Thanksgiving dinner: Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green-bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, cranberry sauce and dinner rolls. Sound familiar? Though each family may have a few additional favorite dishes, there is a definite standard fare for the holiday meal. Why not try mixing it up a bit?
I am not advocating losing any family favorites. I love the classic Thanksgiving feast, but it can be a great time to try something new, too. A modified meal can be great for families with different dietary preferences, food intolerances or for adventurous eaters.
Depending on the crowd, changing up a classic dish can be a big hit. Brining your turkey or rubbing and stuffing it with citrus and garlic can change the flavor, but still keep the classic bird on the table. If you are having a small gathering but still want turkey, try just cooking a turkey breast. Try making some of the dishes more from scratch if you have been using convenience foods in them. Green-bean casserole with a homemade mushroom roux can be delicious and have less sodium and fat than using condensed cream of mushroom soup. Or try sweet potatoes with something besides marshmallows on top. Roasted chunks of sweet potatoes or baked sweet potatoes are easy and delicious. Mashed sweet potatoes can be topped with pecans for a big change in taste and texture. Add something new to stuffing, such as dried cranberries or chestnuts. Cranberry sauce is really easy to make from scratch and can be flavored with anything from caramelized onions to orange zest.
Adding something different to the Thanksgiving meal does not need to be overwhelming. You may decide on a new recipe based on any variety of factors, but I would generally recommend something lighter. Most of the dishes are very starchy, so adding a lighter vegetable side seems like a winning choice. Cruciferous vegetables are nutritious and in season, with considerably fewer calories than the starchier vegetables already on the menu. Consider trying roasted cauliflower or brussels sprout. For a make-ahead dish, kale salad with dried fruit and chopped nuts tossed with vinaigrette is tasty. If you are eating with little ones or some less adventurous eaters, a vegetable platter will likely be enjoyed and appreciated.
If someone who has a dietary need is joining you, having dishes they can enjoy is important in welcoming them for the holiday. If that person is on a gluten-free diet, be sure to check labels, and use cornstarch to thicken sauces and gravies. For a vegetarian, consider a turkey substitute (maybe not for the entire group), like a stuffing-filled portabella mushroom cap, and try using vegetarian broth in place of standard turkey or chicken broth. Though something like a peanut allergy may seem like an easy dietary accommodation for Thanksgiving, be sure to check food labels to see if some of your ingredients are processed in facilities that also process peanuts. Hang on to the food packaging if you are unsure so your guest can review it themselves; it is always nice to avoid ER trips during the holidays.
Plan out your menu, try new dishes before the big day, and prepare anything you can ahead of time (but keep it safely refrigerated) to minimize stress. Enlist the help of others to put together the meal. Most people enjoy bringing a dish or doing something to help out. Cooking and preparing food together the day before is also another nice way to spend family time during the holiday season. Try to have fun with your holiday cooking; after all, Thanksgiving is just as much about spending time with loved ones and counting our blessings as it is about food.
Jordy Kivett is a nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. For more information, contact her at 561-7450.