Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. But my heart – and yours – deserves better than the usual artery-clogging fare. I’m out to prove that you can enjoy an amazing feast this Thanksgiving, without all of the saturated fat and salt. This is my Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge, and you’re invited to participate – and maybe even win a great holiday cookbook!
Food Bloggers: Simply make a healthy Thanksgiving dish using my 10 Tips for a Heart-Healthy Thanksgiving as your guide (not hard and fast rules), then post it on your blog. Link to this page and download the Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge badge for your post or sidebar. Be sure to leave a comment below with a link to your post, and I’ll include you on a roundup of participants on November 22. I’ll also throw your name into the hat for the giveaway of Myra Kornfeld’s The Healthy Hedonist Holidays or Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas (your choice – winner will be selected randomly, on November 25.)
Non-bloggers: Post a comment below about how you plan to lighten up your Thanksgiving menu. I’d love to hear your ideas … whether you’re just using soy milk in your mashed potatoes or have a devious plan to fool your family into eating vegan stuffing. One commenter will be randomly chosen for a second book.
10 Tips For A Heart-Healthy Thanksgiving
1. Say no to butter, heavy cream and full-fat cheese
Instead of butter – or heaven forbid, shortening – make heart-healthy choices like extra virgin olive oil, high-oleic safflower oil, organic canola oil or macadamia nut oil. This goes for the outside of the turkey, sautéing vegetables, enriching stuffing, and baking pies (see Tip #9). To replace heavy cream in soups or sauces, try evaporated skim milk or MimicCreme. Fat-free yogurt and sour cream can be used in mashed potatoes, creamy dips, soups, sauces and more. If a recipe calls for whole milk, use skim, soy or almond milk. There are many reduced-fat cheeses available, and fat-free ricotta and feta are surprisingly good (albeit processed, hypocritically violating Tip#10.)
2. Ditch the fatty meats
Sausage stuffing? Bacon-wrapped turkey? No, you really don’t the extra saturated fat on this already-decadent day. For your stuffing, consider crumbled Field Roast vegetarian sausages (although they are super high in sodium, so use sparingly). The smoked apple variety is particularly well suited for Thanksgiving. Wild mushrooms (fresh or dried) can also lend a wonderfully meaty flavor. Smoked paprika can add a bacon-y taste, too. And if you’re cooking a turkey, be sure to remove any extra globs of fat before you roast (leave the skin on of course, but don’t eat it.)
3. Use whole grains
Less white flour = fewer empty calories and carbs. White whole wheat flour and whole wheat pastry flour are superior substitutes. Use them for your baking, and try whole grain breads for your stuffing. Find ways to work in whole grains like quinoa and barley into the meal – there’s no rule that stuffing has to be made with bread, and gluten-free folks will appreciate an alternative, too.
4. Look beyond the turkey
If there are any vegetarians at your table, they deserve more than a plain hunk of tofu. With vegetarian entrees that serve as centerpieces in their own right, you’ll have hardcore meat eaters straying from the turkey platter. Festive stuffed pumpkin or squash, smoky maple seitan sausages, wild mushroom strudel … the possibilities are endless.
5. Cut down on the salt
Start with one third the amount that would be used in a traditional recipe (except for baking recipes) and go from there. You’ll be surprised that you don’t miss the excessive amount. Use lemon juice to brighten the flavors of vegetables, which will reduce the need for salt. If you are using commercial broths, be sure to look for the lowest sodium brands you can find.
6. Watch the sugar
Sure you’re going to eat pie this Thanksgiving, and I’m all for that (as long you follow the guidelines below – see Tip #9). But to make up for it, reduce or eliminate the sugar in other places, such as in your sweet potatoes and cranberries. Try chopping and roasting sweet potatoes with savory herbs and spices instead of making a traditional sugary sweet casserole, and serve a less-sweet (but no less delicious) cranberry sauce. Bring sweetness to the table with naturally sweet vegetables like beets and with fresh fruit in salads. And remember, sugars also come from carbs, so do yourself a favor and don’t serve bread with your meal. It’s really the last thing you need, especially with bread stuffing.
7. Go overboard on vegetables
Mashed potatoes don’t count, people! Instead of one vegetable side dish, why not serve four or five? Green salads are often missing on the Thanksgiving table, and it’s a shame – bitter greens like watercress, arugula and radicchio are holiday naturals, especially when combined with seasonal fruits and nuts. Be sure to make some superstar vegetables like kale, brussels sprouts and broccoli so you can load up on antioxidants. Remember, the more vegetables on your plate, the less carbs and sugar you’ll eat during the meal. And speaking of mashed potatoes, try replacing half the potatoes with more nutritious vegetables like cauliflower, carrots or even beets.
8. De-fat your gravy
If you’re a meat eater, turkey gravy is an essential. But it doesn’t have to be made with loads of turkey fat. Here’s the Mayo Clinic’s method for low fat turkey gravy. Of course, you can also make a rich, flavorful vegetarian gravy that will knock the meat eaters’ socks off.
9. Lighten up dessert
Pie is a holiday practically a requirement. But here are some guidelines. Fruit pies tend to be better choices, but it is also possible to make a heart-healthy pumpkin pie. Whatever pie you make, be sure the crust is heart-healthy and not full of butter or shortening. Use whole wheat pastry flour for at least half of the amount called for. Skip the step of dotting fruit pie fillings with butter, it is simply not necessary. Instead of a top and bottom crust, try a top-only crust – and if you cut it into rough pieces and patch it together, you’ve got a pandowdy. If you really want to lighten up your Thanksgiving dinner, baked apples are a delicious but often-ignored light dessert alternative.
10. Avoid processed foods
Processed foods tend to be high in salt, calories and unhealthy fats. Use Eating Rules’ October: Unprocessed guidelines: “If you pick up something with a label (and if it doesn’t have a label, it’s probably unprocessed), and find an ingredient you’d never use in your kitchen and couldn’t possibly make yourself from the whole form, it’s processed.”
Get the word out!
• Use Twitter (hastag #healthythanks) and Facebook to let people know about the Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge and my 10 Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving. Here’s the short link: http://wp.me/p12us2-1ig
• Send the 10 Tips for a Heart-Healthy Thanksgiving to friends and family
• Put the Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge badge on your blog, Facebook page, email signature or anywhere else
Look forward to great recipes for a healthy holiday.
Of course, I will also be bringing you a number of new holiday recipes in the coming weeks, along with favorites from some of my healthy blogging buddies. With those recipes and the ones from other Challenge participants, I hope we’ll all have healthiest – and most delicious – Thanksgiving ever.