Let's look at the ingredient lists of two commercially-prepared tomato sauces as an example of what to look for when reading a food label to evaluate its natural-food worthiness -- that is, if you're not making your own fresh sauce. The ingredient list for a natural food tomato sauce would look something like this: Organic tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, organic basil, organic roasted garlic, sea salt. The first five ingredients of a commercially-prepared sauce, on the other hand, may look something more like this: tomato puree, corn syrup, vegetable oil, dehydrated garlic, spices.
A natural food menu should include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, organic dairy, organic meats and poultry as well as whole grains and nuts. (Note that while organic foods are part of a natural foods menu, not all natural foods are organic. For example, while shopping you choose between organically-grown or conventionally-grown carrots -- both carrots are natural food, but only one carrot is organic. The choice between the two is yours.) Seasonal foods are important to menu planning, and your dishes should include a mix of fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and poultry such as heritage turkeys (or fresh turkey with no added hormones, steroids or artificial enhancers) as well as whole grains, seeds, nuts and legumes. Plan your holiday menu with plenty of autumn and winter bounties including apples, potatoes (of all kinds), pumpkins and squashes, cabbage, turnips and other root vegetables, onions, garlic, cranberries, figs and herbs.
In addition to creating fresh, seasonal dishes, the thing about planning a holiday meal with natural foods is that it isn't much different than planning your traditional holiday menu. Preparing a fresh and healthy holiday menu can be as simple as making some smart substitutions. Instead of the traditional sweet potato casserole -- you know, the one coated in sugar and covered with marshmallows -- try coating those sweet potatoes in natural maple syrup and baking them -- it's still a sweet side dish, but made from all natural foods.
Let's take another example: stuffing. With a few substitutions, stuffing can easily be made with natural foods. Choose whole grain bread and try adding combinations of fruits (fresh and dried), nuts and berries or a more savory blend of wild or brown rice, onion, celery and mushrooms.
Don't shy away from natural desserts, which include fruits, whole grain flours and unrefined sweeteners. Pie crusts, for instance, take on a nutty, toasty flavor if you make them with buckwheat flour (which also makes them gluten free). Sweeten with fruit, honey or maple syrup (buy 100 percent maple syrup, not the fake stuff), and enjoy with a glass of (natural) wine.