November 24, 2009

A healthful Thanksgiving

Cross-posted from the DC Food For All.

Everywhere we turn, we're reminded that Thanksgiving is here. Most conversations focus on setting a beautiful table, cooking a moist turkey, making side dishes that could stop conversation, and baking pies to match.

And these things do matter. It also matters that the holidays, like all days, are healthful.

So at a recent cooking workshop here at Bread for the City, I participated in a conversation with our clients about how to make Thanksgiving healthful, without compromising flavor or tradition.

To get started, we talked about our various Thanksgiving table traditions, and came up with a list of what the clients called "Thanksgiving must-haves." It included: turkey, ham, brisket, and/or a roast; gravy; green beans; macaroni and cheese; stuffing; sweet potatoes; corn; mashed potatoes; rice; cooked greens (collards, kale, spinach, mustard greens, etc.); bread; cranberry sauce; and of course dessert.

Now, as part of our Nutrition Initiative, we are working with our clients to identify other ways to eat healthfully even with limited resources. For example, last year Bread for the City scrapped canned gravy from our holiday menu (as it not only has super-high sodium, but it's also expensive!), and instead passed out recipes for how to make your own gravy from the turkey's drippings.

This time around, we sorted many of the Thanksgiving must-haves into two categories: non-starchy vegetables (e.g., lettuce, tomatoes, cooked greens, garlic, asparagus) and starchy vegetables and grains (e.g., sweet potatoes, corn, rice, and bread). Having had quite a few cooking classes under their belts by now, the people in my class noted that, ideally, the non-starchy vegetables on one’s plate would take up more space than the starchy vegetables and grains. But when we looked at the list of Thanksgiving must-haves, the starches/grains appear to have overtaken the non-starchy vegetables.

Our solution to this problem? Add vegetables wherever possible. After I offered some suggestions, the class participants really ran with the exercise, and came up with the following suggestions themselves:

  • For the green beans: Cook with onions, garlic, and/or broccoli.
  • For the macaroni and cheese: Add spinach, cauliflower, and/or tomatoes.
  • For the stuffing: Include plenty of celery, garlic, onions, pepper, and/or carrots
  • For the mashed potatoes: Mash in garlic, celery root, rutabaga, and/or cauliflower.
  • For the rice: Add plenty of fresh herbs, like parsley and mint.
  • For the greens: Don’t forget the onions and garlic.
  • And make a salad, as well!

Bread for the City client Gail prepares Thanksgiving dinner in her home.

We then made a healthier macaroni and cheese with low-fat cheese and milk, loads of chopped spinach, and whole wheat pasta. The clients couldn’t believe how good it was. Then they were wowed by our fresh cranberry relish, an addition or alternative to highly sweetened cranberry sauce.

And it’s easy to make. Here’s the recipe:

2 ½ cups of fresh cranberries
1 ½ cups of walnuts
1 apple
2 cans of pineapple rings in their own juice
3 stalks of celery


Finely chop cranberries and walnuts.
Mix them together in a large bowl. Then pour in the pineapple juice from the cans.
Chop apples, celery, and pineapple rings and add to bowl.
Mix well.
Feel free to adjust the proportions to taste.  (I make mine a little different each time.) Enjoy!

Meanwhile, by the end of today, more than 5,000 DC families will have received Bread for the City's Holiday Helpings feasts (including a turkey and all the trimmings; low-sodium stuffing; pasta; and fresh produce from our Glean for the City program). Few, if any, of these families could otherwise have afforded such a feast. For readers who would like to support our Holiday Helpings campaign -- just $28 for a family of four -- please visit

Happy Thanksgiving! 

1 comment:

JCS said...

Sounds yummy! Post the mac 'n' cheese recipe too!