It’s that time of year again. The holidays are around the corner and most of us are ready to just start stuffing our faces nonstop with all kinds of goodies until January 1st.
People look at me like I’m out of my damn mind when I tell them that RIGHT NOW is the BEST time of year kick off your healthy lifestyle but it really is. I’m not even gonna fix my mouth to tell you some stupid ass stuff like to bring a crudite platter to Thanksgiving dinner, or eat a salad before the party and stand around far from the food nursing a glass of seltzer water.
It’s a great time to start experimenting and testing out your best dishes for Thanksgiving dinner. Whether you are the main one cooking everything or you are bringing a dish, the aim is to create some things that balance out the meal that will shock the pants off your guests. And there’s no such thing as those corny substitutions like applesauce for butter and whatnot.
As always, the first thing is your mindset. Switch away from the idea that you’re going to be on a diet through the holidays and impress or annoy your friends with your ambitious plans. This is no play on words, no Jedi mind tricks. YOU ARE NOT GOING ON ANY DIET.
Let’s have some fun! Every season has its culinary bounties and late fall is no different. In most parts of the US this is right after a main harvest so there are plenty of things to explore and the cooler weather just perfect for more hearty dishes. By hearty I mean rich, satisfying, warming yet energizing. Notice I didn’t say weighed down and shlumpy, I said energized.
I’m not saying you’ll want to jump out of your chair right after Thanksgiving dinner and go for a jog, but when you practice being mindful about how foods make you feel in both the short and the long term, you’ll realize that some foods really slow you down (starchy carbs), and others don’t (vegetables, fruits and high fiber grains). As a very generalized guideline, foods that put you into a coma are the ones you should aim to eat less of when you want to improve and maintain your health. Individual preferences will vary, but this is a good starting point for exploration.
While experimentation is the only way to find out exactly what makes you feel good you can still start with the most basic of the basics: fresh vegetables generally make us feel better than starches. You’ll need to make individual tweaks and changes but you have to start somewhere and that’s it.
Ok back to the holidays. Well, particularly if you are prediabetic but even if you’re not and want to drop some weight, you will need to change the proportions of the protein, starchy carbs and vegetables from what you normally eat. So typically a black family Thanksgiving dinner is set up like this:
- Proteins – turkey and maybe a ham;
- Vegetables – maybe greens, green beans or peas, but usually only 1 or two, not all three;
- Starchy carbs – (lordamercy) dressing or stuffing, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, sweet cranberry sauce, sweet potato somethinerother, rolls, cornbread and desserts!
You can see the lack of balance here. But if you roll up to the dinner with a boring platter of raw celery and carrots, your auntie might drop kick you into next week. And it’s unrealistic to change out every dish in an attempt to make Thanksgiving dinner “healthy”. It’s only one day a year. Just make a few changes that will take some of the edge off.
The key is not to make wannabe-delicious but janky diet food and deprive yourself of all those traditional Thanksgiving goodies, but to create amazing alternative or companion vegetable dishes (or less starchy carb dishes) that rival them in mouth-watering deliciousness while creating a better (though not perfect) balance.
Whatever you do, DON’T announce to your family your intentions. Just keep that to yourself. All you are doing is coming up with some new and exciting dishes to choose from. You don’t have to replace those old starchy dishes (unless the family agrees) but introduce something so fabulous that they won’t suspect any “healthy” diet shenanigans.
Start seeking out the best vegetable recipes and starch recipes that have aspects of protein or vegetables or, experimenting with basic flavor profiles and make up your own dishes and find out what works and what needs tweaking.
Here are a few recipes to get you started:
Sweet and savory root vegetable stuffing (dressing)
(Real) Green bean casserole with crispy fried shallots
Wild Rice, sausage and apple stuffing (dressing)
Sauteed shredded brussels sprouts with pistachios, cranberries, and parmesan
(not too sweet) Spicy Maple glazed carrots (I would soooo add bourbon!)
Flavor profiles to try:
Lemon herb (dill, rosemary, pepper)
Cranberry and nut
A note about dessert: if you seek out less sweetened recipes here’s a trick to avoid a rebellion. Make a sweet dessert sauce, like caramel or buttered rum sauce for them to drizzle on top of your not too sweet pie, cake or homemade ice cream and you’ll be a hero because everyone can determine how sweet they want the dessert to be.
So let’s go! It’s like a “challenge” except it doesn’t hurt or make you miserable.