Thanksgiving dinner is one of the best meals of the year. But the calorie count of a plate piled high with gravy-laden turkey, buttery stuffing, creamy casseroles and decadent dessert can quickly add up. In fact, it’s estimated that the average American consumes more than 3,000 calories on Thanksgiving Day!
No one wants to eat “health” food on Thanksgiving. The good news is many of the foods traditionally associated with Thanksgiving are actually quite nutritious. Instead of missing out on your favorite dishes, the following tips will help you cut back on fat, sugar and sodium – without sacrificing the essence and flavor of a traditional Thanksgiving spread. Of course, if you must have a piece of grandma’s famous pecan pie, simply serve yourself a smaller portion. Everything in moderation!
Turkey: Turkey without skin is a lean protein and has almost no saturated fat. Avoid the self-basted birds, which are injected with butter or oil, and opt to baste with low-sodium broth, wine or cider.
Mashed Potatoes: Sinfully delicious when whipped with butter and cream, potatoes also are very good when prepared using lower-fat dairy. Try whole milk instead of cream, or try mixing in low fat Greek yogurt or sour cream to add some tang. Nonfat isn’t recommended — it’s OK to splurge just a little.
Sweet Potatoes: Quite sweet on its own, this otherwise healthy vegetable goes into sugar overdrive in a marshmallow-topped casserole. Skip the marshmallows and mash a pound of roasted, peeled sweet potatoes with the zest and juice of one orange, two tablespoons of Sherry wine (the real stuff, not cooking wine), and a half-cup of chicken stock. Top with toasted pecans for some heart-healthy fats and you’ve got a grown-up version of sweet potato casserole.
Cranberries: Jarred cranberry sauce (and even most cranberry sauce recipes) is packed with sugar. Skip the store bought stuff and make your own. Mix one package cranberries (12 ounces) with a half-cup of sugar (most recipes use a full cup), and the zest and juice of one orange. Heat over medium heat for about 15-20 minutes, until the cranberries burst (it thickens as it cools). For a more “grown-up” version, swap the orange for a half-cup of port and half-cup water, a tablespoon of finely minced rosemary, and a diced pear.
Stuffing: Most recipes call for a stick or more of butter. You can easily use one half or less and add a flavorful chicken stock or turkey broth for moisture and richness. Don’t use bouillon cubes for your stock, as they are high in sodium and artificial flavorings. Try to find a good boxed stock or use homemade. Substitute chicken breakfast sausage for pork, and add lots of fresh herbs (thyme, parsley, sage) for a flavor boost. Chopped apple, fennel, or diced butternut squash make tasty and nutritious additions. Finally, try cubing and toasting your own bread. It’s much healthier than the pre-seasoned (high sodium) stuffing mixes.
Pie: Comparatively, pumpkin pie is quite healthful. Pumpkin squash is high in antioxidants and fiber, and pumpkin pie only has a bottom crust, the source of most fat and calories in pie. Stick with the traditional pie rather than pumpkin cheesecake. Similarly, make a single-crust apple pie, and top it with an oat-and-nut crumb topping to cut back on calories, add fiber and introduce heart-healthy fats. There’s not much you can do about pecan pie. It’s delicious, but packs a calorie wallop. Just have a small piece.