11 ways to make Thanksgiving healthier

ThanksgivingCollageThanksgiving is a holiday built around food.  Dine on traditional food like roast turkey and mashed potatoes while enjoying (or enduring) the company of family and friends.  Enter the finger-wagging Food Police, who have turned Thanksgiving dinner into an exercise in guilt and puritanical denial.

Thanksgiving with the Food Police:

  • 1 slice plain roast turkey
  • boiled green beans
  • water
  • no dessert

Then there’s the crazy calorie-obsessed people.

Thanksgiving with the Calorie-Obsessed:

  • 1 slice plain roast turkey with non-fat watery “gravy” made from a mix
  • green bean casserole made with tasteless low fat “cream” sauce mix and fake onion ring topping made out of cardboard
  • sweet potatoes with artificially sweetened syrup coating
  • pumpkin pie made with artificial sweetener and low fat whipped topping made out of chemicals

Is any of this really necessary to make Thanksgiving dinner reasonably healthy?  No.

Traditional Thanksgiving foods are already plenty healthy.  Our biggest problem is eating too much.  That’s easy to solve.  Take smaller portions.  Don’t just mindlessly inhale the food.

11 ways to make Thanksgiving healthier:

  1. Turkey: nothing wrong with roast turkey.  High protein, and the white meat is low fat.  Plus it smells divine while it’s roasting and you can make wonderful turkey stock by simmering the carcass and skin.
  2. Stuffing can be as easy as bread crumbs mixed with sautéed onions and celery.  There’s no reason whatsoever to add fat or eggs or any other high calorie ingredients.  Sausage makes it taste good, but it isn’t necessary.  Try adding sautéed apples or pears instead.
  3. Mashed potatoes can simply be boiled potatoes, mashed up with salt and pepper and a bit of milk.  Adding gobs of butter or cream is completely unnecessary, although butter will improve the flavor.  One solution: don’t have mashed potatoes.
  4. Gravy: there’s no substitute for real pan gravy, made with turkey stock.  Canned or powdered mixes are poor substitutes.  If you’re personally worried about the extra calories, don’t have any yourself, or limit yourself to one tiny spoonful.  But if you’re the host, just making the real gravy can be a satisfying experience.
  5. Sweet potatoes: baked with a sugar/butter coating is pretty delicious, but also adds unnecessary calories.  An alternative is to roast sweet potato chunks brushed with olive oil and seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper.
  6. Cranberry sauce or relish: Cranberries are extremely tart on their own, so some sweetener is essential.  There are plenty of interesting alternatives to canned cranberry jelly, from a fresh relish made with chopped apples and oranges to a cooked compote with pears, apples and pearl onions.  Cranberry relish or sauce isn’t something that’s typically eaten in excess, so worrying about sweeteners seems silly.
  7. Green bean casserole: My first question is “why?”  Why do that to green beans?  Alternative: roasted or sautéed fresh green beans, with toasted almonds and garlic, or shallots and red pepper flakes.  Whether your preference is green beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts or a tossed green salad, definitely include one or more green vegetable dishes on your menu.  If you’re a guest, offer to bring a green vegetable dish, so you know there will be at least one.
  8. Pie: make real pie with real ingredients.  Serve tiny slices.  Have alternative desserts, such as poached pears or fresh fruit salad.
  9. Beverages: water, cider, wine or beer of choice.  No reason to serve soft drinks and certainly no reason to serve eggnog or some other high calorie beverage with Thanksgiving dinner.
  10. Appetizers: forget chips and dip.  Forget cheese and meat plates.  Just more calories. Serve fresh fruit chunks and vegetable crudités.  If the wait for dinner will be hours, serve a clear broth-type soup.
  11. Exercise should be part of Thanksgiving day: before dinner, after dinner, or both, depending on the hour.  Suggest activities everyone can participate in: a walk to a park, a long walk, a bike ride, active games, participation in a local race.

My Thanksgiving dinner plate? Roast turkey, stuffing with a tiny bit of gravy, sweet potatoes (maybe), green vegetables and green salad (lots), cranberry relish, water, small wedge of both pumpkin and apple pies and a long walk.  Happy Thanksgiving!


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