Don’t toss traditional recipes in making Thanksgiving more healthful

Make some dishes healthier with lower-fat substitutes

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter



For many Americans, Thanksgiving and the holiday season, in general, revolves around one thing: food.

The savory meals. The sweet treats. The tasty beverages. The calories can add up quickly, resulting in extra pounds.

But that doesn’t have to be the case.

“Small things can make a big difference in the calorie content and still be tasty,” said Sandra Brown, food safety and nutrition expert at Washington State University Clark County Extension.

Everyone has dishes they’re unwilling to compromise on, Brown said. But for the other dishes, making a couple tweaks to the recipe can cut down on the calories without ruining the taste, she said.

Start with the stuffing.

If you make stuffing from scratch, consider using a cup or two of brown rice in place of a cup of the bread. The rice replacement will eliminate some carbohydrates and add some fiber to the dish, Brown said.

If you use broth, choose a low-fat and low-sodium broth. And in addition to the onions and celery you typically add to stuffing, throw in some sauteed apples.

“Apple adds sweetness so you don’t miss some of the fat,” Brown said. “If you’re going to take fat out, you have to have some other flavors.”

Those changes can drastically reduce the amount of calories, sodium and fat in homemade stuffing. A 1/2 cup of homemade stuffing has 190 calories, 643 milligrams of sodium and 6 grams of fat. The better-for-you version has about 104 calories, 175 milligrams of sodium and 2 grams of fat, according to Brown.

Mashed potatoes can also be made healthier.

One trick is to use light margarine in place of butter. You can even find margarines

without trans fats, if that’s a concern, Brown said.

Substituting the whole milk or cream in the recipe with skim milk, will also cut down on the calories and fat. And consider seasoning the potatoes with black pepper and garlic powder instead of salt.

Those changes reduce the calories in a 3/4 cup serving of potatoes from 165 to 120 calories. The changes also reduce the fat from 7 grams to 1 gram, according to Brown.

Another mashed potatoes recipe tweak gaining popularity is adding mashed cauliflower in place of some of the potatoes, Brown said.

Your sweet potatoes and candied yams recipes can also get a little healthier by using light margarine instead of butter. Another trick is to ditch the sugar and replace it with a little orange juice and a dash of sweet spices, such as cinnamon and cloves or pumpkin pie spice, Brown said.

While mashing the sweet potatoes, add a little bit of orange juice and keep an eye on the consistency. Add more juice as necessary, she said.

For drinks, consider a healthier version of eggnog. In a blender, puree two bananas, 1 cup skim or soy milk, nutmeg and rum extract.

That nog has only 151 calories and less than 1 gram of fat, according to Brown. Traditional eggnog has 340 calories and 16 grams of fat per cup.

No need to throw out the old recipes, but making some small changes to them doesn’t have to compromise the dish and may even result in more desirable flavors, Brown said.

“People can taste the flavor of the food because it’s not masked by so much fat,” she said.

Healthy Holiday Tips

Here are some additional tips from local dietitians and nutrition experts to help make the holidays a little healthier:

Holiday meals

o Eat normally prior to the event. Start the day with a good breakfast.

o Turkey is a great source of lean protein, so keep it that way. Steer clear of self-basting turkeys; they’ve been injected with butter or other fats. Avoid adding fats by roasting or smoking your turkey rather than deep-frying it.

o Bake your stuffing outside of the bird. Stuffing cooked inside the turkey absorbs fat and increases calories.

o Have small dishes of vegetables around for people to snack on before dinner.

o Make a one-plate rule. Skip seconds knowing dessert is still on the way.

o Focus on quality, not quantity by choosing the foods you really want versus everything that is offered.

o Make half of your plate vegetables or green salad.

o Watch portion sizes. Some food items you won’t want to skimp on the flavor of ingredients, such as butter or full cream. So watch the portion size of those items.

o Choose one starchy food, such as potatoes or stuffing. If you choose two servings of starchy items, you should offset those with two servings of vegetables.


o Serve seltzer water and fruit juice for a festive-looking drink.

o Offer low-calorie beverage options, such as water with wedges of fruit or hot apple cinnamon tea with sliced apples in a crock pot.

o Limit yourself to one or two cocktails. Then drink sparkling water as an alternate “special drink.”


o Sign up for a turkey trot the morning of Thanksgiving. You can walk or run. Choose a distance that will be challenging but doable.

o Get the whole gang out for a neighborhood walk between dinner and dessert.

o Make the walk fun by sharing things you’re thankful for or playing “I spy” while walking through the neighborhood.

Other tricks

o Get out grandma’s china. Plates in the 1960s were typically 8 1/2 inches in diameter versus today’s 12-inch platter, which holds about 40 percent more food.

o Make a plan for leftovers. If you’re hosting the holiday meal, purchase inexpensive plastic containers to pack goodie bags for your guests.

o Don’t stand next to the food or beverage table.

Tips provided by: Chris Collins, registered dietitian at the Center for Weight Management at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center; Jendy Newman, registered dietitian at PeaceHealth Southwest’s Diabetes Endocrine and Nutrition Center; Stasha Hornbeck, registered dietitian at Kaiser Permanente; and Sandra Brown, food safety and nutrition expert at Washington State University Clark County Extension.

Don't Do Stupid Stuff Mugs