Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving? It’s the time of year that we get to celebrate food, as well as spend time with friends and family being thankful for all the many gifts that we have been given. To many people, Thanksgiving can also be a downward spiral into unhealthy eating that will carry on throughout the holiday season. I thought I would share some of my healthy Thanksgiving tips to hopefully make your Thanksgiving a time to celebrate and respect the food that you put in your body.
Remember, food doesn’t define the holiday
After becoming vegetarian, and committing myself to eating a healthy/clean diet, it was difficult for me to let go of the typical “food traditions” and the general thought that certain foods define a holiday or special occasion/event. Even though Thanksgiving has a lot to do with food, it also has a lot to do with being with family and being thankful. Don’t go into Thanksgiving with the mindset that food is the only thing that matters, and that if you don’t eat this, or that it won’t be Thanksgiving.
If you don’t like it, don’t eat it
There is usually so much food at a Thanksgiving lunch, or dinner that people tend to eat things only because it’s there, and not because they actually enjoy it. Be conscious of what you’re putting on your plate, choose foods that you actually enjoy eating rather than foods that are “traditional Thanksgiving foods” that you may only eat because you feel you should.
Load up your plate with vegetables (try to fill at least half your plate with vegetables), and eat those first! This way you leave only a little space on your plate, and in your stomach for the less nutritious food. Vegetables will provide you with fiber, and help to fill your stomach with good things, and cause you to not be as hungry for the less nutritious food.
Foods that come out of a can, or box are foods that are highly processed, filled with preservatives and have lost a lot of their nutrients. Instead of canned green beans, stick with fresh. Or instead of mashed potatoes from a box (which shouldn’t even exist), make potatoes fresh.
This is fairly common mistake that can happen very easily. The vegetables often get steamed too long, roasted until almost burnt, or reheated so many times they turn into rubber. Not only does overcook vegetables not taste as good, but they lose a lot of their nutrients the longer they are cooked. To avoid overcooking your veggies, save cooking them for last, and try to stop the cooking process as soon as possible!
Mashed potatoes are super healthy, but can often get unhealthy by adding butter, salt, milk, or cream. Stick to just pure potatoes, or throw in some extra nutrients add in cauliflower! Just steam or boil half potatoes half cauliflower, and mash! Also, if you feel it’s missing out on flavor, roast or mash up some garlic to give it a burst of flavor!
Although, I don’t eat meat I know that this is the time of year when meat (turkey in particular) is essential to some people. If you just can’t do without the turkey, at least splurge on this part of the meal. Get a turkey that is free of hormones (organic), and raised locally if you choose to eat meat.
Respect the sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods, so when people make a sweet potato casserole and pile on the marshmallows, and sugar it makes me really sad. Sweet potatoes are sweet enough on their own, so avoid all the extras and don’t downgrade their nutrient potential. Instead of a sugar-filled topping on a casserole, use just a combination of raw chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds), a little applesauce, and a little flour to create a yummy crumble. Or even top it with a homemade granola!
Put down that salt shaker
Excess salt can lead to water retention, increased pressure in your body, inflammation, and many more health problems so put down the salt shaker, and use other spices and herbs to flavor your dishes. Using pepper, fresh herbs, garlic, or onion you can still flavor your dishes, but avoid excess salt.
Don’t drink water
You’re probably really confused as to why not drinking water would be a good thing, but in fact drinking water WITH a meal isn’t good for our digestion. Help out your digestive system by not drinking anything during your meal, this will allow your body’s natural enzymes and acids to break food down more easily. Water or other beverages can often dilute the necessary chemistry needed to digest food properly, so drink water thirty minutes before, and wait thirty minutes after enjoying your meal to hydrate yourself.
Desserts can often be the demise of all positive efforts to eat a healthy Thanksgiving meal. Desserts typically provide no nutritional benefits, so there is no need to eat them. Hopefully after eating a filling lunch or dinner there will be no need for dessert. If you are craving something sweet, go for fruit (raw or dry), and try to bake with whole grains. So if you’re preparing desserts for Thanksgiving find recipes that use beneficial ingredients (nuts,coconut, dates, pumpkin, and applesauce) rather than not-so-beneficial ingredients (butter, milk, refined sugar, refined grains). And again, using moderation when it comes to dessert is key.
Don’t even think about using canned cranberry sauce!
There is nothing more sketchy than cranberry sauce from a can. It looks, feels, and tastes weird as well as it being filled with preservatives, refined sugars, food dyes, and highly processed ingredients. Make your own cranberry sauce with just a few simple ingredients: fresh (or frozen) cranberries, orange juice, and ginger! That’s it, just three simple ingredients simmered in a pot for only ten to fifteen minutes. Not only does it taste delicious, but it’s filled with anti-oxidants, vitamins, and nutrients from the fresh, natural ingredients.
Don’t disrespect the food, treat it properly so it can help you (not hurt you)
Food should be appreciated, and respected especially during a holiday that celebrates food. Let food help and benefit you, rather than harm you. Cook your food with love and respect, by doing this it will provide you with the health benefits that nature meant for it to provide you with.