Thanksgiving Trade-Offs


Nov. 21, 2006 — -- You can survive Thanksgiving without feeling like a stuffed bird -- by making a few substitutions.

It may mean retiring timeworn recipes and trying something new this year. Or it may be as simple as small ingredient swaps that could make a big difference.

Either way, there are lots of ways you can trim extra calories and fat from the feast without feeling deprived. These waistline-friendly trade-offs can also help you maximize the nutritional payback of your meal.

While you shouldn't come to the table ravenous, don't fill up on calorie-dense appetizers before you sit down to dinner.

Forgo the baked brie, artichoke dip, and other creamy recipes that contain a full jar of mayonnaise or carton of sour cream.

Instead, start off with a tray of fresh veggies with a slimmed-down dip made with fat-free yogurt and herbs. Pile platters with grapes and cut fruit for predinner noshing.

Watch the liquid calories, too. Sip on sparkling water with lemon or club soda with a splash of cranberry juice.

Stay away from self-basting birds. On average they have nearly twice the fat as the old-fashioned kind. And don't even think about trying the deep-fat frying technique in your backyard this year.

Janet Helm, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and nutrition/culinary consultant in Chicago.

Opt for a traditional roasted turkey that you baste with chicken broth or turkey stock to keep moist.

At the table, go for the breast instead of the drumstick, and be sure to trim off the skin before eating. That's where most of the fat resides.

Skip any recipe that's chock-full of sausage or other fatty meats.

Try making this year's stuffing with chunks of whole-grain bread and a higher ratio of vegetables, such as onions, leeks, celery, carrots, red peppers or mushrooms.

Toss in some nuts and dried cranberries or cherries for added nutrition.

Cook your stuffing outside the turkey so it won't absorb fat-laden drippings.

Face it, gravy is basically flavored fat. So if you can bear to skip it, do. If you must have the gravy, pick just one item to top -- not your entire plate.

To reduce some of the fat, use a separating cup or refrigerate the pan juices to skim the hardened layer off before making your gravy.

Use a ladle at the table rather than pouring from the gravy boat -- you're likely to use less.

Rather than your usual mashed potatoes studded with butter and cream, make sweet potatoes instead -- they're rich in beta carotene and vitamin C.

Just don't drown them in marshmallow cream and brown sugar.

Janet Helm, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and nutrition/culinary consultant in Chicago.

Instead of boiling, try slow-roasting your sweet potatoes in the oven until caramelized. Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg to help bring out their natural sweetness. Or try mashed sweet potatoes moistened with a splash of orange juice.

Skip the souped-up side dishes that may be your standard fare. So instead of the infamous green-bean casserole topped with fried onion rings, try steamed fresh green beans sprinkled with slivers of vitamin E-rich almonds.

Or, opt for roasted Brussels sprouts with olive oil and garlic. These little cabbage heads are packed with cancer-fighting compounds.

Instead of the jellied canned stuff, make your own with fresh or frozen cranberries, that way you can control the sugar and pump up the amount of whole berries -- which are bursting with heart-healthy compounds called anthocyanins.

Add chopped apples and omega 3-rich walnuts.

Since a serving of stuffing is equivalent to eating a roll (or two), it's best to bypass the bread basket. Save the calories so you can enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.

If you can't do without, serve whole-wheat rolls instead of fatty biscuits. Spread with cinnamon-spiked apple butter instead of butter.

With about half the calories and a lot less fat, pumpkin pie is a far better choice than pecan. Eat the pie without the crust and save 120 calories. Skip the whipped cream or add just a dollop of reduced-fat topping.

Better yet, have the dessert you really want, just cut yourself half a slice.

Bottom line, it's important that you enjoy the celebration. Don't be too hard on yourself. One day won't totally derail your diet.

Janet Helm, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and nutrition/culinary consultant in Chicago.