Mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potato soufflé. Who cares about the turkey? For me, Thanksgiving is all about the sides.
The trouble is, those dishes are loaded with calories.
Yes, it’s only once a year, but Thanksgiving is the start of holiday season. If I overindulge now I’m more likely to let my guard down until the first of January, when, once again, I’d have to reacquaint myself with the gym and join thousands of others on the long journey of reversing the damage.
My goal this season is simple: maintain the status quo. Losing weight is completely unrealistic, but not gaining—that I can do.
With that in mind, here are my tips for enjoying Thanksgiving without going up a pant size.
Don’t starve yourself waiting for the big meal.
Seems like a good strategy doesn’t it? Saving all your calories for dinner. But it’s like having one more drink at the office Christmas party. It sounds like a good idea at the time, but it rarely works out well.
Bellying up to the Thanksgiving buffet on an empty stomach is a disaster waiting to happen. Eat during the day, preferably some protein and fiber to fill you up, and drink plenty of water. You’ll have better control over your choices if you’re not starving.
Channel your inner toddler—be picky, very picky.
You don’t have to sample everything, pick your favorites and skip the rest. There are plenty of foods I don’t care for, pumpkin and pecan pies for example, so I skip them entirely. Mashed potatoes are tasty, but I can have those at other times during the year. But my mom’s sausage stuffing and my brother-in-law’s butternut squash soufflé, well, those are once-a-year events. I’d rather have a small portion of those than waste my calories on boring old potatoes.
Watch your portion sizes and stick to one plateful.
It’s tempting to go back for seconds, even thirds, but the best part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers. You’ll be seeing everything again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. So don’t go crazy on day one. There’s plenty to go around.
Don’t skip the gym.
Maintain your exercise routine as much as possible to help burn those extra calories. If you can’t get to the gym, how about a walk around the neighborhood before the tryptophan in the turkey kicks in and you conk out on the sofa?
Switch to some healthier side dishes.
Maybe it’s time to reinvent Thanksgiving. Offer some healthier options and see what happens. Below are recipes for two of my favorite side dishes. I’ve been serving these for 15 years to rave reviews. Maybe they’ll become one of your Thanksgiving staples too.
Roasted Vegetables (adapted from a Food & Wine Nov. 1995 recipe)
4 Tbls. olive oil
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 4 wedges
2 large red onions, peeled and cut into 8 wedges, root ends intact (this helps hold the onion together)
1 large eggplant, stem trimmed off, quartered, and then each piece cut in half lengthwise
2 large red peppers
2 large yellow peppers
4 fresh rosemary sprigs*
4 fresh thyme sprigs*
Kosher salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375.
1. Pour 2 Tbls. of olive oil into a roasting pan. Add the sweet potatoes and red onions. Turn to coat them in the oil. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Cook for 1 hour.
3. Remove from the oven and increase the temperature to 450.
4. In a separate bowl add 2 Tbls. olive oil, eggplant and peppers, turn to coat in the oil and season with salt and pepper.
5. Push the sweet potatoes and onions to the sides of the roasting pan.
6. Add the seasoned and oil-coated eggplant and peppers to the roasting pan.
7. Add the rosemary and thyme sprigs.
8. Cook for 40 mins., until the peppers are blistered and the other vegetables are tender.
*Note: You can use dried herbs too. I would recommend crushing or chopping the dried rosemary so the texture isn’t so pointy and sharp, which isn’t terribly delightful to eat.
**This entire dish can be made hours ahead of time and left to rest on the counter to reach room temperature.
Kale with Sherry (from Food & Wine Nov. 1995)
3 pounds of kale, stems trimmed (I know it sounds like a lot, but it shrinks down to nothing!)
2 Tbls. peanut oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
2 ½ Tbls. sherry
2 Tbls. soy sauce
2 tsp. Asian sesame oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Tbls. sesame seeds
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Add the kale by the handful, pressing it down into the water with a wooden spoon.
3. When all of the kale has been added, stir well and boil over high heat until the kale is tender, about 5 minutes.
4. Drain the kale in a colander, pressing it with a spoon to extract all of the liquid.
5. When the kale is cool enough to handle, cut it into 2-inch pieces, removing most of the stem. (Even cooked the stem is really tough, so discard as much as possible leaving only the leaves.)
6. Transfer it to a heatproof serving dish.
7. Heat the peanut oil in a small skillet over medium heat until hot.
8. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper. TURN OFF THE HEAT AND REMOVE THE PAN FROM THE HEAT SOURCE. Continue cooking the garlic, stirring constantly until it’s fragrant, about 2 mins. (Be very careful, the garlic burns easily.)
9. Add the sherry, soy sauce and sesame oil to the skillet.
10. Pour the dressing over the kale, season with salt and pepper and mix well.
(You can make this dish up to this point a day ahead of time. Cover the kale and refrigerate.)
When you’re ready to serve it.
11. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of water over the kale, cover with foil and bake at 400 for 20 minutes.
12. Toast the sesame seeds in a skillet over medium-low heat for 3-4 minutes until golden brown. (Or, put them on a plate in a toaster oven and hit the “toast” button.)
13. When the kale comes out of the oven, sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top and serve.