Superfoods to the Rescue

Uncovering the real meaning behind 'superfoods'


Published:

Experts agree there are hundreds of “super-good-for-you” foods, and making them a part of your everyday life may be easier than you think.

Bad news first: “Superfood” is a marketing term. There is no panacea food that can prevent cancer and heart disease, undo the damage caused by unhealthy foods, give you boundless energy and keep you trim.

But here’s the good news: Experts agree there are hundreds of “super-good-for-you” foods, and making them a part of your everyday life may be easier — and more delicious — than you think.

Defining Super-Good-for-You

Before the term “superfood” became a marketing mantra, the 2003 bestseller, “SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life” by Dr. Steven G. Pratt,  brought public attention to the term. Pratt identified 14 foods that “can stop the incremental deteriorations that lead to common ailments and diseases,” including beans, blueberries, broccoli, goat yogurt, oats, oranges, pumpkin, salmon, soy, spinach, tea, tomatoes, turkey and walnuts.

Since then, many self-proclaimed experts and food companies have turned the concept of “superfoods” into a multimillion-dollar industry, touting the magical properties of exotic and expensive foods such as hempseed, cacao beans (raw chocolate), maca, spirulina and bee products. There are superfood cookbooks, supplements, juices and cafes.

While the European Union forbids use of the term “superfood” in food marketing unless it’s supported by specific scientific claims, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration neither defines nor regulates use of the term. A marketer could slap “superfood” onto a juice label even if it contains only highly processed fruits and vegetables — and as much added sugar as a can of soda.

Proof is in the Pudding

Proving one food is more nutritious than another can be difficult. Even the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Dietary Guidelines have come under fire. This year, for the first time, the National Academy of Medicine will independently review the guidelines.

If scientists disagree on what “superfoods” are, no wonder there is so much flip-flopping dietary advice out there. Dr. Martin Kohlmeier, a primary investigator at the University of North Carolina’s Nutrigenetics Laboratory in Kannapolis, calls nutrition research an “integrative process.” His research focuses on nutrition for an individual’s genetic needs. Nonetheless, he says there are certain foods that are healthy for everyone.

While he says he prefers to “avoid the media hype” surrounding the term “superfoods,” he also says he has no problem with individuals assigning that term to nutrient-rich foods. “If you want to call kale or spinach or broccoli a superfood, I’m with you,” he says, noting that many dark green vegetables contain vitamin K, which is vital to blood coagulation and activates proteins that protect against osteoporosis and calcification of arteries and heart valves. These vegetables also have large amounts of dietary fiber, potassium and magnesium.

Diversifying Your Diet

Despite the brilliance of foods like kale, Kohlmeier warns that it is impossible to get all the nutrients you need from just one food. “As a practical matter, people eat without expertise,” he says. “It is safer to eat a wide variety. Lots of fruits and vegetables. Some whole grains. There are ‘super-villains’ out there, too. Limit animal foods and processed meat.”

Kohlmeier recommends a diverse diet because nutritional needs vary according to genetic makeup. They also differ dramatically depending on lifestyle.

No one knows this better than Jennifer Brunelli, whose clients often require more than 6,000 calories a day. A registered dietician and founder of RDPro, Brunelli has spent the last two years whipping the Carolina Panthers football team into the fantastic physical shape that powered them to the 2016 Super Bowl. She had two requirements when she started her job with the Panthers: A new kitchen for the Panthers’ stadium, and the chance to get to know each player as an individual.

Brunelli, like Kohlmeier, does not use the word “superfood,” but says she’s always looking to incorporate nutrient-rich, energizing foods into her athletes’ diets, starting with breakfast, which may consist of salmon cakes with red bell pepper sauce, grits, sweet potato hash brown, eggs and fruit.

“The athletes love seafood,” she says. “We offer some kind of fish or shellfish every day.”

She’s also a big believer in using spices to add substance and flavor. Her recipes include a lot of turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, garlic, cilantro and ginger.

Brunelli also works with high school athletes and encourages them to choose real, whole foods rather than experiment with trendy diets and supplements.

“Diet is absolutely different for serious teen athletes,” she says. “There’s more awareness on what’s fueling you when you’re an athlete. The better your diet, the better you play, and the longer you’ll last in your sport.”

No Silver Bullet

Cindy Silver, a registered dietician in Winston-Salem who has 25 years of experience, specializes in lifestyle planning and education.

