Health: Thanksgiving: Tweaking Turkey Day

Don’t banish healthy eating to the back burner this Thanksgiving

Pilgrims, Indians, friends, family … Thanksgiving celebrates many things, but what takes center stage in many families on this day is the food, and lots of it. Which isn’t something that I mind — after all, it was Thanksgiving turkey that led me astray from two solid years of vegetarianism — but with all the starchy sides, pre-prandial nibbles and (at least in my family) an endless array of desserts, it’s hard not to pack on a few unwanted pounds around this time of year.


Pilgrims, Indians, friends, family … Thanksgiving celebrates many things, but what takes center stage in many families on this day is the food, and lots of it. Which isn’t something that I mind — after all, it was Thanksgiving turkey that led me astray from two solid years of vegetarianism — but with all the starchy sides, pre-prandial nibbles and (at least in my family) an endless array of desserts, it’s hard not to pack on a few unwanted pounds around this time of year. For those of us who watch our waistlines, count our calories, or hope to keep fit, this day that’s celebrated as an occasion to eat (and eat and eat) can get the best of our good intentions.

With this in mind, I’ve gathered some tricks and tips from the foodies, home chefs and health nuts on the Philly Mag staff to healthfully update the familiar favorites on your Thanksgiving table — and keep them tasting great.

• Use low-fat chicken broth in place of butter to keep stuffing moist with nearly 150 fewer grams of fat per cup. Opt for the low-sodium kind to control the amount of salt in the dish—you can always add salt to taste.

• Low-fat milk is a great substitute for cream when making mashed potatoes, saving you 213 calories and 26 grams of fat per cup.

• Instead of dousing freshly cooked vegetables in butter, let them stand alone so their natural flavors can shine. One pat of butter adds 36 extra calories that, on top of everything else, you simply don’t need.

• Try preparing traditional green bean casserole with 99-percent fat-free mushroom soup. As a compromise (to your taste buds or your family), still top it with French fried onions.

• Substitute 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce per 1 large egg in quickbreads, brownies, cookies and other baked goodies. It’s a cholesterol-free alternative with less than 1 gram of fat.

• In recipes where brown sugar is called for, less-processed alternatives such as honey or maple syrup can be substituted cup for cup. Not up for baking? Essene Market & Cafe has lots of yummy sugar-alternate options.

• Instead of pumpkin pie, make a crustless pumpkin pudding. Follow the directions on the pumpkin can as you would to make pie filling, but substitute fat-free evaporated milk. Or check out Jenna Bergen’s healthful, no-bake recipe for pumpkin pudding.

• Avoid fat-laden butter or margerine (hello, hydrogenated oils!) when baking, and experiment with an alternative. I use Earth Balance Natural Buttery Sticks (available at Whole Foods), as well as fruit butters and purees. Mashed bananas, apple butter, plum puree, and canned pumpkin can be used in place of butter with similar results (often, though not always, without affecting the flavor), but if time allows, you should experiment with these alternatives to find one that works with your favorite recipes.

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