Auburn, Ala.—In 2016, Americans carved more than 46 million turkeys at their Thanksgiving meals. Turkey usually shares the table with many other dishes including dressing, stuffing, and vegetable side dishes as well as salads, gravy and sauces and desserts. However, no meal is the same in every household. Families have their own holiday dinner traditions that make it special.
Some families serve mashed potatoes, cornbread and stuffing, while others enjoy creating their own casseroles. Desserts can range from pumpkin or pecan pie to a variety of cakes. There are some households that even make their own Thanksgiving cocktails.
Chante Myles, a regional agent in human nutrition, diet and health with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System adds her own twist to dinner, “I add sweet potato chips to my Thanksgiving day meal because sweet potato provides vitamin A, C and fiber and you are still able to enjoy the natural sweetness.”
Typical Thanksgiving foods may not be the most nutritious because they can be high in fat, sodium and sugar, according to Myles. If you are looking for healthy alternatives, she suggests swapping out pies for sugar free desserts or adding olive oil when cooking collard greens.
Side dishes are great, but for most people, the main event of the meal is the turkey. Different ways to cook a turkey include roasted, grilled, fried, smoked and crockpot turkey. With so many options, one can easily feel overwhelmed when cooking the big bird.
“In my opinion, the best way to cook a turkey is to grill it. This can reduce cooking time on the meal, and you can add vegetables on the grill,” said Myles, “In addition, grilling reduces the fat from the turkey.”
If you are cooking a Thanksgiving meal for the first time, Myles offers a few tips:
- Plan your menu at least two weeks ahead of time.
- Shop early for shelf stable items, such as canned goods.
- Make sure you have a pan large enough to roast the turkey as well as meat thermometer to check internal temperature.
- Allow 1 pound of turkey per person.
- To thaw, place frozen bird in original wrapper in the refrigerator. Allow approximately 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
- Trim the fat from the turkey before roasting.
- Provide plenty of vegetables. They will make you feel full and less likely to reach for unhealthy foods.