When most people think of Thanksgiving one thing comes to mind: the BIG holiday meal. Most people devour more calories in that one sitting than they do in one entire day; anywhere between 3,000 and 4,500 calories. I’m not big on calorie counting, and prefer instead to focus on the nutritional value of what I eat. And where most nutrition experts lament about the fat in the meal, when I look at the typical Thanksgiving table, I see sugar and carbs… a lot of them!
Well the Thanksgiving meal isn’t really any different than any other meal. I’m used to taking the standard high-carb meal and recreating it with less sugar and starch. Over the years I’ve done the same with my holiday recipes and I’ve come up with a few winners, many of which my family now prefers over the old versions. Allow me to share my secrets…
The Turkey: In my opinion, the turkey itself is the best thing about the meal. It’s high in protein and very tasty (I’m wondering now why we save turkey just for Thanksgiving?). I recommend purchasing a fresh locally raised, hormone free, organic bird, if possible. Where most people go wrong is the stuffing. Bread stuffing is all carbs, which of course break down in the body as sugar. Instead of stuffing the cavity of the turkey with bread stuffing, use 2 lemons (or oranges) cut in chunks along with some garlic cloves and fresh herbs (like basil, rosemary and thyme). Fresh herbs also add amazing flavor when inserted under the skin of the bird. I also like to baste mine with organic butter to keep it juicy.
Mashed Potatoes: Carbs, carbs, carbs! But you can’t have a Thanksgiving meal without the creamy white goodness, which is what led me to experiment with cauliflower (don’t turn up your nose until you try it!). “Mock” Garlic Mashed Potatoes is the answer for our family. With or without gravy, they are delicious and I’ve combined several recipes I’ve found from various online sources to come up with my own version, which I’m excited to share with you (see below for how you can get your copy).
The Gravy: This was a challenging one for me. There are low-carb thickeners like xanthan gum, and some cooks have good luck with these. What I’ve found that I like best is reducing the juice and pan drippings with no thickener. I guess you would call this “au jus” rather than gravy. Just boil the juices down until it is the thickness you want. It won’t be thick and dark like the gravy you might be used to, but it’s very full of flavor!
The Dressing: As I said above, the traditional version made from bread is far from healthy. It’s basically just bread, and bread is basically just starch, which the body dutifully breaks down into sugar. My friend and her husband (who has a gluten intolerance) experimented with some healthier ingredients and came up with a wonderful alternative using roasted vegetables seasoned with sage. It’s a very versatile dish and with her permission I’m sharing the recipe (see below for how you can get your copy).
The Vegetables: It seems each family has their own traditional Thanksgiving vegetable; some like corn, others sweet potatoes, squash or carrots with the tiny marshmallows on top. What if you tried substituting a lower-carb veggie for this dish? Would your family even notice? Would they even care? I’ve found that steamed Brussels sprout seasoned with organic butter, fresh ground pepper and sea salt is a delicious and healthier substitution. Broccoli topped with crumbled bacon bits goes over really well, too. A colorful salad made of organic spring greens, spinach and romaine, served with homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing, is another hit! These are all much healthier options and pair really well with the rest of the meal.
The Dessert: Of course the meal wouldn’t be complete without dessert; for most that means pumpkin pie; loaded with sugar, not to mention the carbs in that crust. My friend, and nutritionist, Maria Emmerich always shares amazing recipes on her blog, along with very informative health advice. She’s got an amazing Pumpkin Pie in a Jar recipe and I’ve been wanting to try her Pumpkin Bread and Pumpkin Bread Pudding, too. If you get around to trying it before I do, please let me know what you think!
And for those who prefer apples to pumpkin, how about this recipe for Apple Crisp using Zucchini; really, it’s delicious!
And none of that disgusting Reddi-Whip or Cool Whip! Whip up your own real cream with a bit of vanilla extract and low-carb sweetener of your choice (a few drops of Better Stevia brand Stevia Glycerite seems to be just right).
There… no excuses for eating anything less than healthy during this holiday season! To add my Thanksgiving Meal Makeover recipes to your collection, simply visit the photo album by the same name located on our Facebook page. If you haven’t liked our page yet, this is your chance. Christmas is coming up and I’ll have a few more holiday recipes to share!