There’s a reason Thanksgiving dinner leaves you wanting to fall asleep in the middle of the ballgame, and it’s not just the fact that you ate until you had to unbutton your pants. The quantity was certainly a factor, but the quality of your meal — all those simple carbohydrates, the heavy gravies and the extra helping of dessert — not only gives you an immediate energy crash but pose some serious threats to any health or weight-loss diet you had in the works just a few days earlier.
When you’re planning your Thanksgiving feast for this year, keep your most important centerpiece dishes, but consider swapping out some of your sides with these healthier alternatives:
1. Veggie Platter
Yes, we’re aware that the veggie platter you lay out every year is the one plate that’s still mostly full when it’s time to put away the appetizers. This isn’t because of the veggies, though. It’s because you’ve set it on the same table as those cookies and the meat-and-cheese board. This year, offer only veggies, plus maybe a little fruit. Folks will still want to munch, but they’ll munch much better. Great seasonal candidates for platterdom include celery, carrots and broccoli crowns. Although they’re not in season this time of year, it’s not too hard to get some bell peppers and cucumbers to add to the mix.
2. Fruity Salads
It almost isn’t Thanksgiving dinner until somebody breaks out the bowl full of Jello with fruit in it. That wobbly bit of wonderful may taste good, but it’s got about as much sugar in it as the dessert pies. This year, jettison the Jello. Replace it with a varied green salad made of crisp greens, some cheese and sliced apples or pears. Throw some nuts or dried fruit on top to garnish. If you don’t want to experiment, try this salad with figs and almonds.
3. Soup of the Day
Soup is a quintessential holiday food, a steaming bowl of yummy that reminds you how warm it is inside at the table. Lots of soups are high in sodium and the simple carbs that thicken the broth — especially if you’re serving it out of cans. One of the best things about soups is they’re very forgiving, so experiment with scratch-cooking a nice pumpkin soup this year. It’s a verified superfood, low on sodium and carbohydrates, and thematically matched with Thanksgiving culinary expectations.
4. Lose the Potatoes
With apologies to Idaho, potatoes are among the worst foods you can choose from a health standpoint. A simple baked potato has the same effect on your endocrine system as a bottle of soda. Try replacing your mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes with steamed green beans or carrots. Make them a bigger hit by adding a simple garlic sauce for the beans, or a honey glaze for the carrots. For an alternative that better matches the color and texture, try mashed cauliflower. It’s nutritious, lacks the starch, and you can spice it to match anybody’s taste.
5. The Upper Crust
The trouble with your fruit and pumpkin pies is the sugar content, much of which is in the pastry crusts most people put at the bottom. By switching to a low-sugar crust, you can enjoy this holiday must-have while cutting down on the calorie load. Another trick is to simply make less dessert. Nobody needs four helpings of pie — so get an accurate head count and cook accordingly.