Tips for a Healthier Thanksgiving

How to prepare a tasty feast that's fit — for your waistline

Thanksgiving is known for quality time around the table with friends and family — and for its large portions of indulgent dishes.

It is easy to overeat when faced with so many delicious foods. In fact, research suggests the average Thanksgiving meal contains a whopping 3,000 to 4,500 calories, which is far more than the average man or woman needs in an entire day.

Here are some tips and tricks to lighten up some of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes — so you can impress your friends and family with a feast that's as nutritious as it is delicious.

To reduce sodium:

  • Use reduced sodium, or unsalted chicken broth or stock when making mashed potatoes or stuffing.
  • Add flavor with herbs and spices like rosemary, thyme and garlic instead of salt.
  • Canned vegetables tend to be high in sodium, so read the labels and choose low sodium varieties. Or opt for fresh or frozen veggies instead.

To cut sugar:

Sugar provides texture and tenderness to baked goods such as muffins and cakes. However, baked goods often contain a lot of sugar.

Cutting the sugar in your recipe will save you excess calories without compromising your dessert. Start by reducing the sugar by one quarter. If you're satisfied with the taste and texture, try cutting the sugar in half. This can save you approximately 200 to 400 calories (for ¼ cup and ½ cup of sugar, respectively) per recipe.

And remember: If you also replace oil with yogurt, applesauce or prune puree in your recipe, you'll be adding some natural sweetness, which can help offset the missing sugar.

To trim fat:

  • When baking, try using applesauce or plain low-fat yogurt in any recipe that calls for oil. Applesauce and yogurt work really well as an oil substitute in baked goods like cakes, brownies and cupcakes. When swapping out oil for applesauce, use half of the amount of oil indicated in the recipe.

For example, if the recipe calls for ½ cup oil, use ¼ cup of applesauce or yogurt. This swap can save you approximately 900 calories and 50g of fat.

Applesauce and yogurt aren't the only substitute for butter or oil: You can also use prune puree. In fact, some cookbooks suggest that prune puree is the best substitute for fat in chocolate baked goods, such as cakes and brownies, because of its rich color and flavor.

  • When preparing your turkey, skip the deep fryer. Instead, roast your turkey, and coat the skin with olive oil instead of butter to avoid extra saturated fats.

You'll also save calories and fat by eating white meat instead of dark: 3 ounces of white meat has 115 calories and 0 grams of saturated fat vs. 160 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat for 3 ounces of dark meat. 

But whether you prefer light or dark meat, always watch your portion size and — as tasty as it may be — don't indulge in the skin, which adds both calories and saturated fat to the meal.

  • When making mashed potatoes, use skim milk instead of whole milk, and add lowfat sour cream or lowfat cream cheese to provide extra flavor instead of butter. 

As with the turkey, don't overindulge: Stick with a small scoop of potatoes, and don't have seconds.

Some cookbooks suggest that prune puree is the best substitute for fat in chocolate baked goods, such as cakes and brownies, because of its rich color and flavor.

To boost fiber:

Swapping at least half of the all-purpose flour for spelt (a nutty-flavored ancient grain in the wheat family) or whole-wheat pastry flour in your baked goods provides fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E and magnesium while still providing a light and fluffy texture. Just note that you may need to add a little more liquid when substituting whole grains in a recipe.

Substituting brown rice or whole wheat pasta in casseroles is another way to enjoy your favorite dishes while packing in more fiber and micronutrients.

But perhaps the best way to get more fiber is to eat more vegetables.

  • Experiment with vegetables that are in season. Seasonal veggies, including squash, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and root vegetables like carrots, beets and parsnips, make a great addition to any meal. There are lots of delicious recipes out there, so try something new.
  • Fill half of your plate with veggies. These in-season vegetables, plus dark leafy greens like spinach or kale, provide not only fiber, but antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. They will also help keep you full, so you are not as likely to overindulge. For instance, research shows that having a salad as part of the meal results in lower intake of calories from high-calories sides.
  • Use lighter cooking techniques. Try steaming the vegetables, or roasting them with a small amount of olive oil and your favorite herbs and spices instead of bathing them in butter or frying them. And resist topping your veggies with melted cheese or rich sauces that can add lots of calories and fat to your meal.
  • Sweeten sweet potatoes naturally. These tasty tubers are highly nutritious, rich in complex carbohydrates, potassium, beta-carotene and dietary fiber. But at holiday time, we tend to load them up with brown sugar, butter and mini marshmallows. Flavor them with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and/or ginger instead. You can also sprinkle a small amount of toasted pecans or walnuts on top to add crunch and healthy fats.

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