“People are always looking for the silver bullet,” she says, regarding “superfoods.” “Eat some of those foods popular in media and advertisements, but realize that they are a subset of all the thousands of good choices out there. Food is a pleasure of life. Don’t restrict yourself to four or five ‘superfoods.’”

When Silver sits down with a client, she, like Brunelli, discusses lifestyle and goals. Then together they create a meal plan and, with meal plan in hand, Silver takes her client on a grocery store “tour.”

“Purchases should come directly from the meal plan,” Silver says. “Fill up the cart with fruits and veggies every shopping trip. Fresh, frozen or dried — it’s all good.”

Silver also suggests avoiding processed foods, or foods with added salt or sugar. Processing, she says, is often the biggest danger with any so-called “superfood.” Instant whole grain oats, for example, are as unhealthy as overly processed white bread. A recent Harvard health study found that instant oats spike sugar levels in the bloodstream and promote insulin-resistance, obesity and diabetes.

Silver includes protein bars and protein shakes among her list of processed foods to avoid for kids. She notes that a pediatrician may recommend supplements with added protein for kids who are failing to thrive in terms of height and weight charts, and Brunelli says supplements might make sense for a professional-level athlete, but both agree that they are unnecessary for healthy children.

A typical child doesn’t need the added protein, not to mention the sugar, transfats and caffeine that can be found in many protein bars and powders. And, Brunelli warns, if you’re replacing a meal with these products, you’re probably missing out on a variety of nutrients. 

The experts’ best advice? Lead by example. “Healthy eaters raise healthy eaters,” Silver says.

Caitlin Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Durham.

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Brunelli, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.

.Super-Healthy-Eating Tips

• When you’re in the mood for shakes or bars, both Jennifer Brunelli, a registered dietician and founder of RDPro in Charlotte, and Cindy Silver, a registered dietician in Winston-Salem, recommend a homemade version. Silver makes a simple smoothie with banana and milk and peanut butter, while Brunelli adds a little spinach, vanilla yogurt, and berries to her morning shake.

• Silver encourages parents to get their kids involved in menu planning. “A well-fed three-year-old is often a delight to take to the grocery store,” she says. “Encourage them to pick a new fruit or vegetable each week. An older child can help by reading nutrition labels.”

• “Add spices and other extras at home” to make healthy foods more appealing, Silver recommends.

Be Super Practical

Caroline Bretherton of Durham, who ran a catering company and a café in London’s Notting Hill, has already appeared on the U.S.’s Food Network and the U.K.’s Taste Network. She has written six cookbooks — four since moving to Durham in 2012. She doesn’t mind the term “superfood” if it’s defined loosely to mean a broad range of nutrient-dense “real” foods.

The mother of two teenage boys, Bretherton takes a practical approach to providing healthy food for her family. She found it fairly easy to get her children to eat whatever she gave them when they were toddlers. But she notes that most parents hit a “dead spot” between the ages 3 and 10, when all a child wants is chicken tenders and pizza. “You have to work the good stuff back in,” she says.

While Bretherton says it’s easy to find “superfood” recipes on the Internet, they are usually wildly impractical for a busy parent. “All these cute blogs by single, twenty-somethings … ” she laments. “They go to exhaustive lengths to replace every ingredient with an exotic alternative — then it takes hours and costs 20 dollars to make a batch of brownies. Really? Who has time for that?”

Bretherton prefers incorporating healthy choices where it makes the most sense. She throws a little kale into the shrimp curry her boys love, and makes granola with her boys’ favorite nuts and dried fruit.

Her advice to busy parents: “Don’t beat yourself up.”

Bretherton teaches cooking classes at Southern Season in Chapel Hill. Her books include “Family Cookbook” and “Desserts”.

Spicy Turkey Burgers With Avocado Cream

Recipe provided by Carolina Bretherton, author of “Family Cookbook” and “Desserts”

These Mexican-inspired burgers are a low-fat alternative to the usual beef burgers. The avocado cream makes a tasty replacement for commercially made ketchup or mayonnaise.

Serves: 4

Prep time: 10 minutes plus 30 minutes of chilling

Cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

For the burgers:

1½ pound of minced turkey, dark meat for preference

½ cup of fresh white breadcrumbs

1 jalapeno, deseeded and finely chopped

4 tablespoon of cilantro, finely chopped

4 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped

Zest of 1 lime

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons of light oil, such as sunflower or canola

For the avocado cream:

1 very ripe avocado

1 teaspoon of lime juice

2 heaped tablespoons of low-fat sour cream

Salt and pepper

To serve:

4 burger buns

Lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes, etc.

