By Scott Mims

Tradition is a good thing—it’s what brings families together every year to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. And the focal point of family gatherings seems to be around the dinner table.

Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie

But sometimes it helps to think outside the box when planning for holiday meals, especially for the health-conscious or the money-savvy.

Gay West of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System Chilton County Office has shared three quick and easy recipes that can help you put a twist on Thanksgiving dinner (or any meal this fall) without breaking the bank or gaining those unwanted extra pounds.

Almond Brown Rice (from the USA Rice Federation)

Almond brown rice is a side dish with almonds, apples, onion, celery and seasoning that you can make ahead of time. West says it’s an easy and inexpensive dish to make.

“It would be an easy alternative to the traditional mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes,” she said.


1/2 cup slivered almonds

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 medium tart red apple, cored and diced

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1/4 teaspoon thyme

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

3 cups cooked brown rice (cooked in chicken broth)


Cook almonds in butter in large skillet over medium-high heat until golden brown. Add apple, onion, celery, poultry seasoning, thyme and pepper; continue to cook until vegetables are tender crisp. Stir in rice; cook until thoroughly heated.

Use as stuffing for poultry or pork roast, or bake tightly covered in a separate baking dish at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

Apple Cranberry Waldorf Salad (from the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension)

This salad utilizes apples, grapes, cranberries, celery and walnuts to get more fruits and veggies on the table.

“Apples and cranberries sound very fall-like, and it would be different from the traditional spring green salad,” West said. “Americans need to eat more fruits and vegetables.”


1 cup chopped Granny Smith apple

1 cup chopped Red Delicious apple

1 cup diced celery

1 cup halved seedless green grapes

1 cup halved seedless red grapes

1 1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

8 ounces non-fat vanilla yogurt

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon


Combine chopped apples and diced celery and put in a medium sized bowl. Add grapes, cranberries and walnuts to the mixture. Stir ingredients together.

In a separate bowl, add the yogurt, honey and cinnamon. Stir together and pour over the fruit mixture. Cover and chill before serving. Makes 8 1-cup servings.

Nutrition analysis: 210 calories, 5 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 35 mg sodium, 41 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 34 g sugar, 3 g protein.

Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie (from Alice Henneman, MS, RD, UNL Extension)

We saved the best for last. This quick dessert can be prepared a couple of weeks ahead of time, covered and frozen.

“It took me about 15 minutes,” West said, “and you can make it have fewer calories if you use a lower calorie ice cream. I actually used frozen yogurt.”


1 can (15 to 16 oz.) pure pumpkin puree

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice, depending on how spicy a flavor you enjoy*

1 quart (4 cups) of a lower fat vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt, softened**

1 9-inch prepared graham cracker pie crust

Whipped topping, if desired


Mix the pumpkin, sugar and spice until well blended. Quickly mix pumpkin mixture with the softened ice cream. Pour into crumb crust and freeze, uncovered, until firm—a couple of hours.

When pie is frozen, cover with plastic wrap and then cover with freezer-quality foil or place in a freezer bag and squish out the air.

Thaw pie slightly at room temperature (about 5 to 10 minutes) before serving. Top with whipped topping, if desired.

*If you don’t have pumpkin pie spice, for EACH TEASPOON of pumpkin pie spice, you can substitute a combination of:

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Note: If you’re missing either the nutmeg or the cloves, you can increase the amount of the other spice to 1/4 teaspoon.

** Soften ice cream by placing the container in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to 20 minutes. Avoid repeatedly softening and refreezing ice cream, as it gets icy. Makes 8 servings.

For more information about food preparation and food safety, visit or contact the local Alabama Cooperative Extension System office at (205) 280-6268.