Have Your Pumpkin Pie and Eat it Too this Thanksgiving!

Nutrition
 

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

From Thanksgiving until the New Year, temptations to eat foods we normally would never have in our homes, let alone consume, confront us. It’s almost as if the world were conspiring to undo all we have accomplished by making unhealthy fats, sodium and empty calories as attractive as possible. And many of us will fall prey to the “come on, it's the holidays” argument. 

Facing this barrage from advertisements and well-meaning friends, family and coworkers (well, OK, not my coworkers at pH Labs), it’d be really easy to just throw up our arms, give up and toss caution to the wind for the next six weeks. After all, studies show that most people only gain a pound or two during the holidays, right? But these same studies also caution that many people never lose those pounds and end up with an increased risk for developing obesity-related health problems such as diabetes and hypertension

But I have good news for you!

To paraphrase a popular saying, you really can have your pumpkin pie and eat it too this season. It turns out that holiday feasts with family and friends can not only be nutritious (and delicious), but they also can help set the stage for healthier eating by you and your loved ones during the next year and beyond.

Follow the suggestions below, and I guarantee you that your guests and family will never even know they are “eating healthy.” They may even like your healthier versions of their favorite Thanksgiving and holiday dishes even more. 

We can swap unhealthy choices  for healthier equivalents.

One of the good things about experimenting with new ingredients in our favorite recipes is discovering that replacing less healthy versions with healthier ones may not even be noticeable. For example, substituting chicken broth for unhealthier fat drippings to make gravy can actually make these dishes tastier while making them better (or at least not as bad) for our health.

Other healthier tricks and replacements you could use include:

  • Purchasing a turkey breast rather than the entire turkey and serving this to your guests, since breast meat is lower in calories than dark meat.
  • Ditching the omnipresent green-bean-and-mushroom-soup casserole with steamed or sautéed green beans – add some garlic, black pepper, mushrooms and sea salt to give them some zing (you can do the same with Brussels sprouts to change things up a bit).
  • Instead of using white bread (which is basically empty calories) for your stuffing, consider using whole wheat bread and replacing the typical sausage with apples or cranberries – and instead of cooking the stuffing inside the bird, where it absorbs fat, cook it as a casserole.
  • Reducing the indicated amounts of butter or sugar in a recipe or replace them altogether with broth, fruit purees or stevia (no one will notice). Pies, for example, pecan pie, can be made with egg whites, no crust, and light corn syrup which will greatly reduce the fat and calorie content without impacting taste or texture (as a point of reference, one slice of pecan pie can clock in at over 500 calories, and this is not counting if you serve it with whipped cream) – or instead of pies, you could offer sweet fruits such as dates for dessert.
  • Serving lots of fresh vegetables (call them crudité if you’d like) with fat-free yogurt as a dip – these will also help fill your guests up, so they won’t be famished and overeat when the bird arrives. 
  • While one favorite Thanksgiving staple is jellied cranberries (some people eat it right out of the can), the problem is that it is also packed with added sugars – instead of the canned variety, try making a fresh cranberry relish with oranges, apples and other fruits.
  • Consider mashed parsnips or mashed turnips instead of mashed potatoes, or if you just can’t do without the potatoes, mix the parsnips or turnips in for added nutrients and flavor.
  • Also remember that you can add a wide variety of herbs and spices, such as basil, cilantro, parsley, cumin, sage, dill and ginger, to take the place of added salt and fats. You can also use common condiments such as mustard, vinegar and hot peppers.

Use healthier cooking methods.

There is also a lot you can do to increase the “health quotient” of your Thanksgiving and other holiday foods by using healthier cooking methods. Some of these include:

  • Bake, braise, roast and broil instead of frying – while deep frying turkeys may be the trend in certain parts of the country, it is probably one of the unhealthiest things you could do to a turkey and any other food out there!
  • Trim visible fat from meats before cooking, and be sure to use a baking rack so that your meats don’t sit in and re-absorb fats (you can get added healthy points by also removing skin from the turkey and other poultry).
  • Don’t overcook vegetables since doing so robs them of both flavor and nutrients – you want them to still be a little crispy or crunchy.
  •  Also, do as much cooking as you can yourself in your own kitchen – this ensures you not only know what you are eating, but also what ingredients are going in each dish.

Make it a family affair.

Since Thanksgiving and the holidays are a time to be with family, there is no better opportunity to help introduce – or reintroduce – your kids and other family members to healthier eating. And the best way to do this is to ask them to help in the kitchen with age-appropriate tasks. You could also include them in putting together the shopping lists and going to the market with you to select and purchase the foods for your repast. 

You may wonder why I would recommend this, and the answer is simple. Children who are regularly involved in healthy meal preparation at home are more likely to have the skills and confidence to make better food choices outside of the home. On top of that, these children are more likely to enjoy eating a larger variety of fruits and vegetables. And, the earlier children start with healthier eating, the more likely they are to carry this habit into adulthood and subsequently teach their children about healthy eating.  

The best part here is that none of us are ever “too old” to learn about healthy eating and change our eating habits. 

Enjoy healthy leftovers confidently.

One of my favorite parts of holiday meals are the leftovers! To make sure that your family can enjoy them without worrying about getting sick, you just need to take a few precautions when storing them and preparing them for snacking during the holiday football games. 

  • Do not store previously cooked food at room temperature or even leave it out overnight – store in appropriate containers or wrappings in the fridge until you’re ready to reheat and serve (or serve cold depending on the dish)
  • If you freeze any leftovers or have frozen food that you have not yet prepared, thaw them in cold water or the microwave – don’t leave them out on the counter to thaw.
  • Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before, during and after any food prep (this holds for all foods and not just leftovers).
  •  Remember that microwaves do not kill any bacteria that may have decided to use your leftovers as their own meal – whether you use the microwave or stove, make sure that the reheated food has reached a safe internal temperature.
  •  If you take the leftovers out of the fridge and you’re not sure if they are still OK to eat, just throw them out. I hate wasting food just as much as the next person, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. And of course, if the food has an odor or has mold, throw it out immediately.

One last thing to keep in mind.  

Don’t beat yourself up if you do have that extra piece of pie or have a little too much turkey.  Just don’t let it lull you into thinking, “Well, now that I ate what I shouldn’t have, I might as well just throw all caution to the wind until January.” Just resume your healthy eating the next day – and throw in some extra exercise for good measure.

 

Enjoy your healthy Thanksgiving and holiday season!

 

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here. 

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