How to Lighten Up Your Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

Reduce the Fat, Not the Flavor

Family and Holiday Table

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All the planning and effort you put into your Thanksgiving dinner yields a delicious meal. However, this feast leaves you feeling uncomfortably full, bloated, and guilty as well as loaded with leftovers that are too fattening to consume after you overindulged the day before.

Not this year!

Lowering the Fat

Try tips below for a meal full of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes that are flavorful but have been scaled down, fat-wise, into lighter versions of your favorites.

The average percentage of calories from fat of the recipe links and suggested dishes is under 27 percent. This is within the recommended range for daily healthful eating–quite unusual for such a bountiful feast.

Don't be concerned that the dishes will lack in flavor or texture. All the richness is still there, as the operative term in developing these recipes was lower in fat, not devoid of fat. They all contain butter, milk, or whatever other fat ingredient imparts the usual flavor and texture. 

It is either by using a lighter version of the fat ingredient or by using less of the fat ingredient, that these lower-fat dishes are able to retain their texture, flavor, and richness. For example, a bit of milk instead of cream; a broth-butter mixture rather than just butter; part-skim ricotta instead of whole milk ricotta; and defatted turkey drippings.

Working with Turkey

The turkey, rather than being roasted whole, is cut into breast, leg and thighs, and wings. This eliminates struggling with roasting and carving the whole bird, the back sections of which are often not served or consumed. Additionally, the back sections and neck may be turned into an easily made turkey broth if desired, which can take the place of canned broth.

Purchase a whole turkey and ask the butcher to cut it as described below in the Cajun Roast Turkey Breast instructions, rather than buying the parts packaged separately. This way, you can be certain you are getting a fresh bird (the "parts" may have been around for a while) and you will have the back section and neck for homemade broth if you choose, which may be substituted for chicken broth in any of the recipes.

The recipes were also designed to be prepared ahead of the big day, as much as possible. Each recipe includes instructions as to what point it may be made ahead and held for assembling or cooking. The recipes serve 12 people and allow for probable leftovers.

Your guests will praise your efforts, especially when they realize they don't feel overly satiated from the large meal. You need not tell them that they just enjoyed Thanksgiving with a lighter touch. They probably won't believe you anyway.

The items within the suggested menu below are "no-brainer" dishes for which you don't need a recipe (although instructions are given). Included are links to recipes for more fattening dishes.

The Menu

The * items have instructions below.

French Bread-Pecan Stuffing: Prepare your favorite packaged stuffing mix, embellishing as desired with chopped onions, celery, and parsley. To make it more Cajun, add oysters or shrimp and chopped pecans near the end of the cooking time. (Can be made the day before, covered and refrigerated, and then cooked before dinner. If adding seafood and/or pecans, do so in the last few minutes before stuffing is done.)

Onion Butter Rolls: Purchase rolls and split open. Brush insides of rolls with a mixture of 2/3 butter and 1/3 broth and lightly sprinkle with Cajun or Creole seasoning. (Can be made the day before up to this point, covered and refrigerated to baked before dinner.) Bake in the 325º oven for about 10 minutes with cut sides up, so the cut sides get golden and toasty.

Green Beans: Mix 3 pounds frozen, defrosted green beans with 3 tablespoons butter and 6 tablespoons broth, adding salt and pepper to taste. (Can be made the day before, covered and refrigerated, and heated before dinner.)

Cranberry Sauce: Mix 3 15-ounce cans whole berry cranberry sauce with 1 15-ounce can crushed pineapple, and 1/2 cup sliced almonds. (May be made up to 2 days ahead.)