Make It Better – Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Tips for Today

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As a child I loved spending Thanksgiving with my cousins at Aunt Rosalie’s house. It was always my favorite holiday with lots of salads and breads and side dishes to choose from, not to mention several different kinds of pie. But children in the 70’s didn’t worry about eating healthy or eating too much. Sadly – on so many levels – those days are behind us.

The Thanksgiving season conundrum today is “how to enjoy our favorite Thanksgiving dishes without completely blowing our diets!” Just because I enjoy a nice veggie stir-fry, doesn’t mean I want it on Thanksgiving. And while a fresh orange might work as dessert any other day, it’s not going to work while everyone else is eating pumpkin pie. But over the years I have come up with a few ways to keep the traditional Thanksgiving that we all love, and keep it relatively healthy too.

1. Serve real food. No matter what the dish, if it’s real food it’s healthier than the processed substitute. Real food means mashed potatoes made by boiling potatoes and mashing them, not by pouring them from a box. Real food is whipped cream topping made from, well…. cream! No frozen chemical substitute (if it has hydrogenated fat, partially hydrogenated fat or palm oil you’re better off with the real thing). Fresh rolls come from mixing flour, yeast and water, not from a can that you hit on the side of the counter to open.

2. Roast, don’t fry the turkey. Deep fried turkey was all the rage here a few years ago. But deep fried turkey is no better than deep fried anything. Besides, the flavor isn’t the same. You wouldn’t serve french fries on Thanksgiving would you? Then why serve fried turkey?

3. Baste with olive oil not butter. Roasting your own turkey? Rub the skin with olive oil instead of butter to get the same crispy brown color without as much saturated fat. It’s not going to change the flavor and it’s easier – you don’t have to melt the olive oil first like you do the butter.

4. Forgo the creamy sauces. I am guessing that the Pilgrims didn’t serve green bean casserole with creamy soup and fried onions. You don’t have to either. Instead quickly steam (yea for the microwave!) fresh or frozen green beans. Top with a squeeze of lemon juice, a little freshly grated lemon zest, and sliced, toasted almonds.

5. Add a vegan or vegetarian entree. As a vegetarian I gave up turkey and gravy 20 years ago. But my family still eats turkey, so I cook it once a year – for Thanksgiving. I also add an entree for me. I use this opportunity to experiment with a new dish, sometimes it is a tofu entree, sometimes a savory pie. This year I am making this yummy sounding eggplant casserole from Vegetarian Times. But I won’t be the only one eating this dish, others will try it too. And the more veggies we put on our plates, the better.

6. Enjoy dessert. Some things shouldn’t be messed with and dessert is one of them. So go ahead and enjoy the pie (my favorite is pumpkin). But make it a small piece.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I hope that you are enjoying an “Aunt Rosalie” type of holiday wherever you are.

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About the Author

Renee Pottle, an author and heart-healthy educator, loves to explore and write about the Mediterranean Diet. She blogs at and

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