangy sweet flavor) and cook until golden brown and slightly tender.

Holiday foods are always tempting and will always be there. I've offered some practical and realistic tips on how to add more flavor, and more health to your dishes so you can continue to enjoy them, and have more holiday meals with your friends and family for the years to come.