Healthy Thanksgiving Food Ideas

Image by Tracy Hunter on FlickrThanksgiving kicks off the month-long holiday eating season for many of us: this is the time of year we have almost unlimited access to our favorite treats.  Pies, cakes, cookies, buttery rolls, creamy mashed potatoes, gravy, and comfort foods of all kinds, along with all the other Thanksgiving gifts you might encounter.  This is the time of year when we pack on a layer of extra winter weight.  To help keep yourself healthy over the holiday, and ensure you can still fit into your pants after, here are some healthy Thanksgiving food ideas.

  • Roasted turkey is certainly not a bad choice, but we can make it even better. Instead of a processed, store turkey, which is loaded with sodium, opt for organic.  Look for birds that say “Organic,” “Natural,” or “Heritage.” It is worth it.  Not only will it be better for you and your guests, it will taste amazing.
  • Cranberry sauce, too, is a healthy choice, particularly when it is homemade.  Cranberries are filled with antioxidants, and you can sweeten it up a bit for those who do not like tart flavors. Try making cranberry, cherry, and walnut sauce.  You will need: ¾ cup sugar, 1 cup water, ½ port or sweet red wine, ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, ½ dried cherries, a 12 ounce package of fresh or frozen cranberries, 2/3 cup of roasted chopped walnuts, and a ½ teaspoon of freshly grated orange zet.

Combine the sugar, port or wine, water, cinnamon, and nutmeg into a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add the cherries and cook for about a minute.  Next, stir in the cranberries and bring the mixture back to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until half of the cranberries have started to pop.  This should be about 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Finally, stir in the walnuts and orange zest.  As it cools, the sauce will thicken.  This makes a great side dish or a chutney for leftover turkey sandwiches.

  • Reinvent your side dishes.  Many of the foods we typically eat for Thanksgiving are very healthy.  The problem is that we cover them with cream, butter, and gravy. Instead of boiling the nutrients out of your root vegetables, for instance, mashing them, and loading them with butter and cream, try roasting them.  This allows the vegetables – potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, and squash – to retain their flavor and their nutrients.
  • To give them an even more delicious boost – and make them more attractive to kids – make a glaze using 1 cup of apple cider, ¼ cup dark brown sugar, ½ salt, and a ¼ teaspoon pepper. Whisk this together and toss the root vegetables in it.  Cover with foil and roast for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  Uncover and cook for another hour, stirring the veggies ever 20 minutes or so.

Image by Candie_N on FlickrWhile this is cooking, put ½ cup chopped walnuts in a skillet and heat on medium-low until they are lightly browned.  Remove from the heat and add a tablespoon of butter, 1/8 teaspoon of   cinnamon, and just a dash of salt.  Stir the mixture until the butter is melted and the walnuts are  coated.  Put the roasted vegetables in a serving dish and sprinkle on the walnut.

  • You don't have to substitute low fat versions of your favorite butter and cream dishes.  While real butter and cream are higher in fat, they have healthy fat that the low-fat versions lack.  If you really love your creamy mashed potatoes, for instance, eat them.  Just eat a smaller portion.  This is really hard on Thanksgiving! But it makes a difference in your waistline and your energy level after the big meal.
  • Avoid binging on the heavier foods.  It also helps if you do not save yourself for the big dinner; eat throughout the day, making healthy choices that satisfy you, like protein snacks or vegetables, and drinking plenty of water.
  • Allow yourself your favorite treats, but keep an eye on your portions.  If you love pumpkin pie with whipped cream, have a piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream.  Just the one though.  Take a minute after you've finished to listen to your stomach: chances are it is not grumbling or asking for you.  Listen to it and stop.