Around this time of year, the media seem to constantly remind us of the calorie excess of Thanksgiving. Is it really that bad or can you eat healthfully while still enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving dinner?
If you think about it, individual components of the traditional Thanksgiving table score pretty high in nutrition. A meal built around turkey, veggies and cranberries can be nutrient dense and low in calories.
Turkey. White meat sans skin provides more protein per calorie than almost any other meat. A 3-ounce serving-about the size of a deck of cards-provides just 120 calories and 26 grams of protein.
Think dark meat is verboten? Think again. A 3-ounce serving of thigh meat provides just 135 calories. Either type is a source of iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorus and B vitamins.
Gravy. Depending on the skill of the cook, homemade gravy can either be fatty or lean. But cooks who "cheat" by using jarred or canned gravy are actually doing you a favor since it's virtually fat free.
Dressing. Make this healthier by sneaking in extra veggies, such as chopped onions, celery, leeks and shallots. Instead of sweating them in butter, use broth. Include whole wheat bread for at least half of the bread cubes.
Sweet potatoes. These tubers are loaded with beta-carotene, potassium, fiber and vitamin C and also provide magnesium, phosphorus, choline, iron and calcium for just 90 calories per half cup. Try scraping off the marshmallows and butter if they're served that way.
Cranberries. These gorgeous red orbs contain anthocyanins, ellagic acid, quercetin, resveratrol, selenium and vitamins A, C and E.
Green beans. Prepared without soup mix or butter, they're a good source of vitamin C at a calorie cost of just 22 per half cup.
Brussels sprouts. These little cabbages are high in vitamin C and a good source of folate and beta carotene, as well as a myriad of phytochemicals.
Mixed nuts. Nuts contain protein, healthy fat and plenty of antioxidants, so crack away when the nut bowl gets passed. For example, walnuts are a particularly high source of melatonin, a compound linked to good health.
Pie. Even dessert, such as pumpkin or apple pie, can provide nutrients. Pumpkin provides beta carotene, while apple contains quercetin, both powerful antioxidants. To minimize calories, eat just the filling and skip the crust.
In general, nothing should be off limits. As you know, it's all about portion size. Encourage children to sample whatever appeals to them and talk about how yummy the healthier foods are.
Diane Sowa, MS, RD, assistant director for clinical nutrition at Rush University Medical Center and a mother of two boys, advises making Thanksgiving Day a day to remember by keeping children involved.
She also suggests making Thanksgiving an active day. "Get the kids involved by making some homemade 'hand-turkey' invitations with details about signing up for a Turkey Trot." She encourages a family touch football game before dinner, followed by a walk after dinner.
With a little advance planning and tweaks in the usual schedule, Thanksgiving can be a day of healthful eating and activity to burn it off.
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist living in Naperville.
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