5 Healthful Thanksgiving Hacks

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to celebrate a delicious meal with family and friends, but there’s nothing worse than feeling like an overstuffed bird after dinner. To turn winter’s most vibrant and colorful fruits and vegetables into the star at the dinner table, slim down Aunt Betty’s gravy, and keep portion sizes in check, RDs can share these five doable, delicious, and nutritious Turkey Day hacks with their clients and patients.

Move Over Marshmallows
Sweet potatoes are rich in immune-boosting vitamin A, and they’re a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. By topping sweet potato casserole with nutrient-rich nuts instead of mini marshmallows, home cooks can keep all that good nutrition going strong. Create a better-for-you topping with a combination of chopped nuts, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, melted coconut oil, and just a tablespoon of brown sugar. Need a go-to recipe to recommend? Check out my Pecan Topped, Slightly-Sweet Sweet Potato Casserole.

Slimmed-Down Gravy
For clients who don’t own a gravy separator, now is the time for them to add it to their holiday wish list. For about $10, gravy lovers can quickly cut calories and saturated fat from their Thanksgiving meal. A gravy separator separates the turkey fat from the flavorful pan juices. Once the fat separates, it’s easy to pour off and discard. Pan juices can be reheated in a saucepan and thickened with a mixture of cold water and a few tablespoons of flour or cornstarch.

Better-For-You Mashed Potatoes
Typically made with heavy cream and a stick of butter, mashed potatoes can be deceptively high in saturated fat and calories. To lighten up and health-ify creamy and luscious mashed potatoes, replace half the potatoes with roasted or steamed cauliflower florets. Once cooked, mash the potatoes and cauliflower together with reduced-fat milk instead of cream and a few tablespoons of butter (vs a stick or two), and season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Roasted cauliflower is flavorful, nutrient-rich (it contains vitamins C and K and folate), and it blends in beautifully with mild mashed potatoes. Another option: Replace half the white potatoes with sweet potatoes for a beta-carotene boost.

Roasted Vegetables to the Rescue
From baby carrots and cauliflower florets to diced butternut squash, roasting vegetables amps up their natural sweetness and makes for an easy holiday side dish. Simply toss your favorite autumn vegetable with a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper, and chopped dried or fresh herbs including rosemary and thyme and bake at 425° F until tender. Be sure to stir the veggies once or twice as they bake to ensure even browning. Top with pomegranate arils (seeds) for a pop of crunch, color, and antioxidants.

Picking Perfect Portions
For clients who can’t resist second helpings at Thanksgiving (and who can?), suggest they start the meal with a modest two or three bites of everything. No deprivation! Once the first plate is clean, have clients ask themselves whether they’re feeling comfortably full or still have room for seconds. Once they tune into their level of satiety, they can help themselves to whatever they’re craving most … or call it quits and wait for dessert. Starting small vs piling their plates sky high is the secret to keeping portions in check.

For another vegetable side dish option, suggest clients try this delicious and rich-but-healthful variation on the much-maligned Brussels sprout.

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

Makes 8 servings

The magic to making this better-for-you Turkey Day casserole starts with a roux made with extra virgin olive oil (vs butter), flour, and 2% low-fat milk. Every luscious bite of this casserole literally melts in your mouth. For a vegetarian version, eliminate the prosciutto or use a meatless bacon.

2 lbs Brussels sprouts
3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 oz prosciutto, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 to 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp kosher salt
4 T all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups 2% low-fat milk
2 T cooking sherry
1/2 cup plus 2 T grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Peel off any damaged outer layers of Brussels sprouts. Trim the stem to make it flush. Cut small sprouts in half and large ones into quarters lengthwise. Keep a bit of the core attached. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and sauté, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and golden, about 1 minute. Stir in the Brussels sprouts, pepper, nutmeg, and salt and stir continuously for 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Add the flour and continue stirring for 2 minutes. This will cook the flour. Stir in the milk and sherry, raise the heat, and bring to low boil, but keep stirring. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the liquid thickens, reduces by about a third, and the Brussels sprouts begin to soften, 10 minutes.

4. Stir in 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese, season with another 1/4 tsp of salt to taste, and transfer to an oven-proof casserole dish. Cover with the remaining 2 T Parmesan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the Brussels sprouts are tender, about 25 minutes. Remove foil and cook 5 more minutes so top browns slightly.

Nutrient Analysis per serving (about 3/4 cup)
Calories: 220; Total fat: 11 g; Sat fat: 3.5 g; Sodium: 540 mg; Total carbohydrate: 18 g; Dietary fiber: 4 g; Protein: 14 g; Vitamin A: 20% DV; Vitamin C: 160% DV; Calcium: 25% DV

— Liz Weiss, MS, RDN, is a mom of two with a specialty in family nutrition. She’s the voice behind the family food podcast Liz’s Healthy Table, and the blog and website by the same name. Liz has written several cookbooks, including No Whine With Dinner: 150 Healthy Kid-Tested Recipes From the Meal Makeover Moms, The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers: Improving the Way Your Family Eats, One Meal at a Time!, and the playful new coloring book series Color, Cook, Eat!. Liz hosts the Meal Makeovers video series for CNN Accent Health, which runs in doctor’s offices nationwide.

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