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Ah, November! My family will tell you that it’s my favorite month. My husband actually gives me a card each November 1 as he knows how I love this time of the year. I treasure the beauty of the autumn that lingers well into November here in Tennessee, the lull before the Christmas bustle, and the days of shortened daylight that mean long cozy evenings at home. Thanksgiving Day is November’s crowning glory.
Perhaps one of the reasons I love Thanksgiving so much is the fact that I rarely cook a full Thanksgiving dinner on this most special day of the year. That’s right! Precious little grocery shopping, cooking, dishes.
I assure you however, that we celebrate in style and have a boatload of happy Thanksgiving memories.
It all came about nearly 25 years ago when the youngest of our five children was about six months old, the oldest was twelve. At the end of October we had moved into a new home and by Thanksgiving still had much to do to feel settled. I was overwhelmed with it all. With no family close and in a new ward, we simply weren’t up to preparing a traditional feast and certainly weren’t ready to invite people over.
What could we do to make it a special day for our family without it becoming a burden? My husband suggested we go out, as his family had throughout his growing up years. It felt like cheating, but we did! I found out in a hurry why my mother-in-law had made “eating out on Thanksgiving” a rather grand tradition.
The day was lovely! It started as always with our traditional Thanksgiving morning “Thankful Walk.” We simply walk around the neighborhood, enjoying the leaves, and we take turns listing the things we are thankful for. No other conversation allowed! It’s always very sweet and rewarding to hear what children and teens share. As the years have gone by, we’ve learned to leave our cellphones at home for these special family times so there are no interruptions.
Later in the morning we raked leaves and played outside. After children’s naps in the afternoon, we went to a great “All You Can Eat” buffet where the price per person was well less than purchasing the meal ingredients at the store. There was a line, but it wasn’t unrealistically long. We were prepared with some little games to keep us occupied.
Once inside, our kids (6 months to 12) were ecstatic with all the Jello, spaghetti, tacos, and soft-serve ice cream they could eat. Not one of them chose turkey! I had never realized that other than mashed potatoes, none of them really enjoyed traditional Thanksgiving foods and it was delightful to see them enjoy their favorites. Bob and I had turkey with all the trimmings however, and found that it was as tasty as anything we could have prepared at home. (As a side note: although buffets can be a major detour for those of us counting calories, I find that there are loads of beautiful salad fixings I wouldn’t have at home and other healthy choices. They are especially kind towards those of us who prefer a whole-food, plant-based fare. Another boost: calories that go with the bites, licks and tastes that often go into cooking are non-existent! And when you leave, it’s over.
After the dinner, we took everybody to the dollar family movie, then home to relax. We had such a good time that we’ve done it nearly every year since! We often invite friends who are equally delighted to not have to shop, cook or do dishes. Sometimes we do a service project in the morning (usually raking leaves for someone). After dinner, we go to a movie, play games in the evening and relax big time!
There’s something about a quiet, clean kitchen on Thanksgiving that feels luxuriously indulgent for a busy mom. Eating out makes it a wonderful holiday for her, almost like a trip to the spa! I ended that first Thanksgiving “eating out” feeling truly grateful for my beautiful family and the joys of our life together instead of exhausted.
What we did find we missed, however, were the smells of the turkey, special baking and the leftovers. That was very easy to correct with very little effort: A crock pot turkey breast, a simple roll recipe, a can of cranberries, and a Mrs. Smith pie to enjoy in the evening and over the next day or two. I quickly learned that with no other leftovers to contend with, healthy eating stays on track in a much easier way. (This was before we ate in a primarily whole-food plant-based way. For holidays we do relax our eating somewhat, although we have found that our bodies much prefer whole-food plant based eating.
Low Fat Crock Pot Turkey: True confessions: I’m a crock pot junkie. I learned years ago that I could put a turkey breast in the crock pot in the late morning with zero (and I do stress ZERO) preparations. No seasoning, no liquid, nada-nothing. If the turkey breast is too big for the lid to fit on tightly, I cover the crock pot top with aluminum foil. (The width of the foil isn’t wide enough to cover the turkey and crock pot. I make a bigger-wider sheet of aluminum foil by lapping two lengths together lengthwise, then making a seam by folding the edges together.) Put the foil loosely over the top of the turkey, then pinch the foil firmly around the pot. By mid-afternoon the house starts to smell like a real holiday. By the time it has fully cooked (four to six hours is essential) the turkey is perfectly cooked, mouth-wateringly tender and flavorful.
