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Thanksgiving Preparations: Part One

There is no other American holiday more steeped in food tradition than Thanksgiving. At Christmas there are decorations, carols and shopping for gifts, in addition to the food. Halloween and Easter have their fair share of sugary treats, but not course after course of tried-and-true family favorites. We crave the traditional foods that define this holiday: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and Lord help you if you forget the pumpkin pie! Most holiday tables will find a vegetable dish or a salad as well, but let’s be honest, they’re lonely afterthoughts at the Thanksgiving feast.

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I nearly always host Thanksgiving for our extended family. I enjoy doing it and my kids love the fact that it’s at our house. The house smells so good when everything’s cooking, doesn’t it? Fresh herbs like sage and rosemary are aromatic and inviting. One of the most powerful memory triggers is smell, and the smells of Thanksgiving dinner are some of the strongest and most positive associations we have with food.

We want the good stuff at Thanksgiving. We want real butter on our dinner roll and full-fat whipping cream on our pie. We want rich, creamy mashed potatoes, and gravy on everything! It’s an extravagant feast that everybody savors. As the cook, I don’t want to disappoint my guests. As a diner, I want to enjoy all the traditional foods of the holiday too!

So what’s a conscientious dieter to do? Some weight loss programs advise you to make low-fat versions of your favorite holiday dishes. I attended Weight Watchers for years and their suggestions usually ran somewhere along the lines of: “Make low-fat, low-calorie versions of your favorite Thanksgiving foods, that way you can have what you want and still stay within your points for the day!”

Well okay, that’s fine if it works for you. But I don’t want to count points on Thanksgiving and their versions usually taste like a pale facsimile of my more traditional recipes.

Instead of trying to contort your favorite dishes into some “healthy” version of what they’re supposed to taste like, try these three suggestions:

  1. Portion control: Enjoy the traditional dishes you crave on Thanksgiving but don’t overload. The first half-dozen bites of something taste great; after that your returns diminish. Take small servings to start.
  2. Use high flavor, high quality ingredients: You get more satisfaction out of highly flavorful ingredients than you do low-fat imitations so don’t skimp. Same goes for processed foods; by definition they are low-quality and therefore less satisfying. As a result you tend to eat more. Always aim for real food (i.e. homemade stuffing as opposed to Stove Top).
  3. Wait before you go back for seconds: The mashed potatoes taste so good you want more, right? Sit and enjoy the company of your family for 20 minutes and see if you still want seconds. Chances are you won’t. Give your brain time to catch up with your stomach.

Even though I advocate sticking with traditional holidays favorites it doesn’t mean you can’t cut calories in ways that really count. If you’re cooking, use 2% milk rather than whole when preparing mashed potatoes. You won’t even notice the difference. When choosing a dessert, opt for pumpkin pie over pecan. It’s just as festive and has about one-third the calories. And for petessake, skip the dinner roll all together. It’s probably nothing special and is just empty calories. You won’t even miss it.

There are ways to trim calories from your holiday feast without trimming the pleasure that you get from it. Maybe most importantly we want to celebrate the day with family and friends, not stuff ourselves to the point of being physically sick.

Losing weight is hard, especially at the holidays, but if you make mindful decisions it’s a little easier. And you’re so damn worth this!

Let’s go get it!

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