Preparing a healthier Thanksgiving feast doesn’t mean dropping the sides and desserts your family loves.
Instead of creating a few extremely health-conscious dishes that nobody will touch, Brooke Schoonenberg, a dietitian with Woman’s Center for Wellness, says it’s easy to update a few favorite recipes to add some nutrients, cut some fat and keep the taste.
“I’m not trying to make these into something they’re not,” Schoonenberg said, “but you’re probably saving several hundred calories per dish.”
To make shopping and cooking easier and more affordable, many of these dishes share ingredients, she said.
“You’re not getting 9 million different ingredients,” Schoonenberg said. “These work across the board.”
Whipped sweet potatoes: Candied yams are one of the most calorie-packed dishes at the Thanksgiving table, Schoonenberg said. This recipe reduces the calories by cutting some sugar and nixing the marshmallow topping.
Fresh sweet potatoes contain high amounts of vitamins, fiber and potassium, and in this recipe, using Greek yogurt in place of butter and milk adds some protein.
“Greek yogurt is so versatile,” Schoonenberg said. “It has more protein and it’s creamier” than regular yogurt.
Mixing in roasted pecans adds additional fiber and heart-healthy fats, not to mention a little something extra.
“You’ve got to have that crunch,” Schoonenberg said. “You’ve got to have that good texture.”
Individual pumpkin pies: These tiny pies pack a ton of flavor — and a lot of fiber.
Starting with the crusts, Schoonenberg “pumped up” the fiber by mixing crushed graham crackers with flaxseed and wheat germ.
“Instead of buying one of those store-bought crusts that has all that trans-fat in it, this only takes a little time,” she said.
Pureed pumpkin adds even more fiber, and Greek yogurt used in the pie filling packs in the protein.
If it doesn’t sound sweet enough, the maple syrup added to the mix definitely pushes this onto the dessert table.
As for the other pies and cakes out there, Schoonenberg sticks to the “three-bite rule.”
“You can have any dessert you want, but you can only have three bites of it.”
Butternut squash mac and cheese: A few easy swaps can add fiber, protein and vitamins to the traditionally unhealthy, carbohydrate- and fat-packed macaroni and cheese.
Whole wheat macaroni, three types of cheese and roasted butternut squash ensure that this dish has tons of flavor, but the squash “helps replace a lot of the fat in the recipe and adds a ton of vitamin A,” Schoonenberg said.
Easy to cook, butternut squash can be found in many stores already cut and peeled. Schoonenberg recommends roasting, which increases the flavor, before pureeing it to add to the cheese mixture.
“You don’t even bake this,” she said. “You could if you wanted it to be more like a casserole.”
Cauliflower mashed “potatoes”: Instead of serving a starchy, carbohydrate-heavy bowl of mashed potatoes at your family dinner, Schoonenberg encourages you to give mashed cauliflower a try. The vegetable — high in fiber, potassium and several vitamins and minerals — has become popular among nutritionists.
“Cauliflower is getting its time in the limelight,” Schoonenberg said. “Move over broccoli.”
Blending the cauliflower with fresh garlic, green chives and sea salt boosts the flavor even more, and two types of cheese helps it stick to your ribs. You always “need a little bit of fat,” Schoonenberg said.
The finished product looks surprisingly similar to mashed potatoes and, with all the cheese and seasonings, it tastes like them, too.
“The texture is not going to fool anyone,” she said, “but for your family you could make one regular batch (of mashed potatoes) and one cauliflower and mix them together.”