Happy New Year!
Celebrations abound across the globe during the holidays, and with them a smorgasbord of food. New Year’s is no different. Folks all across the globe enjoy ringing in the New Year with foods that carry not only symbolic value for those who partake, but can possess great nutritional value as well!
Here in the United States, one of the most popular New Years Day dishes contains an abundance of protein, grains, greens and vegetables! You might have heard of it: “Hoppin’ Johns!”
Hoppin’ Johns, a low-country meal that traces its origins to the Deep South, consists of basic black-eyed peas, rice, celery, onion, pepper, tomatoes and spices. It is typically slow-cooked in broth with a hock of ham and is a dish that, when eaten on New Year’s Day, is meant to bring wealth, health and progression in the months ahead. Each ingredient represents its own bit of good luck, and, by slightly modifying the traditional recipe, brings its own healthy punch to the table.
Black-eyed peas - These delicious little beans symbolize coins, for accumulation of wealth. Some households keep with tradition, and hide a coin in the dish or under a plate. Whomever gets the plate with the coin will be the one who has the most luck in the New Year! Black-eyed peas are rich in dietary fiber and protein.
Tip: When using canned beans, choose a low sodium version or rinse and drain the beans prior to adding them into the recipe.
Rice - Meant to convey longevity and sturdiness, rice in this dish is more than a filler. While any rice can is a great source of complex carbohydrates, we recommend brown rice for its whole grain qualities, providing more dietary fiber and magnesium than enriched white rice.
Greens – Be it spinach, collards, or the currently very trendy kale, using greens in your Hoppin’ Johns is believed to help financially, as green is the color of money! Tradition holds that the more greens used, the more security will be found during the year. Your body will thank you, too, as the dark leafy stuff comes packed with Beta-carotene, folate, vitamins C and K and dietary fiber. In addition, these greens contain lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that may reduce the risk of certain eye diseases. Leafy greens also contain lots of water, an added benefit, which helps keep us hydrated.
Celery, Garlic, Onions and Tomatoes - Vegetables bring additional fortitude for the New Year, and each provides different quantities and types of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals! Peppers are also a popular addition to Hoppin’ Johns, and one of the greatest things about this dish and of vegetables are that you can add whatever you want to make it your own.
Tip: Substitute extra-virgin olive oil for butter used in traditional recipes.
Ham or Bacon – The pig is an animal of great intelligence and resourcefulness, rooting its way to forage for food in the wild. Adding bacon to this dish and/or cooking it slowly in broth with a hock of ham is, as some New Year’s superstitions hold, bound to improve your chances of progression, be it professionally, personally or in relationships with others. Eaten infrequently, and as part of an overall healthy diet filled with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein, we believe there is a place for small amounts foods high in saturated fat and sodium. Of course, there’s no need to use pig in your own recipe – some families substitute turkey or Canadian bacon or beef, or use no meat at all! Already filled with prospects for a great New Year, and complete with protein, thanks to the beans and rice, this dish is only enriched by the added meat – so ultimately, feel free to experiment!
For a great, easy Hoppin’ Johns recipe, try the Pioneer Woman’s (with our tips above)! Another wonderful thing about making this dish for your New Year celebration is that the whole family can be involved in the prep. Little ones can sort the veggies while the older ones chop (supervised, of course!), and can also be in charge of stirring the pot once this recipe for success is simmering. The rich aroma that will fill your kitchen only adds to the sense of warmth and togetherness that fosters healthy families all year round.
To health and happiness in the New Year!
Hayley Lutz, Communications and Accounts Coordinator
Shari Mermelstein, R.D, Program Development Director