Thanksgiving is a time of family, celebration — and thousands of calories.
But don’t blame the turkey. You’ll most likely find the calorie culprits right next to it: the sides. Many popular Thanksgiving cooking techniques include breading, frying or smothering with high-fat sauces that significantly increase calories and saturated fat. And we often miss out on the opportunity to incorporate beneficial foods such as whole grains and vegetables.
But there are plenty of ways to make your holiday more healthful. You just have to have a plan of attack.
This year, start by eating a healthful breakfast and sensible snacks throughout the day to avoid overeating during dinner. And when you do get to the big event, remember that Thanksgiving’s main star, the turkey, can be enjoyed healthfully. Stick to the leaner white meat, and remove the skin. If you do use gravy, make sure to skim the fat off the top. Removing just one tablespoon of fat from gravy or pan drippings eliminates 120 calories and 13 grams of fat.
As for those dangerous sides and desserts, I recommend sampling all of the dishes you want (Thanksgiving is all about food, after all), but practice portion control. Avoid the tendency to overeat: The leftovers will still be great the next day.
And once you’ve digested the meal (or before it), encourage your family to be active together. For spending quality time together is what this holiday is really all about.
This year, take the opportunity to whip up these three healthful sides and offer your loved ones some nutritious options to couple with that juicy (and lean) turkey.
Dairy-free butternut squash soup
4 to 6 servings
Start your meal with this easy, elegant and satisfying soup, which features the sweet and nutty butternut squash. This winter squash is a good source of fiber, potassium and magnesium. It is also an excellent source of vitamins A and C.
Nutmeg and allspice provide an incredibly savory flavor that will leave you wanting seconds — which you can have without the guilt. This soup is creamy without the cream (or butter).
1 medium butternut squash (about 21/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the squash
1 large shallot, diced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups homemade or no-salt-added chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup unsweetened plain almond, soy or rice milk (optional, for added creaminess)
2 cloves garlic, put through a garlic press
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with nonstick cooking oil spray.
Cut the squash in half lengthwise and brush the cut sides lightly with oil. Place the squash skin side down in the prepared baking dish and bake for 1 hour, until the flesh can be easily scooped out with a spoon.
Heat the 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the shallot, salt and pepper, and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the shallot softens.
Scoop out and discard the seeds from the squash. Use a large spoon to scoop out the squash flesh and add it to the pot, along with the broth and the almond, soy or rice milk, if using. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, allspice and nutmeg. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the soup to cool.
Transfer the soup to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Serve immediately, or the soup may be covered and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance. Reheat before serving.
NUTRITION | Per serving (based on 6): 120 calories, 3 g protein, 23 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 230 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar
Recipe tested by Kendra Nichols; e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Roasted root vegetables
Impress your guests by incorporating these unusual and often underused vegetables in your Thanksgiving menu. Root vegetables have naturally interesting flavors that can be described as earthy, nutty, anise-like or even buttery.
Root vegetables such as carrots, onions, potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, beets and celery root have powerful nutritional benefits. They are low on calories and full of protective vitamins and minerals such as potassium (yams, parsnips, potatoes, beets), vitamin A (carrots, turnips) and vitamin C (yams, rutabagas, turnips), all of which are important for good health. Root vegetables are also rich in fiber to help fill you up and aid in digestion.
By roasting the vegetables in heart-healthy olive oil and adding fresh herbs for flavor, you avoid the added calories and fat that come with many other traditional Thanksgiving vegetable side dishes.
6 medium carrots (any combination of colors: red, mauve, yellow, orange)
4 medium parsnips
2 beets (one red, one golden)
1 sweet potato or yam
12 fingerling potatoes
1 celery root
1 Vidalia onion
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Leaves from 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped, plus several whole sprigs for garnish
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and put through a garlic press
4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt
A few teaspoons of additional fresh herbs, such as sage, parsley or thyme (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Peel and trim the carrots, parsnips, beets, yam, potatoes, rutabaga, turnip, celery root and onion, and cut them into similar-size cubes (about 1 inch). Transfer to a large bowl and toss with the olive oil, rosemary, chives, garlic, pepper, salt and additional herbs, if using. Transfer to 2 baking dishes sprayed with olive oil cooking spray.
Bake uncovered for 50 minutes, stirring once halfway through baking. Transfer the vegetables to large bowl or platter, garnish with the rosemary sprigs and serve.
NUTRITION | Ingredients are too varied for a meaningful analysis.
Recipe tested by Doris Truong; e-mail questions to email@example.com
Traditional stuffing is typically loaded with sodium, butter and refined grains. Refined grains, such as those in white bread, have been processed to remove the bran and germ to improve shelf life and create a finer texture. But this processing also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Because of this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends making at least half of your grains whole grains.
This revamped version avoids refined grains and instead is packed with whole grains, fresh herbs, veggies and lean protein. It has all the flavor of traditional stuffing but is much lighter and more nutritious. Plus, with quinoa as the base, it is great for anyone keeping a gluten-free diet. Quinoa is a whole grain that contains fiber, complete protein and important minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, copper, zinc and iron.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, diced
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups no-salt-added turkey or chicken broth
2 cooked chicken sausages, cut into very small pieces
1/2 cup diced Vidalia onion
1/2 cup diced fennel
1 rib celery, diced
15 white button mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup golden raisins
4 scallions, diced
2 medium cloves garlic, put through a garlic press
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley leaves and tender stems
2 sage leaves, thinly sliced
Leaves from 2 sprigs rosemary, chopped
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the shallot, 1 teaspoon of the salt and the quinoa. Cook until the quinoa is lightly toasted, about 5 minutes.
Add the broth, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 20 minutes, adjusting the heat so that the broth is barely bubbling. The liquid should be fully absorbed and the quinoa seeds should sprout a tiny white tail.
While the quinoa cooks, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saute pan or skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the sausage, onion, fennel, celery, mushrooms, walnuts, raisins and scallions, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Stir in the garlic, parsley, sage, rosemary, pepper and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
Add the quinoa, stir to combine, and serve.
NUTRITION | Per serving: 300 calories, 12 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 1000 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugar
Recipe tested by Lori Aratani; e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Gordon, a master of public health professional and a master certified health education specialist, is creator of the healthy recipe site EatingbyElaine.com.