Let’s face it, for most of us, Thanksgiving is all about the food! A table loaded with turkey legs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry relish, sweet potato casserole, greens and stuffing is the order of the day. And then we go for round two (or three) with the desserts.
If you want to serve an awesome Turkey Day feast this year, but want to help everyone cut down on calories and unhealthy ingredients, it’s easy to do without serving a boring meal.
Serve More Appetizers
One way to cut down on the overeating that occurs during many holiday meals is to make sure your guests “spoil” their dinners by eating appetizers just before the meal. This starts the process of releasing the hormones that tell your brain your stomach is full. This process can take as long as 20 minutes, so if you sit down to dinner when you’re “starving,” you will eat a huge plate of food in less than 10 minutes, filling your stomach, but you don’t realize you’re full. That leads to “seconds,” which is where weight-gain occurs.
Offer your guests a variety of healthy, tasty appetizers, including a raw veggie tray with some savory dips. Put out plenty of healthy, non-sugary drinks as well.
More Steaming, Less Boiling
Remember when your mom used to take sweet, crunchy carrots, corns or green beans and then boil them to mush and pour the water (and vitamins and minerals) down the sink? Serve steamed veggies and offer your guest more colorful, crisper, tastier and healthier veggies.
Choose Healthier Proteins
As you shop for turkey, ham or any other main dish meat, fish or poultry this year, read nutrition labels. Labels can be misleading, such as “97% percent fat-free” products. Those can actually contain more than 30 percent of their calories from fat. This is a marketing ploy based on the fact that when you consider weight (which is mostly water), the product is “97% fat free.” Consider buying organic proteins this year to avoid the growth hormones, fillers, food colorings, preservatives and antibiotics found in commercially raised animal products.
Awesome Gravy Gadget
If you like to make gravy from scratch, you can reduce the fat with an inexpensive, plastic fat separator available in the grocery store or online. Pour your turkey drippings into the plastic cup and wait until the fat rises to the top and separates from the rest of the liquid. As you turn the cup to pour the drippings out, the fat remains above the level of the spout, staying in the cup while you drain the rest of the tasty, seasoned gold. Add some low-salt chicken or vegetable stock if you need more liquid for your gravy.
Instead of serving just starchy, white potatoes, smothered with butter, salt and cream, offer your guests sweet potatoes, loaded with beta-carotene, vitamins A, B and C, manganese, copper and potassium. Try baked sweet potato skins or baked sweet potato fries, lightly salted, as appetizers.
Cholesterol? Not a Problem
As we’ve mentioned before, it turns out that dietary cholesterol does not contribute to heart disease. That’s why health organizations no longer limit your daily-recommended allowance and say dietary cholesterol is “no longer a nutrient of concern.” You can now serve healthy foods that were once thought to be “too high” in cholesterol, like eggs or shrimp, both sources of good protein and healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.
Add a Spotlight Dish
One way to serve a healthier Thanksgiving meal is to include at least one non-traditional main or side dish as your annual “spotlight” dish. This dish can substitute for a less-healthy, done-to-death dish like a soggy green bean casserole with mushroom soup and onion crisps. Use vegetables like eggplant to offer a tasty Parmagianna with tomato sauce. Prepare a sweet and savory Indian vegetable korma (you can buy a jar of sauce at the grocery store). Serve authentic Southern collard greens if your family hasn’t tried them. How about red rice and beans with baby carrots?
Whole-Grain Breads and Rolls
Unless your guests have been diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten will not be a problem for them. Gluten-free is a diet choice – not need – for many people who are eating that way today, and so they might not mind some healthy breads at a holiday meal. Skip the breads and rolls made from refined, white wheat flour and go with organic, whole grain breads.
To make healthier stuffing, start with whole grain bread. Add some fat-free, low-sodium vegetable stock for more flavor and to keep your dressing moist. Raisins, diced apple, celery and crushed walnuts add sweetness and crunch. If you want in-the-bird stuffing, monitor the internal temperature of your turkey carefully. Adding stuffing to the cavity of the bird can result in undercooked meat on the inside of the bird and increased bacteria on your dressing. People have enjoyed stuffed birds for hundreds of years, so you don’t have to skip this tasty tradition – just keep an eye on your roasting time and internal bird temperature.
Have you ever eaten a raw cranberry? If you have, you didn’t do it again. Cranberries are very bitter. So why is cranberry relish so sweet? Because the recipes include LOTS of sugar. A single serving of canned cranberry relish can contain more than 80 percent of your daily-recommended allowance of sugar! Instead of cranberries, opt for a parfait of fresh raspberries, blackberries, cherries, strawberries or stone fruit mixed with a healthy, plain yogurt, honey and crushed or slivered nuts.
Skip the sugary soda and offer an iced bucket filled with healthy fruit juices, infused waters, tasty teas or fruity seltzers. Holiday meals are the time people are willing to try new things, so you won’t be likely to hear any grumbling from people wanting colas or energy drinks.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you want to pull off the perfect, healthier Thanksgiving meal, don’t wait until Thursday to try new recipes. Buy the ingredients for unfamiliar dishes you haven’t made before and make them the week before. This will let you tweak your ingredients and cooking methods to get the exact results you want.