Thanksgiving is a time of family, celebration — and thousands of calories.
But don’t blame the turkey. You’ll most likely find the calorie culprits right next to it: the sides.
Many popular Thanksgiving cooking techniques include breading, frying or smothering with high-fat sauces that significantly increase calories and saturated fat. And we often miss out on the opportunity to incorporate beneficial foods such as whole grains and vegetables.
But there are plenty of ways to make your holiday more healthful. You just have to have a plan of attack.
This year, start by eating a healthful breakfast and sensible snacks throughout the day to avoid overeating during dinner. And when you do get to the big event, remember that Thanksgiving’s main star, the turkey, can be enjoyed healthfully. Stick to the leaner white meat, and remove the skin. If you do use gravy, make sure to skim the fat off the top. Removing just one tablespoon of fat from gravy or pan drippings eliminates 120 calories and 13 grams of fat.
As for those dangerous sides and desserts, I recommend sampling all of the dishes you want (Thanksgiving is all about food, after all), but practice portion control. Avoid the tendency to overeat: The leftovers will still be great the next day.
And once you’ve digested the meal (or before it), encourage your family to be active together. For spending quality time together is what this holiday is really all about.
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This year, take the opportunity to whip up these healthful sides and offer your loved ones some nutritious options to couple with that juicy (and lean) turkey.
Start your meal with this easy, elegant and satisfying soup, which features the sweet and nutty butternut squash. This winter squash is a good source of fiber, potassium and magnesium. It is also an excellent source of vitamins A and C.
Nutmeg and allspice provide an incredibly savory flavor that will leave you wanting seconds — which you can have without the guilt. This soup is creamy without the cream (or butter).
Then, impress your guests by incorporating these unusual and often underused vegetables in your menu. Root vegetables have naturally interesting flavors that can be described as earthy, nutty, anise-like or even buttery.
Root vegetables such as carrots, onions, potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, beets and celery root have powerful nutritional benefits. They are low on calories and full of protective vitamins and minerals such as potassium (yams, parsnips, potatoes, beets), vitamin A (carrots, turnips) and vitamin C (yams, rutabagas, turnips), all of which are important for good health. Root vegetables are also rich in fiber to help fill you up and aid in digestion.
By roasting the vegetables in heart-healthy olive oil and adding fresh herbs for flavor, you avoid the added calories and fat that come with many other traditional Thanksgiving vegetable side dishes.
Dairy-Free Butternut Squash Soup
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the squash
1 large shallot, diced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups homemade or no-salt-added chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup unsweetened plain almond, soy or rice milk (optional, for added creaminess)
2 cloves garlic, put through a garlic press
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with nonstick cooking oil spray.
Cut the squash in half lengthwise and brush the cut sides lightly with oil. Place the squash skin side down in the prepared baking dish and bake for 1 hour, until the flesh can be easily scooped out with a spoon.
Heat the 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the shallot, salt and pepper, and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the shallot softens.
Scoop out and discard the seeds from the squash. Use a large spoon to scoop out the squash flesh and add it to the pot, along with the broth and the almond, soy or rice milk, if using. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, allspice and nutmeg. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the soup to cool.
Transfer the soup to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Serve immediately, or the soup may be covered and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance. Reheat before serving.
Per serving (based on 6): 120 calories, 3 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 10 milligrams cholesterol, 230 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 4 grams sugar
Roasted Root Vegetables
6 medium carrots (any combination of colors: red, mauve, yellow, orange)
4 medium parsnips
2 beets (one red, one golden)
1 sweet potato or yam
12 fingerling potatoes
1 celery root
1 Vidalia onion
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Leaves from 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped, plus several whole sprigs for garnish
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and put through a garlic press
4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt
A few teaspoons of additional fresh herbs, such as sage, parsley or thyme (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel and trim the carrots, parsnips, beets, yam, potatoes, rutabaga, turnip, celery root and onion, and cut them into similar-size cubes (about 1 inch). Transfer to a large bowl and toss with the olive oil, rosemary, chives, garlic, pepper, salt and additional herbs, if using. Transfer to 2 baking dishes sprayed with olive oil cooking spray.
Bake uncovered for 50 minutes, stirring once halfway through baking. Transfer the vegetables to large bowl or platter, garnish with the rosemary sprigs and serve.