5 Tips for a More Healthful Thanksgiving Dinner

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. These five simple hacks showcase easy ways to bring out the best in the season’s freshest, most vibrant produce, a trick for slimming down luscious gravy, and guidance on keeping portions satisfying yet sensible.

1. Scaled back sides. Thanksgiving tables may look different this year for many people. Instead of large gatherings, concerns over COVID-19 likely will lead to smaller celebrations, scaled-back sides, and roasted turkey breasts vs 20-lb birds. But for people who can’t resist going up for seconds, portion control still may be a challenge. To curb the splurge, recommend clients and patients start the meal with just two or three satisfying bites of everything. Once their plates are clean, suggest they assess their level of satiety before they help themselves to a few more bites or call it quits and wait for dessert. Starting small without deprivation is a strategy for keeping portion sizes in check.

2. Move over marshmallows. Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A, and they’re a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. By topping sweet potato casseroles (or stuffed sweet potatoes) with chopped pecans or walnuts instead of mini marshmallows, clients can keep all that good nutrition going strong. For a better-for-you topping, combine chopped pecans, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, coconut or olive oil, and just a tablespoon of brown sugar.

3. Slimmed-down gravy. An inexpensive gravy separator is a must-have gadget at Thanksgiving. For about $15, clients and patients can save hundreds (if not thousands) of calories this Thanksgiving and beyond. 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.

4. Roasted vegetables to the rescue. From baby carrots and cauliflower florets to diced butternut squash, roasting vegetables brings out their natural sweetness and makes for an easy holiday side dish. Toss a medley of autumn vegetables with a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, kosher salt, pepper, and chopped fresh herbs—rosemary or thyme—and bake at 425° F until tender. Toss the veggies once or twice as they bake to ensure even browning.

5. Better-for-you mashed potatoes. Typically made with heavy cream and a stick or two of butter, mashed potatoes are rich and delicious, but with a few tweaks they can still satisfy side dish cravings without excessive fat and calories. Lighten up favorite recipes by replacing half the potatoes with roasted cauliflower florets. Mash 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 pepper to taste. Roasted cauliflower is mild in flavor, nutrient-rich, and it blends in beautifully with mashed potatoes. Smash in a few roasted garlic cloves for even more flavor.

— 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 MomsThe 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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