One of the many good things about Thanksgiving is that the traditional festive meal doesn't have to be unhealthy. There are far worse things to eat during the holidays than white-meat turkey and vegetables. And what's even better, say experts, is that by dropping fat and adding flavor, you can make your Thanksgiving a day of good nutrition that your whole family will enjoy.
"From a nutritional perspective, there are little things you can do to your traditional recipes and to the choices you make at parties and restaurants that can make a big difference in your nutrition while reducing calories and fat," says Ellie Krieger, registered dietitian and host of Living Better, a syndicated television show about healthy cooking.
Krieger says there are many ways to add vegetables and healthy, fiber-rich ingredients to your favorite Thanksgiving recipes.
"Pumpkin is a great food that we usually eat at Thanksgiving," says Krieger. "And it's easy to use in the canned form. Canned pumpkin is higher in vitamins than fresh pumpkin. A slice of pumpkin pie has half the calories of a slice of pecan pie."
Add pumpkin to soups, breads, and even mashed potatoes for a special holiday flavor, she says.
"A great tool for lightening holiday fat content is canned, low-sodium chicken or beef broth," says Leslie J. Bonci, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and director of the sports medicine nutrition program at the University of Pittsburgh. "Use that instead of adding fat to your mashed potatoes. That way you can cut out 75% of the butter called for in most traditional recipes."
Drop the Butter
Also useful in lightening fat-laden desserts is applesauce and pureed plums in place of butter and oil.
"Use these as a substitute for fat in holiday cookie or cake recipes," she says. "If you have a recipe that calls for five tablespoons of butter, you can reduce that to two tablespoons by replacing the other three with the puree or apple sauce. That way, you get the flavor and texture of your favorite recipes, but you get less than half the fat, and you've added nutrients and fiber."
Small changes in ingredients can make timeworn recipes exciting.
"Use fat-free yogurt instead of cream dips," Krieger says. "Add oysters to stuffing for great flavor and additional iron, zinc and vitamin B12 in your diet. Prepare high-fiber foods like spinach, kale, and winter squash that you might not ordinarily make. Sprinkle dill over vegetables instead of butter."
Here are some more tips for a lighter but flavorful Thanksgiving:
Use a gravy cup or refrigerate the pan juices and skim the fat off before making gravy -- this saves around 56 grams of fat per cup. Make stuffing with less bread and add more onions, celery, vegetables, or even fruits such as cranberries and apples. Cook fresh green beans with chunks of potatoes instead of cream soup. Top with almonds instead of fried onion rings.
And don't forget the sweet potatoes.
"Packed with vitamin C and fiber and great flavor, sweet potatoes are great year round, but they are especially good at the holidays," says Krieger. "Buy them packed in water, not heavy syrup. Mash them and mix in a little orange juice instead of butter. Kids love them, and it's a great way to get everyone eating more vegetables."