True, it doesn’t LOOK like a roast turkey, as it will fall off the bones by simply looking at it. This was distressing for my children who wanted it to “look like the pictures.” One year we broke tradition and cooked the feast at home for some special neighbors with unique needs. The kids begged for a “real turkey”. It came out of the oven looking like a million bucks. I’m talking Norman Rockwell. Perfectly golden and beautiful! When we went to eat it however, they all said, “How come it tastes like this? Kind of dry and crumbly?” After that, they were more than happy to eat the moist and heavenly turkey that comes only from cooking it in the crock pot.
I am such a crock pot junkie that I have several of them in different sizes and shapes for my different recipes and needs. For parties and special meals, I’ll actually use two or three of them at the same time, as they are perfect for keeping things hot throughout the time the meal is served. I have found that it is the best thing ever for preparing mashed potatoes, as you can start cooking them hours before and have the stove clear for other things (or even all cleaned off) during the last stages of preparing a big meal. Another pro for the crock pot is that they are often attractive enough to serve directly from them.
Carolyn’s Healthy Crock Pot Potatoes: Peel the desired amount of potatoes and place in a crock pot. Cover with water. Allow about 4 hours on high setting. When the potatoes are tender, mash right in the pot with a potato masher or hand-held mixer. I add a bit skim milk and a lot of chicken broth for flavoring instead of cream and butter. As a little side benefit, you can keep the crock pot on low and the potatoes stay nice and hot!
Carolyn’s No. 1 Favorite Roll Recipe
This was in a Betty Crocker Cookbook that Bob gave to me when we got married. I have made it more times than anyone could count, and my girls (one a BYU-Idaho sophomore and the other a young mom herself) have it mastered as well. It’s amazing what knowing how to make beautiful rolls and bread will do for a girl’s self-esteem at any age! Easy-easy-easy. We have found that the yeast in the big package at Costco is really a winner, and wouldn’t be without it.
2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
2 Cups warm water (you should be able to put your finger in it, but not leave it there for long)
cup vegetable oil
6 to 6 cups of flour (We usually use half white and half whole wheat flour that we grind from our food storage.
Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes, until it is foamy. Add the eggs, salt, oil and 3 cups of the flour. Mix well. Mix in enough flour to make the dough easy to handle.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, 8-10 minutes. (My girls’ rolls are better than mine, and I think it’s because they do knead it this long.) Place in a greased bowl, (or leave on the counter with a towel on it) and allow to rise. At this point the dough can be refrigerated for 3-4 days.
When dough has risen once, it is ready to form. We usually just pinch off golf ball size balls, and pull the ends under to create a smooth ball. Place on a baking sheet and allow to rise again.
Bake at 350 for 8-12 minutes.
Makes 2 dozen rolls, or 2 loaves of bread.
This recipe is also perfect for cinnamon rolls, Navajo tacos, scones, etc.
Carolyn’s No. 2 Favorite Easy Roll Recipe
This one comes from Terry Jensen, the world’s loveliest Stake Relief Society President, whom I was blessed to serve with as her counselor in the late 80’s. She’d have a spectacular Honey-Baked ham holiday dinner for her board each year, but it was the rolls that we smelled coming in as we arrived, and talked about as we departed. They’re always a hit and VERY showy and pretty to serve! Thank you, Terry!
1 Package Rhodes Frozen dough balls
Grated Parmesan Cheese (just like you serve with spaghetti)
Pam Baking Spray
Sesame or Poppy Seeds (optional)
Let dough balls defrost so you can easily cut them all in half. Grease a muffin tin well with baking spray. Place 3 of the cut dough piecesinto each muffin cup so their points are sticking up. Spray the tops well with Pam and sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese. Sesame or poppy seeds can be added as well. Raise for at least 90 minutes, until they are very light and puffy. Place into an oven that has been heated to 400. The high heat is required so they will not fall. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they will brown quickly.
Now, providing a delicious pie is a no-brainer. We simply buy a frozen one and bake it according to the directions. Mrs. Smith has become a dear friend of mine, saving me hours in the kitchen as her pies are much better than mine, anyway. They also make the house smell just right. Truthfully I’d be just as happy without pie, but for most of my family, it’s an important element of the holiday. I have just a small piece, and am reminded that while they taste wonderful, I don’t feel very wonderful after eating it, which is a good reminder of why I prefer my usual healthy eating.
