Happy, Healthy Thanksgiving

Tinker with the menu if you must, but not too much


October 02, 2005|By SANDRA PINCKNEY

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

It's a day set aside to spend with family -- giving thanks for one another and all the year's blessings while sharing a turkey dinner.

I have this dream of planning an elegant, simple Thanksgiving meal. You know, the kind you see on the cover of Gourmet magazine, with the turkey, and just a few side dishes beautifully served.

But here's my problem. No matter how I try, I cannot get the few side dishes part right.

My dinner menu usually starts out on an optimistic note.

Turkey, bread stuffing, gravy, fresh string beans, rutabagas and fresh cranberries. And then ...

My daughter requests my sweet potatoes in orange shells.

My brother's family wants baked macaroni and cheese.

And greens. And rolls.

My sister needs rice.

Did I mention a salad?

And we haven't even gotten to dessert, which has to include a sweet potato pie.


It takes a lot of work to make sure everything gets to the table on time, but Thanksgiving comes only once a year, and the reality is it's much more than a meal -- it's tradition.

For that reason, you want everyone's memories to be happy ones.

I learned that the hard way the year I decided to serve my family a more health-conscious dinner. Instead of the usual side dishes, I served Brussels sprouts, pureed carrots and polenta.

After a moment of awkward silence, my father adjusted his glasses and said to my mother, "Ruth, I don't recognize a thing on this table."

What a disaster! We laughed about that dinner for many years. I have never served polenta or anything else nontraditional to my family for Thanksgiving ever again. Thanksgiving dinner is sacred.

It can also be loaded with calories. So if you are trying to lower the calories this year, here are some simple tips that will do the trick and keep the family peace.

1. Try flavoring sweet potatoes with orange juice and a sprinkling of brown sugar instead of using the white sugar, butter and marshmallow topping.

2. Mash white potatoes with low-sodium broth and a little sour cream for flavor, instead of using heavy cream and butter.

3. Strain the fat from turkey drippings and use low-sodium broth to make gravy.

4. If your family likes sausage stuffing, use turkey sausage. They will never know the difference.

5. Don't come to the table famished. One way not to overeat on Thanksgiving is to have a good, late breakfast.

Here's a recipe for a one-dish meal you can put together the night before and pop in the oven in the morning.

Sandra Pinckney, a former Baltimore TV journalist, is host of Food Finds on the Food Network. Send comments to unisun@baltsun. com.



2 cups milk (canned evaporated milk makes a creamier casserole;

you can use half fresh milk, half canned)

10 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 / 4 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon salt

pepper to taste

4 cups cubed day-old bread (or bagged croutons)

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I have used half cheddar, half

Monterey jack)

1 pound turkey sausage

dash hot sauce (optional)

The night before serving, combine milk, eggs, dry mustard, onion powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Pour evenly over bread and cheese.

Brown sausage and drain. Sprinkle the sausage over the bread and cheese. Cover. Refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until cheese is golden brown. Cover with foil if the top browns too quickly. Add a dash of hot sauce, if desired.

Serve with fresh fruit and rolls.

Per serving (based on 10 servings): 328 calories, 27 grams protein, 19 grams fat, 8 grams saturated fat, 12 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fiber, 281 milligrams cholesterol, 881 milligrams sodium

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