Of course, the most important aspect of Thanksgiving is truly the opportunity give thanks for the blessings in our lives and to share that sentiment while being able to spend time with family and friends, so any food choices should enhance that overall experience.
Memories of Thanksgivings past are connected to our emotional perceptions of those times, so there are sounds, sights, smells/aromas, tastes, textures that all contributed to the sensory perceptions we have locked in our memory banks of those special times. When we again hear similar sounds, perceive similar smells, etc., it brings back a rush of emotion that makes us feel connected to that past and to hopefully many cherished memories that we can enjoy re-experiencing in the present.
Adults often want to recreate and evoke those sensory memories for themselves, while at the same time helping younger members to create similar sorts of hopefully happy memories for children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins, etc.
For many families, Thanksgiving conjures up memories of home and home is a safe haven most of us yearn for at holiday time.
To help insure those memories are as happy as they can be this year, it is important to take into account any particular dietary needs of family and/or other guests.
- If there are either multiple food allergy and/or intolerance concerns within the family members and/or any friends attending a holiday gathering, using a Whole Food focus could be the optimal way for such a group to go. It can potentially better enable all guests to be included without fears or concerns for food issues arising during such a memorable holiday celebration.
- Because some guests might have concerns for added sugars or else the presence of wheat and/or gluten, or too much added sodium, it can make a lot of sense to keep flavors simpler & cleaner, rather than muddying flavors up with too many added flavor elements.
- Remember that many prepared products sold at holiday time and year round may tend to be much higher in “flavor enhancers” (extra fat, extra sodium, and possibly too many added spices & herbs & aromatics) that can overwhelm sensory input that is already high at holiday time with so much going on.
- Sometimes less is more at holiday time.
- If any family members are more sensitive to a lot of sensory input, using cleaner & simpler dishes may help them to better cope with holiday get-togethers.
There are a number of Extension publications previously issued (we’ll mention just a couple–they are very similar, but not identical) that include tips and recipes as well, which specifically have a healthy holiday eating focus that you check out.
The American Association of Diabetes Educators has some free publications you can download, one of which is A Diabetes-Friendly Guide to a Healthy Thanksgiving Plate. It actually is very sensible guide for anyone to use in approaching dining at Thanksgiving time, since after all, persons with diabetes can eat a wide variety of healthful food choices–they just need to pay more attention to their choices and portion sizes than most other people do. A bit of mindful eating in practice.
Over at The American Institute for Cancer Research, they’ve published some Thanksgiving Recipes for this year 2012.
If there are no food allergies or intolerances and you prefer a traditional menu, you can check out our 2011 Thanksgiving Menu Ideas and links to any of the holiday dishes mentioned there. Many of our dietetic colleagues also have put up blog posts for the holiday season kick-off and you can check out what is being mentioned through networked blog sites such as AroundthePlate.org, DietitiansOnline.com, or NutritionBlogNetwork.com.
Should you wish to zero in on a Whole Food focus this Thanksgiving, here are some additional pointers to consider AFTER you do a Herb & Spice “Holiday Check-Up” as mentioned in our November 18, 2011 blog post of that title and AFTER you review some Food Safety pointers that are especially relevant during such large holiday preparations involving a wide variety of food items.
Soup: Many people love to have a vegetable-based soup to start off a holiday meal. Vegetable soup that isn’t high in sodium or fat not only warms the soul, provides some desirable water based fluid, and provides valuable protective substances from its nutrient and other vegetable rich content, but can also help to quell initial hunger anticipation pangs at a holiday get-together and help guests from overeating other courses that might be served as the holiday meal progresses. You can see our Nov 10, 2011 blog post on Zucchini-Broccoli Soup for a soup recipe we enjoy.
Instead, look for either fresh or frozen without anything added poultry options and handle any seasoning yourself.
Nowadays it is harder to find simple, unadulterated poultry at holiday time, so shop early for same. Some smaller stores may still allow reservations for poultry items before a big holiday.
We’re partial to either roasting chickens or else roasting turkey breasts, but that is just a preference we have–those take less time to cook and have a good yield of meat per pound. In terms of energy expenditure involved, they work on multiple levels work for us. Many sites have good advice for folks who desire to purchase entire whole turkeys.
We tend to go with an apple cider based gravy, which due to natural pectin content will thicken itself, but if you use a starch based gravy, consider the dietary preferences of your guests and choose whatever starch you use to thicken the gravy accordingly.
Most guests would be able to tolerate the use of arrowroot, cornstarch, potato flour or rice flour as a thickening agent, but it could be smart to inquire ahead of time so that you are better prepared when Thanksgiving Day comes along in case you have gluten-free living family or friends at the meal requiring no wheat, rye, barley or gluten-contaminated oat flour usage.
