Be Health Conscious: Eat This Not That – Your Thanksgiving Dinner Game Plan
Thanksgiving is almost here, and do you know what that means? It’s the season for expanding waistlines and forgotten resolutions. Just because your friends and family are getting their fill of cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes does not mean that you have to stuff yourself like that turkey (or tofurky) on your dinner table. You can join in on the day-long eating marathon without completely undoing all of the hard work that you’ve put into your exercise and diet regimen the previous 11 months of the year. Even if you have dietary restrictions, such as no meat or no gluten, you can eat with the best of them with just a few minor modifications.
So, put on your stretchy yoga pants and comfortable clothes, and away you go! Here is your Thanksgiving day game plan for you calorie cutters, vegan/vegetarians and gluten-free yogis:
Calorie Cutter: Watching your waistline on Thanksgiving can be tricky, but when it comes to turkey, it can be easy. Grab a small portion of meat – the size of the palm of your hand – and leave the fatty and high-calorie skin behind. Light or dark meat has about the same calories, so it’s all about your portion size and avoiding that fatty skin. Also, just say no to deep-fried turkey!
Vegetarian/Vegan: Because turkey is not an option, you can opt for a tofurky (or fish for you pescatarians out there), or skip the main dish altogether and indulge in the best part of any meal – the sides!
Gluten Free: You are in the clear for this dish, so just make sure that your gravy on top is also gluten-free, as many gravy recipes call for flour.
Calorie Cutter: Stuffing is high in calories and fat and low in nutrition. This combination, while yummy, can wreak havoc on your waistline when eaten in excess. Make it more nutritious with a whole grain bread and by adding lots of vegetables to the recipe – celery, broccoli, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, etc. You will get tons of flavor, along with the health benefits in those added veggies. Instead of milk and butter, add chicken broth and a low-fat margarine to cut fat and calories.
Vegetarian/Vegan: Many recipes call for chicken broth as a base, so instead use vegetable broth. For a creamy stuffing, use soy or almond milk and coconut oil instead, all of which are great for vegetarians and vegans alike.
Gluten Free: Typical stuffing is a no-no, so instead, use a rice-based bread or your bread of choice as your base. You can add veggies and your choice of liquid base (vegetable broth, chicken broth) and seasonings to make this stuffing recipe your own.
Calorie Cutter: Mashed potatoes are creamy and delicious, but because they are loaded with heavy cream and butter, they can be a calorie monster. Try cauliflower mash, which is made just as you would mashed potatoes, but using cauliflower instead. Or, if you aren’t ready to fully commit, prepare a 50/50 mix of cauliflower and potatoes, so you can cut calories without cutting the flavor or texture. Whichever recipe you choose, swap out your heavy cream for milk, skim milk or even low-calorie milk replacements (such as almond or coconut milk) to slash the calories and fat. If you don’t want to change the taste or consistency, just have a small scoop of the real deal, and don’t go back for seconds!
Vegetarian/Vegan: Skip the gravy, which is often filled with some form of meat. Make your own mashed potatoes, where instead of adding milk and butter to your potatoes, combine soy or almond milk and coconut oil along with your favorite seasonings. This combination is creamy and flavorful and just as good or better than the original recipe.
Gluten Free: While you are typically safe, make sure that your chef didn’t add in flour to the potatoes as a thickener. And, double check that the gravy on top is all free of gluten.
Cranberry Sauce / Condiments / Sides
Calorie Cutter: Stay away from anything fried, covered in sauce or gravy or anything that appears to be thick and creamy. Instead, have your fill of veggies and a tablespoon or two of homemade cranberry sauce that you make yourself without added sugar. This sweet treat is a nice balance to the savory flavors throughout the rest of your dish.
Vegetarian/Vegan: While you are probably used to asking about ingredients when out to dinner, Thanksgiving is a particularly important day to ask. While your family and friends may mean well, they may add in unsuspecting chicken broth, mayonnaise and other meat-based items where you least expect it. Better yet, just play it safe. Grab a salad, cranberry sauce or other side dishes that you can clearly see all of the components, so you are safe from meat-product contamination.
Gluten Free: For this category of your meal, you are probably safe – but double check just to be sure. If it’s bread-based and you didn’t make it, it is probably filled with gluten, so choose vegetable or fruit-based sides. Even unsuspecting dishes like green bean casserole can be dangerous with those breaded and fried onions on top.
Calorie Cutter: At this point, you’ve made so many smart choices and have done so well throughout your meal. You are approaching the finish line and you don’t want to stop now! Most desserts are full of butter, cream and and tons of sugar. Your approach here is moderation. Have a thin slice of pumpkin pie and skip the whipped cream. Have a spoonful of pudding. Share a cookie with a friend. Now is your time to have a little of what you’d like to reward yourself for doing so well throughout the rest of your meal. If you don’t want to cheat, prepare strawberries or other fruit with a light cream or make a light and frothy pumpkin mousse or another sugar-free dessert. Enjoy a small, sweet treat at the end of your meal. You deserve it!
Vegetarian/Vegan: For vegetarians, dessert is a no brainer – you can have it all! However for vegans, most baked goods on Thanksgiving are filled with milk and butter, and anything with a pie crust is an instant no-go on your list. Unless you make it, it is probably off of your menu tonight. Here is your chance to show off your inner vegan baker, so pick your favorite dessert and share it with those you love.
Gluten Free: Many desserts are carb-heavy and unless the baker is gluten free, those carbs are generally made with white, refined flour. Make your own cookies, pie or cake and add it to the dessert table. The best part will be announcing that your dessert was gluten free after the meal is over – just watch the surprise on the faces of those who indulged in and enjoyed your sweet treat, only to find that what they just ate was gluten free!
Now, your meal is over and your belly is full. You can sit back, relax and give thanks for all that you have and the people in which you share your day. Cherish the time and memories that you create with your family and great food. Cook together and share your cuisines, and take some time to reflect on all things you have to be grateful for. Don’t forget to do some yoga and limber up before you make a mad dash for Black Friday shopping!