Holiday Recipe Makeover: 7 Healthy Tips

Two women cooking in their kitchenThanksgiving is generally the first in a string of food-focused gatherings that can quickly pile on the pounds. But no worries. With our detailed list of simple steps, you’ll be sure to have a satisfying Thanksgiving!

Safety First

Food safety is the first priority when preparing healthy recipes on Thanksgiving.

• Buy fresh turkey before its “sell by” date; cook within two days.
• If frozen, thaw in the fridge (24 hours per 5 pounds), never on the counter.
• Roast until the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees. For safety and ease, bake stuffing separately.
• Bake pies with egg and milk fillings, such as pumpkin pie, to 160 degrees, then refrigerate.
• Reheat any precooked dishes at 325 degrees until they reach 165 degrees or are steaming hot.
• Keep cold foods in the fridge until dinner. Buffet foods can stay out for two hours; after that, they enter the “danger zone” between 40 degrees (cold foods start to warm up) and 140 degrees (cooked foods lose heat), in which bacteria grow.

General Healthy Holiday Cooking Tips

1. Embrace chicken broth. Use this do-ahead healthy recipe for chicken stock to moisten stuffing, baste the turkey, and braise pearl onions — and sip it to curb hunger pangs while you’re cooking! Short on time? Choose low-sodium canned broth.

Easy broth recipe:

• 2 pounds carrots, 1/2 pound parsnips peeled, trimmed, and cut in half
• 4 celery stalks, trimmed and cut in half
• 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
• 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1/8 teaspoon dried Italian herb blend
• 3 sprigs fresh dill (if available)
• 3 pounds chicken, quartered

Bring 6 quarts of water and all ingredients except the chicken to a rapid boil. Cover and simmer for 3 hours. Add the chicken, bring back to a boil, cover and simmer for another 1 1/2 hours. Cool and remove chicken and vegetables; strain broth into containers. Freeze if preparing more than three days in advance. Yields about 5 quarts.

2. Lower the fat without destroying the flavor. Roast your turkey on a rack so that the fat will drain off. Lighten your string bean casserole by skipping the cream soup and moving it to the stove top. Slowly sauté with onions until they caramelize; top with slivered almonds.

3. Lower the sugar, but keep the sweetness. Make your own vitamin C-rich cranberry sauce in 15 minutes. To bring out their natural sweetness without the added sugar, roast sweet potatoes instead of boiling them. Flavor food with spices like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

4. Reduce the salt. Too much salt can cause your body to retain water and make you feel bloated – not to mention the increased hypertension risks. Reduce salt in your Thanksgiving recipes, or use herbs to enhance natural flavor. Avoid buying a “self-basting” turkey that’s injected with a high-sodium solution, and be sure to check sodium labels when choosing canned vegetables

5. Avoid overeating.

• Eat breakfast. Starving yourself could backfire and start a binge.
• Be choosy. Before loading up your plate, survey the buffet and pick only those foods you really crave, like oyster stuffing or candied yams.
• Take small samplings of a wide variety of dishes. Savor that bite and pass on seconds — remind yourself that more won’t taste any better.
• Pace yourself at the table, and stop eating before you feel full. A recent study shows that eating quickly leads to weight gain.
• Make time for conversation. Put down the fork before you talk.
• Don’t go overboard. Sure, Thanksgiving all by itself is just one day. But between all the various holiday parties, dinners, and get-togethers that are ushered in right after Thanksgiving, overindulging is entirely too easy.

6. Put Your Dessert on a Diet

• Make yourself a sampler — with slivers, not slices, of your favorites.
• Use French-style tarts to cut the amount of piecrust in half; crisps made with fruit and a crumb topping have even less dough. (If it’s really the filling you love, skip the crust altogether.)
• Try a trifle. Alternate layers of fresh fruit chunks with fat-free ladyfingers and sugar-free vanilla or banana pudding; diet pudding also makes a great substitute for mascarpone in tiramisu and as a sauce for poached pears or baked apples.

7. Burn Extra Calories

• Without realizing it, you can easily pack in a pound’s worth of calories — yes, 3,500 — at Thanksgiving dinner. Considering that 60 minutes of biking at 10 mph burns only about 300 calories, it’s hard to undo so much overeating in one day.

• Try adding another 30 minutes of daily activity every week during the holiday season to help burn off all the extra calories you’ll be eating.

An Extra Tip: Focus On Your Family, Not Food

Remember that Thanksgiving was intended to be a special time to spend with family and friends. Following these tips, as part of a larger effort to eat healthily, allows you to indulge smartly on occasion without suffering from some serious repercussions.

If you do overdo it, develop a day-after plan before you go to sleep. Decide on a light yet nourishing breakfast, a brisk workout, and a little forgiveness — getting back and staying on track, not feeling guilty, should be your lifetime goal. It is the holiday season, after all!