Healthy plate: Trim down the trimmings

Detroit Free PressNovember 17, 2010 

We’ve all heard about portion control at the traditional Thanksgiving feast. But cooks can do their part to make the holiday a bit healthier without ruffling any feathers at the dinner table.

Cut calories and fat — without sacrificing flavor — by using healthier alternatives in place of high-fat ingredients whenever possible. This can help minimize the impact of a meal that can pack at least 1,500 calories and 65 grams of fat. Ouch!

That’s exactly what Karen Gard, of Troy, Mich., wanted to do when she attended a Mirepoix Cooking School class last year. There, chef instructors put a healthier spin on traditional Thanksgiving fare.

“I am originally from New Orleans,” Gard said. “All I know how to cook is Southern food, which is not particularly healthy.”

Gard typically prepares a Thanksgiving meal that includes turkey with pats of butter under the skin, stuffing made with high-fat sausage and a sweet potato casserole with plenty of cream and butter.

“In the class, they showed us how to tweak and change ingredients and still get good taste out of the dish,” she said.

Take the sweet potato casserole, for example. Instead of marshmallows and lots of cream and butter, Mirepoix’s recipe has healthier ingredients like whole wheat flour, orange juice concentrate and pecans.

Stacy Sloan, director of culinary education at Mirepoix, said there is nothing “inherently wrong with the typical foods in a Thanksgiving meal.”

“If you learn how ... to pair foods together, you can learn how to prepare healthier foods,” Sloan said.

She recommended using reduced-fat products (not fat-free) to create healthier versions of some dishes.

The exception, Sloan said, is plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt.

“You can use it in dips and to create a creamy texture in some dishes,” Sloan said. “It adds a nice tang.”

Her advice to holiday cooks: Focus on the vegetables.

“With the stuffing that we prepared in the class, you wouldn’t think it’s low fat,” Sloan said. “It has lots of vegetables, a nice flavor, a little sweetness from the pear.”

It is the high-fat ingredients, she said, “that causes the whole thing to completely derail.”

Side dishes can do the most damage, said Gail Posner, a registered dietitian and president and owner of Healthy Ways Nutrition Counseling in West Bloomfield, Mich.

“The huge calories are not because of the turkey, which is a fabulous lean protein, especially the white meat,” Posner said. “It’s the side dishes that go with it.”

Green bean casserole, for example, is high in calories and not a “nutrition all-star,” Posner said. She suggested boosting its nutritional value by topping the casserole with grilled fresh onions instead of canned fried onions and using low-fat cream of mushroom soup or less soup overall.

Posner also recommended making vegetable dishes such as roasted butternut squash and serving salads with dressing on the side.

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