Orlando Health: 10 Ways to Lighten Your Thanksgiving Menu



Lisa Cooper, Dt.t.

Registered Dietitian
Orlando Health

Thanksgiving Day is all about gratitude – and the traditional food on your table. But that doesn’t mean the holiday menu has to be a nutritional nightmare. There are ways to control calories without missing out on the flavors you love.

The classic Thanksgiving meal is actually packed with nutrients. Turkey is a lean protein, and many side dishes are vegetables rich in phytonutrients like Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. Even the ultimate Thanksgiving dessert, the pumpkin pie, is a squash, loaded with good nutrition.

Here are some ways to cut fat and calories while enjoying a tasty holiday meal.

1. Skip the deep fryer and roast your bird instead.
Although turkey is a lean protein, the way you prepare it can make a difference in its health. Instead of soaking your bird in hot oil for a fried calorie bomb, roast the turkey in the oven instead. Avoid indulging in crispy skin and choose breast meat to save 75 calories per 3-ounce serving.

2. Be smart with carbohydrates
When it comes to dressing, potatoes, and gravy, there are options to improve the nutritional quality of these favorite dishes.

Use whole wheat breadcrumbs in place of white bread to boost fiber and nutrition.

Cream the potatoes with half-and-half fat-free milk or skim milk instead of cream or whole milk. To cut down on calories and fat, try chicken broth as a tasty substitute.

Making gravy with cooking juices creates a dish high in saturated fat. Instead, use low sodium chicken broth as the base for the sauce and season it with herbs and spices to your liking.

3. Amplify your sides
A mix of colorful vegetables adds both visual appeal and nutritional value to your table. Spinach salad, sweet potatoes, carrots and squash are all great choices. Try them steamed or prepared with olive oil.

Add a healthy new side dish to your usual Thanksgiving spread. Try Brussels sprouts, which are rich in folic acid, vitamin C, fiber and magnesium. They also contain glucosinolates, a phytonutrient that helps prevent cancer.

Add a touch of originality to a traditional dish, the Green Bean Casserole, by using a low-fat creamy soup, a smaller portion of grated cheese, and less fried onions than the recipe calls for. Customers will never know the difference.

Cranberry sauce is a great accompaniment to your turkey for flavor and nutrition. If canned cranberries aren’t your thing, try a simple homemade cranberry marmalade and surprise your guests with something new.

4. Make a delicious dessert
Can’t resist a slice of pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner? You do not have to. Use evaporated skim milk in place of evaporated whole milk and sauté the crust, pouring the filling directly into the pie pan. The mixture molds in the pan and you can squeeze “chunks” out of it for your family to enjoy.

Watch your weight? Try these tips

  • Don’t skip meals earlier in the day. This will prevent you from overeating later.
  • Choose a salad, vegetables and fruit as the first serving. Foods high in dietary fiber fill you up, slow down meal times, and help you eat smaller portions of high-calorie foods.
  • Take vegetables and fruits on the side. If you’re a Thanksgiving dinner guest, you know your side dish will be a healthy option.
  • Fill half your plate with a low-calorie vegetable. Add small tastes of fatter sides. Select the turkey breast and keep the portion the size of a deck of cards.
  • Choose pumpkin over pecan pie and choose fruit pie with a crust over pie with top and bottom crust.
  • Stick to water or other low-calorie drinks. If you drink alcohol, choose a light beer or dilute half a glass of wine with sparkling water to make a spritzer.

You don’t have to completely change your Thanksgiving menu to eat healthy during the holidays.

The key is to make some ingredient substitutions and balance high calorie items with nutritious low calorie dishes. It will help keep your diet on track while enjoying a relaxing day with the family – and that’s to be thankful for.


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