How to lighten up turkey stuffing and eight other bad-for-you traditional foods you're bound to see at your feast.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD 1 / 10
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Although every standard Thanksgiving feast has plenty of healthy ingredients (think brussels sprouts, cranberries, and green beans), some of the dishes using them end up being covered with butter, heavy cream, fatty meats, and tons of sugar. According to the Calorie Control Council, the average American consumes around 4,500 calories during the Thanksgiving feast alone! That’s over double the recommended calories that should be consumed in an entire day.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't indulge, but it's key to watch portion sizes and pay particular attention to these nine worst offenders you may find on your Thanksgiving dinner table. Luckily, there are easy ways you can lighten each of these traditional dishes without compromising any flavor.
Stuffing made with sausage, bacon, or giblets can rack up the calories to close to 500 per cup. Many folks may take closer to two cups making it closer to 1,000 calories for the stuffing alone.
To lighten up: • Use less meat per serving- aim for ½ ounce per serving • Reduce the butter in the recipe by at least half. Use lower calorie ingredients like chicken or vegetable stock for added moisture, if needed.
Heavy cream or cream of mushroom soup, cheese, and fried crunchy onion topping turns this could-a-been-healthy dish into a calorie disaster.
To lighten up: • Thicken the casserole by using a combo of cornstarch or flour and low fat milk or broth. • Instead of gobs of cheese, aim for 2 tablespoons per serving • Substitute sautéed onions sprinkled with panko breadcrumbs and forgot the packaged fried onion topping.
Nutritious and vitamin C-rich potatoes are typically mixed with tons of butter, cream, and milk so you end up with a 400 calorie side dish. Top it with gravy and you could be adding around 200 calories more!
To lighten up: • Try mashed cauliflower or a combo of potatoes and root vegetables (like turnips or parsnips) instead. • Aim for 1-2 teaspoons of unsalted butter per serving. • Instead of heavy cream, use a combo of milk and Greek yogurt.
A slice of this American favorite teeters around 400 calories per slice. Add whipped cream and that’s around 200 calories more.
To lighten up: • Avoid canned apple pie filling brimming with sugar and preservatives—instead, make your own filling using fresh apples and a modest amount of sugar. • Slash the butter in the filling (you don’t need so much!) and save it for the crust. • Opt for an apple crisp or galette, which tend to have fewer calories instead.
A modest slice of boxed cornbread has around 190 calories and tends to be filled with a laundry list of ingredients. Homemade cornbread can have equal or more calories, depending on the ingredients added. Some homemade versions may use fatty ingredients like bacon, butter, and buttermilk jacking up the calories even more
To lighten up: • Substitute applesauce or nonfat plain Greek yogurt for part of the butter. • Use a lower fat version of dairy products like buttermilk or milk.
Traditional mac and cheese calls for milk, butter, and piles of cheese which can make this side dish topple over the 1,000 calorie mark per serving.
To lighten up: • Use smaller amounts of flavorful cheeses like sharp cheddar or pepper jack and supplement it with reduced fat cheese like cheddar. • Add vegetables into your mac and cheese like chopped cauliflower or diced butternut squash to displace some of the calories from pasta.
The canned stuff may not be so high in calories with 110 calories per ¼ cup serving, but many canned versions contain high fructose corn syrup upping the sugar to 21 grams.
To lighten up: • Look for canned cranberry sauce with no corn syrup and fewer grams of sugar per serving. • The best way to control sugar is by making your own cranberry sauce, which usually takes no longer than 15 minutes.
This quintessential Thanksgiving dish has around 450 calories per serving due to loads of artery-clogging fat from butter and cream. Many traditional sweet potato casseroles are covered in marshmallows and brown sugar adding tons of pure sugar to this side.
To lighten up: • Use a combo of low fat milk and flour to thicken the casserole instead of heavy cream. • Make a lighter crunchy topping by combining a touch of butter, brown sugar, and chopped pecans.
Jarred, canned, or packaged powder—gravy comes in many different forms. Although the calories aren’t out of control (clocking in at around 25 calories per ¼ cup serving), many versions contain loads of preservatives and additives.
To lighten up: • Read the ingredient list before purchasing bottled or canned gravy. Pacific Foods makes an Organic Turkey Gravy that has a clean list of recognizable ingredients. • Make your own gravy so you have all the control over the ingredients.