These easy recipes and our “eating out” make returning to a healthy lifestyle much easier after the Thanksgiving weekend, simply because there’s not that much “out of the ordinary” food to deal with!
So! With all that being said, what will we be doing for Thanksgiving this year? I’m honored to say that we’ll be cooking! My lovely 91 year old Mother is now living with us. We couldn’t be more thrilled. She is bed-ridden and we’re excited about having a cozy day at home with her. I’ll still do the crock pot turkey and the rolls, but in search of some other healthier choices, have come across a gem of cookbook that I know you’ll be tickled about too. You can use it online or print out: CLICK HERE (I’ve also included it at the bottom of the article.) It includes:
Roasted Squash Soup
Studies have shown that starting a meal with a broth-based soup can fill you up, so you eat fewer calories over the course of a meal. This soup gets a boost of flavor from cilantro pesto, but there’s very little fat in this version. TIP: Roast the squash ahead of time and freeze it. Your oven will be full on Thanksgiving, and this will save you some valuable time.
When the fat from the turkey melts during cooking, it falls to the bottom of the roasting pan. When that happens, the bottom quarter of the bird does not roast–it braises in its own juices. To prevent this from happening, try using a V-rack in your roasting pan for perfect results!
Apple Cider Gravy
Traditional gravy gets a bad rap, but this tasty sauce can be made with almost no fat. The trick is to skim the fat from your pan juices (either put it in the fridge or use cheesecloth to soak up the fat). Depending on their size, turkeys will yield varying amounts of juices. From a 12-pound roasted turkey, you can expect about 1/2 cup defatted jus (juice).
Toss the canned cranberry jelly and use this homemade version instead. It’s ready in no time, has less sugar than the store-bought stuff, and is full of healthy fruit! While you might question why this recipe needs the amount of sugar it contains, you’ll understand as soon as you taste fresh cranberries–they’re tart!
Vegetable and Fruit Stuffing
Whole-wheat bread gives this side staying power. The fruits and vegetables bulk up the dish, so a little goes a long way. A bit of turkey bacon adds another layer of flavor without adding many calories.
Roasted Root Vegetables
This sings of the fall and early winter harvest. Take advantage of your local farmers market and buy whatever root vegetables they have. This side dish is quite affordable, too: about 60 cents per serving!
Steamed Green Vegetables
The calories are low, the fat is nonexistent, and adding a vegetable to your plate will help prevent you from filling up on empty calories. Try broccoli, spinach, green beans, or any other non-starchy vegetable.
Sweet Potato Tarts
Try these light and low-fat personal pies for dessert during the fall. They’re a great substitute for pumpkin pie or sweet potato casserole. NOTE: To boost the fiber, you can look for whole-wheat phyllo dough, which is available at natural foods stores or in the health food section of many grocery freezers.
Mini Apple Tarts
Instead of a whole pie, try making bite-size tarts! These diminutive desserts cook quicker and are automatically portion controlled. Plus, they’re easier to make for a crowd, and there’s no need for a fork and plate. This recipe only costs about $3.50 to make–but you save money by buying sheets of phyllo dough and making your own tart shells (see directions for more information).
Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix
There’s no need to buy pumpkin pie spice. You can easily make your own at home. And it makes a great hostess gift for any fall event! Feel free to double or triple this recipe!
For the day after and next week, you may be interested in my detox tea at www.MyMiracleTea. It’s excellent for helping the body get back to normal after holiday indulgences.
There you have it. Armed with these healthy recipes, no one has to fear Thanksgiving dinner–except for maybe the turkey! Gobble Gobble and have a fabulous day!
COOKBOOK LINK: Click here to download and print this colorful recipe book that includes all of these recipes! (You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download this pdf document.) You can also click on this link: www.sparkpeople.com/chef_meg_thanksgiving
These recipes come from www.SparkPeople.com It’s my all-time favorite place for weight management support with a bevy of tools, recipes, inspiration and health tips that make journaling and weight management much more fun and effective.
Carolyn Allen has been providing weight loss inspiration since 1999 both online and in community venues in the Washington, D.C. area. Her favorite food is steamed broccoli (lots of it!) with a little butter and lemon-pepper. Her book, “60 seconds to Weight Loss Success”, is available at her site, or Amazon.com. Learn more about her herbal health tonic and colon cleanse at www.MyMiracleTea.com.