Moist turkey, flavorful dressing, salty ham, all covered in a rich, creamy gravy, followed by pie and more pie. The Thanksgiving feast is a meal many prepare or drool for all year.
Americans heap piles of food onto their plates, and go back for seconds, but there may be some healthier — and safer — ways to prepare the feast.
“Remember that the holiday is all about family time and not all about the food,” said Jeannie Allen, clinical dietitian with Metroplex Hospital in Killeen. “It may seem like it’s just one meal, just one day, but it can actually have some pretty significant impacts.”
Allen provided healthy tips for the traditional Thanksgiving dishes.
“Choose white meat, without skin, because its lower in calories,” Allen said.
She said roasting or smoking a turkey are healthier cooking options, and frying the turkey should be avoided.
Allen said making all of the dishes at home can help control how much butter is used, and can allow you to use lower fat options.
When making cornbread or bread stuffing, use less butter and try using whole grain bread in the dressing.
“Keep a lot of good veggies in there like onions, celery, carrots, things like that,” Allen said.
Instead of using cream of mushroom soup and crispy onions, which Allen said are high in fat, “Try roasting or steaming fresh green beans and drizzling a little olive oil and fresh ground pepper on there, and it’ll be delicious just like that.”
To avoid the excess sugar found in canned cranberry sauce, Allen suggested making cranberry sauce at home and adding a little orange zest for flavor.
“Sweet potatoes are good for you; they’re full of vitamins and nutrients, avoid adding extra butter or sugar,” Allen said. Sweet potatoes are good with olive oil and fresh herbs and are a much healthier option.
With other items, such as gravy and ham, Allen advises watching portion sizes to avoid the excess saturated fats.
“Pumpkin pie is much lower in calories than pecan pies,” Allen said. She recommended using acorn squash or butternut squash, which are healthier alternatives to canned pumpkin.
“Don’t use overly large plates,” Allen said.
To avoid overeating, to use a 9-inch plate: “A quarter of it for protein, another quarter for starches, and the other half for fruits and veggies,” she said.
And it’s a good idea to wait 20 or 30 minutes before going back for seconds.
“Stay hydrated and make sure to eat meals before the Thanksgiving meal, so it will help you from overeating,” Allen said. “Another great way to spend time with family is to exercise. Go for a walk or play football.”
Safety, other resources
To learn about how many fruits and veggies needed in a day, Allen recommended myplate.gov as a resource.
As for safe food handling, an article from the Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service said Thanksgiving is by far the largest and most stressful meal many consumers prepare all year, leaving room for mistakes that can make guests sick.
“Turkey and other meat and poultry may contain salmonella and campylobacter that can lead to serious foodborne illness,” said FSIS administrator Paul Kiecker. “By properly handling and cooking your turkey, you can avoid these harmful pathogens and ensure your family has a safe and healthy Thanksgiving feast.”
To ensure a safe holiday, the FSIS recommends five safe handling tips:
Proper handwashing before cooking is the simplest way to stop the spread of bacteria. Avoid washing the turkey, or any other poultry. “According to the 2016 Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Survey, 68 percent of consumers wash poultry in the kitchen sink which is not recommended by the USDA. Research shows washing meat or poultry can splash bacteria around your kitchen by up to 3 feet, contaminating countertops, towels and other food. Washing doesn’t remove bacteria from the bird. Only cooking the turkey to the correct internal temperature will ensure all bacteria are killed.”
The FSIS also recommends not stuffing the turkey and, using a meat thermometer, to make sure the bird is 165 degrees in every section before eating.
After eating, the FSIS said to “follow the two-hour rule” of not leaving food sitting on the counter for longer than two hours before storing or reheating.
If you have questions about your Thanksgiving dinner, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-674-6854 to talk to a food safety expert. You can also chat live at AskKaren.gov, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish.
If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., or go tot foodsafety.gov for instructions on how to thaw and prepare a turkey.