You can also see our November 2, 2011 blog post on Roasted Chicken or Roasted Turkey Breast w/ Pan Drippings Gravy for additional pointers.
Spiral Glazed Ham: Some groups may for a variety of reasons desire a ham option for a holiday meal and if so, choose wisely as typically convenience hams contain a wealth of added sodium and if glazed, an abundance of additional added sugar(s).
Starches such as Potatoes, Rice, etc.: Baked or Mashed, etc.: It is easy to prepare baked potatoes in their skins and no one can question the wonderful nutrition contribution of real baked sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving time (they have even more Vitamin A punch than yams do!). Other recipes for mashed sweet potatoes or mashed white potatoes abound and keeping things simple, such as including skins of thinner skin type white potatoes such as Yukon Gold, etc, when mashing them, etc., can really optimize their nutritional punch. If you prefer to bake potatoes, Russets are seasonally just right at Thanksgiving time.
Remember that it is what folks add to potatoes when they “dress them up” that tends to contribute excess, unwanted and frankly in many cases unneeded calories for some guests.
There are many alternatives to serving a potato dish as the starch item for the holiday meal, and you might want to look into options for rice dishes, for example, as using a little wild rice can be lovely at holiday time adding different flavor components including a unique texture to a dish–just read up on proper cooking methods ahead of time to be prepared to use it. You might even want to prepare an alternate ancient grain side dish since quinoa, etc., have gained renewed popularity in recent years.
Again, it is what you add to any rice or other side dish that can potentially reduce or enhance its healthful contribution to a holiday meal.
You can also see our November 6, 2011 blog post on Baked Sweet Potatoes, November 4, 2011 blog post on Three Rice Pilaf Casserole, or even our November 11, 2011 blog post on Sweet Potato Souffle for some inspiration.
Stuffing +/or Rolls, Bread, etc: Serving stuffing on the side is the smart way to go unless you really have adequate time to properly cook any stuffing added to a poultry cavity AFTER removing the stuffing from said cavity, since stuffing is one of those potentially hazardous food (PHF) items we wrote about back in October 2012 in our series concerning dealing with storms.
Cooking stuffing “on the side” can be done in a number of ways and to aid in portion control. Sometimes it can be handy to use simple “greased”/healthier vegetable oil sprayed muffin tins to cook stuffing off in. We urge you to consider making stuffing on the side if you make stuffing for the holiday.
If you have guests who live gluten-free because of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity or personal choice, note that there are many different recipe options and even video clips for gluten-free stuffing preparation. Also you might find some helpful information on this blog site noted in our December 14, 2011 blog post on Gluten-Free For The Holidays And Everyday which we have updated since it was originally released. We’d like to mention that one of the Registered Dietitians (RDs) mentioned in that blog post, Cheryl Harris, has released her 2012 edition of A G-Free Thanksgiving that you also might want to check out.
If there are also concerns for intestinal conditions possibly linked to Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols which are known by the acronym FODMAPs, then Kate Scarlata has an option for Savory Stuffing: Gluten free and FODMAP friendly at her blogsite.
Before trying to prepare any gluten-free item(s) in your home kitchen, first determine if you would really be able to assure guests your kitchen preparation area was free of gluten-containing flour dust and other potential concerns for gluten cross-contact.
If not, you might find it best to have a guest who lives gluten-free to be the one to bring the stuffing, the pie, and even gluten-free bread/rolls as desired. Your guests may make or purchase those items from a trusted source, but would then have confidence that what was being served was something they and others could equally enjoy worry-free.
If you will be re-heating anything up, be sure any regular metal pans are covered in new pieces of easy release aluminum foil to prevent any crumbs that might still be lurking around from anything that had gluten in it from coming in contact with your Thanksgiving celebration item(s).
There are silicon muffin cups available as well these days that are handy to use if you are needing to prepare say a gluten-free stuffing for guests–just be sure you prepare said stuffing BEFORE preparing any items with gluten for the holiday celebration. This same advice will also hold true for preparing any gluten-free pie crust, etc.
Glass baking dishes need to have recipes with liquids in them cook at about 25 degrees lower temp than metal pans, but work great for gluten-free cooking as the see through nature of glass helps to prevent one missing specs or crumbs of previously prepared items and glass also tends to clean up well in a dishwasher. We also like pyroceram cook/bake ware as well when it comes to making sure no previous residue/crumb specs remain as the liquid cleaner products to remove any residue on those work very well.
