With the economy slumping, many Americans will face a leaner Christmas this year. Although there may be fewer presents to open, you and your family still deserve a joyful day.

To keep the mood bright, a good breakfast helps. In addition to tasting good, a holiday breakfast provides a few sane moments before the non-stop build-up to Christmas dinner.

With a little forethought, you can make this a balanced meal rather than a hasty choice of a donut or pastry. Starting your day with a healthy meal may also help improve your mood, essential if the last-minute holiday rush has you feeling a bit like the Grinch.

The distinct layers of this week's Christmas-inspired dish - featuring cheesy rice, sweet red peppers, broccoli and crunchy, golden topping - could classify it as a strata. Others may call it a quiche because of the creamy custard holding its layers together. I prefer to think of it as a casserole, a one-pot meal that's a cinch to make and bake.

Prepare all the ingredients for this layered dish before Christmas Eve if you wish. Pre-cook the broccoli and red pepper, as well as the rice. I usually spread the rice mixture in my baking dish, top it with the sauteed vegetables, then refrigerate until morning. I also make up the cheesy, fresh breadcrumb topping ahead of time and set it aside.

On Christmas Day, simply let the casserole sit out while the oven heats, whisk together the eggs and milk, and sprinkle on the topping. These tasks are easy enough that anyone who is willing can pitch in, even the kids.

More from our magazine:  Almond Rice

This is a perfect dish for a day that needs flexibility. If you are not ready to eat when it comes out of the oven, it's just as delicious served lukewarm.

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Christmas Broccoli Rice Casserole

Yield: Makes 8 servings.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cooked coarsely chopped broccoli florets
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup low fat (1%) milk
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 slices whole-wheat bread, in 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 3 large egg whites, divided
  • 1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray, and set aside.
  2. In mixing bowl, combine rice with one egg white, cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Spread rice mixture in an even layer in baking dish.
  3. Coat medium skillet liberally with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat. Saute onions and peppers until soft, 5 minutes. Mix in broccoli and oregano. Spread vegetable mixture over rice.
  4. In another bowl, whisk egg with remaining two egg whites. Whisk in milk, and season with cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pinch of black pepper. Pour over casserole.
  5. In food processor, whirl bread to make breadcrumbs. Mix in Parmesan cheese and season with pepper. Sprinkle seasoned breadcrumbs evenly over casserole.
  6. Bake casserole 30-35 minutes, until it is just set and knife inserted into center comes out clean. Let casserole sit for 15 minutes, then cut into squares and serve hot or warm.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
160 calories
3.5 g total fat
1.5 g saturated fat
22 g carbohydrate
10 g protein
4 g dietary fiber
250 mg sodium