7 Thanksgiving Plate Substitutions
Spread a Cornucopia of Cheer, Not Calories and Fat
For many people, the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving and doesn’t end until New Year’s Day. Holiday festivities inevitably mean plenty of food—but not always the nutritious items that help keep you healthy. This year, take the reins and plan a tasty and nutritious meal with these plate substitutions.
Thanksgiving dinners scheduled later in the afternoon generally call for snacks such as dips, chips, and salsa before the meal. Reduce the fat content of your favorite dip by substituting low- or fat-free yogurt in recipes that call for sour cream or mayonnaise. Halving the number of fat-laden ingredients can also lower your fat intake. Serve dips with fresh vegetables and whole grain crackers. If chips are your weakness, select baked versions.
The sweet potatoes that your grandmother used to make are delicious, but they add a significant amount of sugar to your plate. The sweet potato is packed with nutrients like fiber and beta-carotene (vitamin A), so you shouldn’t banish it from your plate completely.
Instead of heaping on brown sugar and marshmallows, sprinkle on some cinnamon before you mash them. If you prefer something more savory, brush olive oil on the skin of a clean sweet potato and bake at 400°F for 45 minutes to an hour. Serve with low-fat margarine or light butter.
Green beans are high in vitamins C, K, and A, as well as dietary fiber, manganese and potassium. Turn a green bean casserole into a fresher, brighter side dish that’s low in fat and big on taste. Replace canned or frozen green beans and cream soups with fresh haricots verts (a long, thin green bean). Steam or sauté them in a scant amount of butter or olive oil and toss with slivered almonds, which contain vitamins E and B-2, manganese, magnesium, and copper—and lend a crunchy texture to the dish.
The cranberry, a superfood containing antioxidant properties, is commonly served at Thanksgiving dinners across the country. Substitute canned cranberry sauce with a homemade, tart cranberry relish.
Simmer two cups of fresh or frozen cranberries with one to two chopped apples or pears, a tablespoon of orange zest, and the juice from one orange. The berries will pop open and the mixture will thicken after about 10 minutes. Add only as much sugar as needed to keep your mouth from puckering.
Turkey just isn’t the same without gravy, but heavy sauces can contain a lot of fat. In most cases, allowing yourself a small amount of gravy won’t hurt. However, creating an au jus—a healthier sauce (or literally “juice”) that’s lower in fat—is an even better alternative.
Pour pan drippings from the turkey into a gravy separator and discard the fat. Add the defatted juices to a small saucepan and add sage, parsley, and thyme to taste. Stir in 2 tablespoons of honey and apple juice that measures half the amount of the drippings. Simmer until the contents of the pan are reduced by half.
Replace white, refined grains with whole grain versions of bread, rice, and pasta when planning your Thanksgiving menu—and regular weeknight dinners, for that matter. Whole grains are heart-healthy and better sources of fiber and other important nutrients, like potassium and selenium, than their “enriched” counterparts.
Serve whole grain rolls with Thanksgiving dinner and make your homemade macaroni and cheese with whole wheat pasta for a side that the kids will love.
Although you may be stuffed at the end of your Thanksgiving feast, there’s always room for dessert. You don’t have to forgo the sweets entirely, but choose your portions wisely and eat in moderation. Healthier dessert options may make portion control a little easier.
Follow these tips:
- Replace the fats (such as oil and butter) in cakes, cookies, and pumpkin bread with applesauce or other fruit purees (the measurements remain the same).
- Experiment with reducing the amount of sugar you use or combine sugar with a non-sugar sweetener.
- Bake some homemade granola to top pies and cakes.
Thanksgiving is a time for focusing on the good things in your life. By modifying your meal slightly, you can enjoy a feast with friends and family and keep your health at the top of the list. Although the meal tends to steal the spotlight on this holiday, you only have to look around the table to realize that food is not what it’s all about.