Thanksgiving for your Health


With Thanksgiving just around the corner, most of us are thinking about preparing for the holiday.  You may be looking for recipes, perhaps already shopping and cooking.  How do you enjoy the day and the season without becoming the stuffed turkey?  Planning for your health during the upcoming holidays is a vital part of this process.  With the last few months of stress and worry about the economy and rising prices, you may have already gained a few pounds by eating to deal with negative emotions.  It is easy to spiral down even further when your clothes start feeling tight or have a shock reaction when you step on that scale. 

A typical thanksgiving meal can be upwards of 3000 Calories.  It would take 28 miles of walking to burn that off.  Come January 1st you don’t want to have another crisis to deal with. So use the time now to think through how you will keep in shape and avoid theyoyo experience that has befallen the stock market.  

A good way to begin is to find some recipes that are lower in calories, or make some adjustments to the ones you have.  I have included a few recipe ideas below from a cookbook I coauthored.  The good news is that some of the traditional thanksgiving fare is quite healthy.  Begin with good-for-you pupus, so don’t get too filled up before the main event.  Think about unusual vegetables or ones who don’t eat very often.  These might be radishes, fennel, jicama (chopsuey potato), brussel sprouts (steamed and cooled), kohlrabi or cauliflower.  Most of these are available at your local Farmer’s Market.  Some low fat dips like salsa, a nonfat yogurt and mustard mix, low fat hummus set alongside the veggie platter will be very appealing.

Turkey breast is very low in calories, so enjoy that part of the meal.  Limit the gravy and use an alternative to butter to season the bird. Also use a cooking method that doesn’t cause the breast to dry out.  Cranberries are virtually calorie free.  Sweeten slightly with some fruit instead of using the cloyingly sweet canned sauce.  Make vegetables a central part of your meal.  Fresh salad greens are a great starter course.  Roasting veggies brings out their natural sugars and they only need to be brushed with a little oil to get them to brown.  Yams and pumpkin are very tasty when prepared this way without the usual sugary toppings.

Cook the stuffing separately from the turkey.  It will shorten the turkey cooking time, save energy and keep the stuffing from getting soaked with the fat drippings.  You can use a flavored broth or a seasoning like Butter Buds, fresh herbs (sage is great) and some dried fruit to give your stuffing flavor.  

When it comes to desserts, limit the number of options served if you are the host.  People often feel obliged to taste everything, so fewer options usually translate to fewer calories. Prepare desserts in small individual containers.  You can use 1/2c baking cruets or foil cupcake holders.  This way portions sizes will be reasonable.  Skip the crust on the pie and top your pumpkin or apple with about 1 tablespoon per serving of crumble (a brown sugar, butter, oats and flour mix).  Use nonfat evaporated milk for the pumpkin custard, the missing fat will not be noticed.  Use a low fat whipped topping.  Have a nice platter of peeled and sliced in-season citrus, garnished with mint or topped with a little ginger syrup. This will be very refreshing after a heavy meal.  

Skip the foods you eat year round like rolls and mashed potatoes.  These provide unnecessary calories to an already heavy meal.  Another way to limit the splurge is to use a large plate for salad and veggies with some turkey breast and a dessert size plate for any other items.  Know that you will probably be eating some of these dishes as leftovers so a small taste is all you really need.

Watch the calories in beverages.  If you are going to have wine, sip it slowly and limit yourself to 1 or 2 glasses.  Use sparking water with a twist of lime or a splash of juice. Good Earth tea, chilled is deliciously sweet without added sugar or include other non caloric beverages instead of calorie laden ones.

Best of all, bank some calories ahead of time by exercising a few hours that morning before spending them.  This concept is one we should vigorously embrace both for calories and $$.  Take your group for a hike or swim, or plan for a walk after the meal if you eat early.  You can put on some nice dance music or play some active games after the meal to prevent everyone from slumping onto the couches.  Really give thanks for the resources we have by buying as many locally grown products as you can.  You can enjoy the day and feel really good afterwards.

The recipes are from the “Healthwise Quantity Cookbook” by Turner and Aronowitz


Tasty Turkey (202 Calories per 4 oz portion)

1 turkey (15#). If you are cooking a smaller one reduce the amount of basting sauce.

1/2c each vermouth and orange juice concentrate, thawed.

Prepare the turkey by washing inside and out.  Heat the oven to 325’ F. Make a slit at the thigh joints, so they flair out.   This will help to cook the dark meat more quickly so the breast will not be overdone.  Insert a thermometer into the dark meat at the joint.  Baste with the juice and vermouth mix and continue to baste periodically.  Cover the breast with foil if it becomes too dark.  The turkey is ready when the thermometer reads 165’F.


Holiday Fruit Stuffing ( 216 Cal per 1 cup serving)

1 lbfresh onions, chopped

1 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced

½ lb chopped celery

1lb tart apples, chopped

3 oz dried apricots, chopped

2 1/2cfat free chicken or vegetable broth

1 ½ lb of wholewheat bread, cubed and dried a little.

2 pkg Butter Buds

1/3c chopped pecans

1 ½ T sage

2 tsp rosemary

3/4c chopped parsley

Pepper to taste

Cook the vegetables and fruit in a pot with the broth until the onions are tender.  Add the remaining ingredients and bake in a covered dish for 30 min at 325F.  Remove cover and bake 10 min more.  Makes 12 cups.


CranberryOrange Relish (68 Calories per 1/4c)

1 lb cranberries, coarsely chopped

2 sweet oranges, peeled and seeded and chopped

2 tsp grated orange peel 

1 ¼ c apple juice concentrate, thawed

1/2c water

1 ½ tsp Cinnamon 

Cook all ingredients except the cinnamon at a simmer for 5 minutes.  Add cinnamon and serve well chilled. Makes 3 cups