Thanksgiving is that wonderful holiday where you give thanks to friends, family, and good health. The highlight of Thanksgiving is, of course, the bountiful, indulgent feast. This year, however, you might want to forego the customary dishes for something a little healthier. While straying from the turkey smothered in gravy, foods glistening with butter, and overly sweet desserts remains an incredibly difficult task, you can still have a delicious Thanksgiving dinner that is healthy—keep reading to learn how.
Considering the Turkey
The turkey is the centerpiece of any Thanksgiving feast, but meat lovers don’t have to worry. As it turns out, turkey is quite healthy and a great source of lean protein. Contrary to popular belief, the skin is not all bad. According to Lilian Cheung of Harvard’s School of Public Health, while the skin might add more calories, it actually contains the unsaturated fat that your body needs. However, you may want to stick with the white meat; dark meat contains twice as much fat.
The only real problems with the turkey are your portion sizes, what you put on your turkey, and how it’s cooked. While deep-frying might be the hottest new way to dish up Thanksgiving goodness, slow baking in the oven is a much healthier option.
Typical gravy contains high amounts of fat and sodium and tons of calories, making it a horrible choice for your body. But what are turkey and mashed potatoes without gravy? For a flavor-packed (and even vegan) gravy, check out this recipe. Those family members who scoff at the word “vegan” won’t even know there is no animal fat in it unless you tell them. Some other options include the following:
- As an alternative, you may want to consider seasoned yogurt. Yogurt contains high amounts of calcium and protein. To get the best health benefits, purchase yogurt made from low-fat or non-fat milk. Add fresh herbs and seasonings to complement the savory turkey flavor.
- Another possible alternative is cream of chicken or mushroom soup, which actually tastes quite similar to gravy. However, make sure to buy low sodium and reduced calorie varieties. Dilute the soup a bit with some vegetable stock to gain the same consistency as gravy.
- When it comes to healthy toppings on your turkey, nothing beats cranberry sauce. Cranberries are naturally rich in antioxidants and are great for your heart and your brain. Prepare your own cranberry sauce to make it healthier than what is sold in stores, which are often high in sugars and preservatives.
Many of the traditional sides are already fairly healthy, depending on how you prepare them.
- Sweet potatoes are packed with flavor and nutrition. They are a great source of potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and beta carotene, which turns into vitamin A. The best part about sweet potatoes is that they’re already quite sweet and flavorful. Try to cut down on the sugar and marshmallows. Just roasting a sweet potato is enough to caramelize the sugars inside and bring out the sweetness.
- Green beans are naturally low in calories. In fact, a cup of green beans only has about 35 calories. While you could go the ultra-healthy route and eat green beans whole with some olive oil, lemon, and garlic, casseroles get the seal of Thanksgiving approval. Try this healthy green bean casserole recipe, which nixes canned soup and canned green beans, and packs plenty of fresh, savory flavors.
- Stuffing tends to be one of the most versatile side dishes on the table. Add in plenty of vegetables. Use whole wheat bread and whole grains like quinoa or barley. Drizzle some of that vegan gravy over the top for a forkful of bliss!
Dessert just might be the best part of the meal, but it is usually the unhealthiest. Lots of sweets mean high sugar and calories—and the dreaded too-much-sugar stomach ache.
The staple of Thanksgiving dessert is pumpkin pie. Pumpkin itself is a great source of vitamins A and C, potassium, and beta carotene. It is also low in fat and calories (only about 25 calories in half a cup). However, when mingling with other pie ingredients, those health benefits seem to disappear.
To modify the traditional recipe for health, consider using evaporated skim milk instead of whole milk. Cut back on the butter by about a half and reduce the sugar by a third.
Another traditional and equally popular alternative is pecan pie. Pecans are a healthy source of monounsaturated fat, which lowers bad cholesterol levels. They are also a great source of fiber, but a slice of traditional pecan pie, containing corn syrup and sugar, can easily contain 500 calories. If you can’t do without the pie, try cutting down on the sugar and using a whole grain pie crust.
Chocolate pie is also popular at the Thanksgiving table. You can make a healthy version by melting ¾ cup of semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips over a double broiler, and tossing it in the blender with a half cup of all natural peanut butter, a couple tablespoons of soy or nonfat milk, and a 12oz container of silken tofu. Blend it well (until there are no lumps), and pour into a pie crust. You can make one yourself by combining 20 or 30 crushed graham crackers or wafers with melted margarine or butter, and pressing the mixture into a pie pan. Bake for 8 minutes at 375˚, and voila—pie crust (don’t bake the filling, just pour it in after the crust has baked). Be sure to chill the pie for at least one hour.
Regardless of how you modify your dishes, have fun experimenting with some healthier versions before Turkey Day to ensure no stress. Play some backyard games like football to stay active and, above all, enjoy the food and the people you are with!
photo courtesy of tsuacctnt