You can also see our November 3, 2011 blog post on Baked Savory Bread Stuffing, or November 3, 2011 blog post on Bulgur Winter Wheat Stuffing or November 4, 2011 blog post on Sweet Potato-Apple Stuffing, or November 10, 2011 blog post on Savory Cheese Rolls for some cooking inspiration.
Cranberry Sauce/Compote/Relish/Chutney, etc.: There are so many options when it comes to cranberry containing holiday accompaniments. Choose what you & your guests will enjoy–you can even quite easily have a couple of choices when it comes to anything with cranberries in it. You can also see our November 6, 2011 blog post on Cranberry Relish or Jellied Sauce for additional details.
Salad & Vegetable Options (Green & Other): Almost everyone has their favorites when it comes to vegetables and you should take the opportunity to allow vegetables to add desired color and texture to your holiday celebration. You’ll find there are many recipes rich in valuable anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant substances naturally found in nature, especially since this a prime season for cruciferous vegetables. Seasonable vegetable guides abound (see a previous blog post on seasonal fruit and vegetable guides) and you could use those to inspire your choice(s). You can also see our November 9, 2011 blog post on Winter Baby Spinach And Mandarin Orange Salad for some inspiration.
Roasted root vegetables can be especially nice at Thanksgiving time as oven cooking concentrates some of their components that contribute to flavor perception. We mention this over on our small Pinterest board and you can find many ideas over on a shared Pinterest board called Healthy Aperture or perhaps more easily at the website for Healthy Aperture which at least has an organizational scheme and is somewhat searchable.
Fruit & Other Dessert(s): Again, many families and friends have time honored traditional favorites when it comes to holiday desserts, but after a larger get-together on Thanksgiving, sometimes a simpler dessert can be desirable, too. You’ll find lots of colorful fruit recipes rich in valuable anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant substances naturally found in nature and focusing on seasonally available options from cranberries to pomegranates and oranges and more. Never forget that a fruit bowl with various whole seasonal fruits, or simple baked apples, or a less complicated pumpkin or other winter squash based dessert can be enough for topping off a delightful clean and fresh tasting meal. We enjoy pumpkin pie and have found the less spicy recipe mentioned in our November 11, 2011 blog post on Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie to be one many people enjoy.
Certain cereals, nuts or graham crackers you crush yourself can be turned into pie crusts that can be enjoyed by many in case you want to prepare a pie, but didn’t want to use a traditional crust. There are also ways to make healthier versions of a traditional pie crust as well, such as a pie crust made with olive oil and eggs no less. You can also go with a “crustless” pie in that you can prepare a pie without using any bottom pie shell, but instead focus on crumbling a small amount of a crunchy mixture on top where it will be easily seen and appreciated. An example of where less can be more healthful!
Wine: If you choose to serve wine with your holiday meal, be sure to check out our November 15, 2011 blog post on Sensory Perception and Wine Evaluation and our November 23, 2011 blog post on Sensory Perception and Wine Pairing With Food.
Some Final Thoughts: If you put out a full Thanksgiving spread with a colorfully decorated table and table settings, be sure to get some nice photos of it. Not only will those serve as happy reminders for yourself and family, etc., but if you happen to own your dwelling and someday plan to sell it, those just might come in handy.
For ideas on what to do with Thanksgiving celebration leftovers, check out information available through the Extension Office of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (from November 2011) and other land grant college Extension sites.
After Thanksgiving when the start of the holiday baking season gets into full swing for many, we’ll remind you of some tried and true fat substitutions you can use in baking.
Meanwhile, if you would like to see a commercially available fat saver guide to remind yourselves of fast substitutions you can make in cooking and eating to save calories at any time be it a holiday or just every day, feel free to download a copy and refer to it as needed.
One final thought–if you don’t have plans this year to celebrate Thanksgiving with particular family members and/or friends, then consider this holiday as an opportunity to reach out and spend that time helping others in your own area to better enjoy the real meaning of Thanksgiving. Area nursing homes and hospitals often have patients living/staying in them with no family or friends to visit them at this time of year and may have a program for community visitors–check with them to find out. Your local Volunteer Center may be able to give you information on other community programs of all types that serve various segments of your community which would love the gift of helping hands to assist in serving a holiday meal or delivering a home delivered meal to shut-ins on Thanksgiving Day. Sometimes food pantries, food banks, etc. might appreciate help preparing gift baskets for those in the community who can most definitely benefit from them.
With all the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy this year, the need for assistance is more widespread than ever.
Please consider doing whatever you can to help keep the real meaning of Thanksgiving in this holiday season this year.