Five Swaps That Will Make Your Thanksgiving Meal Healthier!
Food. Dependent upon your view that word can fill you with good feelings or more anxious ones or a mixture of both. Food is and will always be a big part of the human experience. And when you have stretches of time like the holiday season where food seems to be readily available at all times, it can mean that all that hard fought for control can go out the window.
We took a closer look at the Thanksgiving meal, and we asked Ashley Littleton, registered dietitian at Memorial Hospital of Converse County, what healthy swaps could be made in the kitchen to make Thanksgiving not so damaging from a caloric standpoint. Below she offers some great advice, tips, and tricks for keeping the flavor in your meal without as much concern for what that one meal can do to your health or waistband!
We start with everyone's favorite, the stuffing. "A substitution may be meat in a stuffing. Often we use pork sausage for stuffings and dressings. We can get some of the same flavor profile with turkey sausages that have less saturated fat in them. They still have that same flavor profile with the sage," said Ashley Littleton continued, "The thing about sausages is they get their flavoring from the herbs and spices that are in them. You could even go as far as taking some of your game meat, venison, elk, and preparing it in a ground way that incorporates some of those herbs and spices that are typical in a sausage as well."
When we look at processed meats like those found in sausage, quite often their flavor indexes come not just from spices but added salt. The salt isn't just a flavoring, but also has that added purpose of preserving the meat. A turkey sausage utilizes far less sodium than it's pork counterpart, so if a patient is having concerns about blood pressure, this switch may benefit them in a couple of different areas. Plus, it's turkey it already goes with Thanksgiving, and most won't be able to tell right?
"Often most people don't realize that you've done that!" Ashley laughed. "I've made lots of stuffings and dressings that have turkey sausage in it, and no one has even noticed."
On to the main event, what about that bird? "Often we have complaints of dry turkey. Our goal when roasting is to make sure that the turkey protein is flavorful. Typically, with more herbs and spices again and even some oils, like olive oil, underneath the skin of the turkey, if you're going to roast it, along with those herbs and spices." This style of oiling the turkey can naturally help seal in moisture as the turkey roasts and hold the flavor to the meat.
Another item to minimize on your table? Refined sugar. "Substituting out some of the sugar for some honey or even with some more natural juices instead of just the sugar content can help add some more flavor. Cranberry and orange come to mind in particular. If you want a little sweeter of a cranberry sauce even adding some squeezed orange into your cranberry sauce would do the trick for that."
We mentioned before in this article, but sodium can be a big deal at our Thanksgiving tables. Sodium can creep into almost every dish on the table in some measure, so it's best to keep on eye on the salt! "Be mindful of the types of cream soups that you use for different types of recipes like green bean casseroles, for example," advised Ashley. "There are some lower sodium options or some fat-free options that may be a benefit for people in your home, especially if they're watching out for their blood pressure or their cholesterol. Substitutions in looking to see what types of cream soups you might be using."
Sodium can also be readily apparent in chicken broths that are in many of the recipes: "Different types of broths will also have varying amounts of salt content in particular," said Littleton. "The best way to do that would be a homemade broth with minimal salt added. That's sometimes difficult to do though."
Ashley continued, "Try to select the broths that might be a lower sodium version. There are an even a few salt-free broth versions. They come more in packets; they look like tea packets almost. They end up just being mostly a lot of herbs and spices. They still could be beneficial. Maybe you do half and half of your broth. The broth that you might normally do and half of the lower sodium version. Just to help switch out some of the sodium just because a lot of our food for the winter season is heavily salted."
Sodium can also be readily apparent in chicken broths in many of the recipes: "Different types of broths will also have varying amounts of salt content in particular," said Littleton. "The best way to do that would be a homemade broth with minimal salt added. That's sometimes difficult to do though."
Ashley continued, "Try to select the broths that might be a lower sodium version. There are even a few salt-free broth versions. They come more in packets; they look like tea packets almost. They end up just being mostly a lot of herbs and spices. They still could be beneficial. Maybe you do half and half of your broth. The broth that you might normally do and half of the lower sodium version. Just to help switch out some of the sodium just because a lot of our food for the winter season is pretty heavily salted."
Finally, a good rule of thumb, even though it's not convenient, is to limit the amount of prepackaged or processed foods on your table. "In the winter months especially when our fresh produce isn't as readily available or isn't the greatest quality, look for frozen versions of the fresh foods that you enjoy," Ashley advised. "Even some of the canned versions. Being mindful that the canned versions will typically have salt in them. A lot of canned versions now are no salt added. They are not any more expensive. They used to be more expensive. Now they're about the same price."
Limit those pre-made items, like side dishes, in your cart, and in your cupboards. These prepackaged foods typically have ready-made sauces or other additives that make them high in fat and high in salt. "Don't be scared of the frozen food aisle!" stated Littleton emphatically. "The frozen food aisle can be daunting for sure because there are lots of processed foods in there and it's easy to grab the pizza rolls and the pre-made chicken wings. But with enough of a plan, sticking with the very plain foods, as they were frozen, tend to have a very good nutrient quality because they were picked and frozen right usually near the field or within a few hours of being picked."
Fail to plan, plan to fail is often a motto we ascribe to business. But it can as well be applied to our approach to meal times and especially larger meal prep like Thanksgiving. But with a mind for researching some healthier substitutions, making effective changes, and taking some additional time your Thanksgiving meal doesn't have to derail your diet completely!