Holidays are all about tradition, especially food traditions, and to me Thanksgiving is the best of all. On the table at Thanksgiving there may be foods we only get to enjoy once or twice a year, making them special dishes to really look forward to.

The anticipation of turkey and all the fixings might already be taunting your taste buds. I’m sure at some point, maybe every year, we’ve all succumbed to the fact that we’ve eaten too much on Thanksgiving day — the bloating and heartburn as evidence.

On average during this meal, not including all the snacking before and after, Americans consume 3,000-3,400 calories in one sitting. The snacking surrounding the main meal can add up to another 1,500 calories. Considering that the USDA recommends 1,600-2,000 calories a day depending on your gender and activity level, we’re nearly doubling that on Thanksgiving.

In addition to the sheer number of calories, we consume roughly 2,000-2,600 mg of sodium during the meal (2,300 mg being the recommended daily limit). These numbers also only reflect eating one serving of each typical Thanksgiving food. If you go back for seconds, you might be consuming more than 4,500 calories.

That sleepy feeling you get after the meal has little to do with tryptophan in the turkey, and more to do with the fact that your stomach and other organs are working overtime to digest the abundance of food.

If you had to work off all that you ate, it would be equal to four hours of moderate running, five hours of swimming or a 30-mile walk.

There are ways to help reduce the caloric and sodium overload, without diminishing the authenticity of your family’s traditional holiday meal.

Try these tips to cut some calories and sodium this Thanksgiving:

• at more slowly. It takes the body about 15 minutes to register food and indicate fullness levels. By eating quickly, it is possible to stuff more in your body than is needed, but the fullness won’t register until it’s too late.

By slowing down, you can be better aware of how full you are and avoid overeating.

• ake smaller servings. Start by filling your plate with a smaller amount of food than usual, and only go back for seconds if you still feel hungry.

• se reduced sodium products. There are many products on the market today that have less sodium than the standard product. For example, green beans for green bean casserole. Buying reduced sodium canned beans, or rinsing regular canned beans can significantly reduce the amount of sodium consumed. Look for lower sodium versions of gravy and stuffing as well.

• calloped potatoes are loaded with calories and fat, opt for mashed potatoes that are seasoned with turkey broth, garlic — and any other fresh spices you like — for a delicious and healthy side dish. Leave the skins on the potatoes for a fiber boost.

• onsider making healthier substitutions. Although often met with resistance when it comes to traditions, consider substituting one of the usual holiday dishes with a healthy upgrade. For example, a great alternative to stuffing is a wild rice and mushroom dish.

• nstead of having cheese and crackers for an appetizer, serve shrimp cocktail.

• ubstitute for white dinner rolls with whole grain rolls.

• ractice light exercise after the meal. Getting outside for a short walk after eating will help your body digest the food more quickly, and will also prevent you from hanging around the leftovers or snacks.

It’s hard to break tradition, but making even small changes can reduce the adverse affects of Thanksgiving dinner on your body. Try incorporating one or all of these healthier recipes into your Thanksgiving meal.


Layered Brussels Sprouts Salad

 1/2 pound thick-sliced bacon

2 cups pecans

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed, cut in fourths

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup maple syrup

4 apples, cored, cut into wedges, thinly sliced

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

4 cups packed baby spinach

2 cups crumbled blue cheese (8 ounces)


Heat oven to 400° F. Spray baking pan with sides with cooking spray. Place bacon in single layer on pan. Bake 25-35 minutes or until crispy, turning once. Drain on paper towel-lined plate; strain drippings into bowl, and set pan aside. Crumble bacon.

Place pecans on another baking pan. Roast 7-12 minutes or until fragrant and slightly browned. Cool completely on pan.

Increase oven temperature to 425°F.

In large bowl, toss Brussels sprouts, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and maple syrup with 1/4 cup of the bacon drippings. Reserve remaining drippings for another use. Toss to coat and transfer to the pan used to cook the bacon. Roast 30-45 minutes or until sprouts brown and are tender when pierced with skewer or paring knife. Stir sprouts and cooking liquid; cool on pan, about 15 minutes.

In large bowl, toss apples thoroughly in vinegar, then drain and transfer to plate.

In 6-quart trifle bowl or glass bowl, layer as follows: Start with the sprouts, being careful to keep sides of bowl clean while filling. Top with half of the spinach, then half of the blue cheese. Add apples, then remaining spinach, pecans, remaining blue cheese and bacon.


Roasted Asparagus


2 pounds asparagus, rinsed

1 tablespoon avocado oil

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt

Ground black pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

To trim asparagus, snap the end of one spear and cut remaining asparagus same length with a knife. Usually 2 inches off, that’s the chewy stringy part you don’t want to eat.

Arrange asparagus on the sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with oil, then sprinkle with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Using tongs, toss to coat evenly. Bake for 12 minutes. Serve hot or cold.


Mashed Potatoes


2-1/2 to 3 pounds medium cauliflower head

2 large garlic cloves

1 tablespoon salted butter or olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Ground black pepper to taste


Separate cauliflower into florets and cut in smaller chunks.

In a medium pot, combine cauliflower, garlic and enough cold water to cover the vegetables.

Place a lid on top and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes or until cauliflower is fork tender. Drain.

Add butter or olive oil, salt and ground black pepper to taste. Using a food processor, process until very smooth or desired consistency.

Cauliflower mashed potatoes taste best fresh and consumed same day. Next day, there is a very prominent cabbage smell.


Sweet Potato Pie


2 (1-1/2 pounds) sweet potatoes

2 tablespoons light butter, softened

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup 1% milk

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon ground pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

One 9-inch unbaked pie crust


Boil sweet potato whole in skin for 50-55 minutes, or until soft. Run cold water over the sweet potato, and remove the skin.

Blend potatoes in a blender and pulse for 1 minute to remove all fibers.

Place sweet potatoes in a bowl. Add butter, and mix well. Using an electric mixer, mix in sugar, milk, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla.

Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth. Pour filling into an unbaked pie crust.

Bake at 350°F for 55-60 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.


MICHELE ATKINS is the director for the Henry County Extension Service. Her email address is

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