Method:

1. Place all ingredients for the burgers together in a large bowl, season well with salt and pepper, and mix to combine. You may have to use your hands to make sure the mixture is thoroughly combined.

1. Use damp hands to form four equally sized balls of burger mixture. Place them onto a chopping board and pat them down on top and around the edges to create four patties. Do not compress the mixture too much or the burgers will be tough when cooked. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes to allow them to firm up.

2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large frying pan and fry the burgers for 3-4 minutes on each side until they are well-browned and cooked through.

3. While they are cooking, mash the avocado with the lime juice. When the mixture is completely smooth. mix in the sour cream and season well.

4. When the burgers are cooked, assemble them on the buns with lettuce and tomato, if you’d like, then add a spoonful of the avocado cream on top.

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Calendar

November 2017

Step back in time with a 19th-century costumed interpreter and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Registration encouraged online. Tickets available at the...

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Celebrate the wonderful world of exotic animals and reptiles. Enjoy live specimens, presentations, raffles, vendors and much more. Purchase tickets online.  

Cost: $12 ages 13 and older, $5 ages 5-12.

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds, Kerr Scott Building
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

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Kicks off the holiday season with local art, music, food, and family activities at various locations in Durham’s historic downtown district. Presented by the Durham Arts Council with support...

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Downtown Durham
120 Morris St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2719
Contact Name: Susan Tierney
Website »

More information

Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Celebrate the natural world and where favorite Thanksgiving foods come from. Make a craft. All ages with adult. Register online.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Search the preserve for hidden holiday-themed clues and learn about native wild turkeys. Make a turkey decoration. Ages 5 and older with parent. Register online. Choose course code...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve
2900 Horse Shoe Farm Rd.
Wake Forest, NC
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Website »

More information

Search for salamanders, owls and more. Ages 10-13. Register online.

Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Park West Village hosts Winter Wonderland in the District. This year’s event will take place the weekend of November 17th. Take the family to enjoy train rides, magical winter lights, live...

Cost: Free; $5 donation for sledding

Where:
Park West Village
3400 Village Market Place
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Telephone: 919-234-6710
Contact Name: Conner Dixon
Website »

More information

See ponies, hunters and jumpers compete in an event that benefits Duke Children's Hospital. Visit the website for hours and fees.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Gov. James B. Hunt Horse Complex
4601 Trinity Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Website »

More information

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Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Make crafts celebrating turkeys. All ages with adult. Meet at the Cardinal Shelter. Registration not required. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Show More...
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Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn what it was like to be a kid at the first Thanksgiving. Play games and make a food collage. Choose either the 10:30-noon and 2-3:30 p.m. session. Ages 7 and older. Register online.

Cost: $6/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Explore the woods and shoreline for signs of nature and collect treasures to make a craft. Take a full water bottle, snack and a bag lunch. Ages 6-11. Meet at the Cypress Shelter. Advance...

Cost: $16/child

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Jackie Trickel
Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Listen for the sound of silver bells and climb aboard in your pajamas for a first-class journey on the Polar Express. Come early to meet Santa and enjoy kid-friendly activities and a traditional...

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Athletes improve their flexibility, balance, joint mobility, as well as body and breath awareness. Special attention will be paid to core strength and posture and its importance in performance and...

Cost: Call for fees

Where:
Little Guru Kids Yoga and Creative Arts
215 Glenwood Avenue, Suite A
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Little Guru Kids Yoga
Telephone: 919-345-5873
Contact Name: Jen Bluestone
Website »

More information

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Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Show More...
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Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

Read the story by Karma Wilson and make a Thanksgiving-themed craft. All ages. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Fit & Able Productions presents the Turkey Chase trail festival at Umstead Park. Take part in a 5K, 10K or 20K. After the race, enjoy fruit, brownies and other...

Cost: $25-$45

Where:
Umstead Park
8801 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Fit and Able Productions
Telephone: 919-673-4689
Contact Name: Travis
Website »

More information

Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

The Raleigh Boychoir makes an appearance before its big Christmas concert.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take a 30-minute tour to view the main power drive and milling machinery. Tickets available inside the park's visitor center. Online registration encouraged.

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Explore the historic nature of Leigh Farm Park with a friendly guide. Venture inside the historic farmhouse while being captivated by tales about life at Leigh Farm throughout the years.

Cost: Free

Where:
Leigh Farm Park
370 Leigh Farm Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Parks and Recreation
Telephone: 919-560-1116
Contact Name: Natalya Buckel
Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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Show Less...
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