Over the past few years, December has become so full of holiday fun that it’s actually hard to find time to feel joyful. December is meant to be a time of family connection, seasonal traditions and homemade touches. Instead it has become a bucket-list of events and activities. Between all of the Christmas concerts (a total of 5 in my musically-inclined family), the parades (at least 2, though there’s more on offer), parties (varying between 3-5 each year) it’s hard to squeeze in time for trimming trees, putting up lights, baking cookies and all of that shopping.

The trick to simplifying December is to choose traditions that are the most meaningful to you and your family. Try sitting down with your family around the beginning of the month to discuss which traditions are the most important.

Here are a few tips:
• Don’t ask “Do you like going to the Festival of Trees?” instead ask “What are your favourite Christmas activities?”

• It’s easy to let guilt cause you to say “yes” to every open house and party invitation. Don’t turn your weekends into a party-hopping extravaganza. If you have to turn down an invitation, follow it up with an offer to do dinner after the holidays.

• Make sure you schedule time to stay home and relax with your kids. There’s nothing wrong with saying no to an invitation, choosing instead to spend an afternoon baking cookies or an evening of stringing popcorn and cranberries.

Here are some simple holiday recipes that are easy, healthy and delicious. Each one will take roughly a half hour or less, leaving you plenty of time to relax and connect with your family and friends.

Whipped Eggnog
(Total Time: 5 minutes, serves 4-8)
Homemade eggnog is one of my family’s favourite traditions. Unlike thick store-bought eggnog, whipped eggnog is light and frothy. It’s also healthier because it doesn’t contain any artificial flavours and you can adjust the sugar to suit your taste. Best of all it only takes about 5 minutes to prepare and you probably already have all of the ingredients in your kitchen.
This recipe does contain raw eggs so it is not recommended for pregnant women or anyone with a weak immune system.

4 egg yolks
1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp powdered sugar
2 cups milk
1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
4 egg whites

1. Beat egg yolks in a large bowl until the colour starts to lighten.
2. Add 1/3 cup powdered sugar and stir until completely dissolved. You can reduce the amount of sugar, or switch the sugar for an alternative sweetener if you want.
3. Stir in the milk, cream and nutmeg.
4. In a separate container, whip the egg whites with 1 Tbsp of powdered sugar until stiff peaks form.
5. Gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve within 3 hours.

Spinach Dip
(Total Time: 8 minutes)
Spinach dip tastes best if it’s made at least 1 hour in advance. It can also be made the day before for a quick and delicious appetizer.

Traditionally, spinach dip is served in a bread bowl, however, it’s easier to serve it in a festive glass bowl with crackers or slices of bread on the side. Add a bit of festive flare by serving it with slices of red pepper and cherry tomatoes.

1 package of frozen spinach (10 oz)
3 green onions
1 tsp garlic powder
2 cups plain yogurt or sour cream
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan
1 tsp salt, to taste

1. Thaw the spinach and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
2. Place the spinach and green onions into a food processor or blender. Pulse a few times to coarsely chop the spring onions.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until smooth.
4. Taste the dip and add more salt if needed.
5. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Red, Green and White Pasta Soup
(Total Time: 30 minutes)
This healthy vegetable soup is warming and delicious. Serve it with garlic bread for a simple and satisfying meal. I recommend making a double batch because the leftovers are even more delicious.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
2 carrots
1 stalk of celery
1 medium potato
28 oz can of chopped tomatoes
8 cups of water
1 ½ tsp salt, to taste
A pinch of saffron threads (optional)
14 oz can of white beans
¼ box of spaghetti noodles
½ cup of frozen green beans
4 Tbsp of pesto
4 Tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese

1. Chop the onion, carrots, celery and potato into small, bite-sized pieces.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Sauté the onions, until starting to soften, then add the rest of the vegetables and sauté for another 2 minutes.
3. Add the canned tomatoes, water, salt and saffron. Bring everything to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
4. Add the canned beans and green beans.
5. Break the spaghetti noodles into 1-inch pieces and add to the soup. Simmer until the pasta is tender, about 5 minutes.
6. Serve with a spoonful of pesto on top and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.

Emillie Parrish loves having adventures with her two busy children. She lives in Victoria and is the author of the fermentation-based blog fermentingforfoodies.com.