What to do When You Don’t Eat Turkey on Turkey Day
Thanksgiving is the ultimate American tradition. Friends and family gather around a feast, often featuring traditional American dishes like mashed potatoes and green beans, but often also incorporating elements from their own heritage. Since my cultural background is rooted in American farm life, our Thanksgivings have always looked pretty typical. My mom and I do like to experiment with new twists on beloved recipes, however, to make them healthier or more flavorful than before. (You have never tasted anything like my mom’s stuffing, trust me!) The mainstay of this beloved meal, of course, is turkey. This leaves us veggie-lovers with a dilemma: how do I enjoy a meal that is centered around meat? I am the only vegetarian in my family, though, so many of our traditional dishes also contain meat or chicken stock. What is one to do? Here are some of my thoughts and strategies for vegetarians and vegans on Thanksgiving:
1. If you are not doing the primary cooking, bring a dish that you know will be friendly to your dietary preferences. Some great examples from other bloggers include an amazing looking vegan gravy from Daily Garnish. Also, don’t be tied to tradition if you want to bring a main course that will satisfy your needs, and can be enjoyed by others. This Mushroom and Asparagus Quinoa Risotto, also from Daily Garnish, or my Cranberry Quinoa, are great examples of something that could easily blend into a Thanksgiving spread.
2. If you are doing the primary cooking, it is easy to make most of your sides vegan/vegetarian. The biggest problem will lie in the turkey: just ask someone else to cook and bring it! If you are not okay with cooking a big bird and your friends and families are not okay with going without, compromise and ask someone to help contribute to the meal.
3. It is quite easy to get your fill of sides, even without the turkey! All of the other mainstays of traditional Thanksgiving, like sweet potatoes and roasted root veggies, are enough to fill me up, even without a plate centerpiece like turkey. If you are looking to freshen up some of your classics, here are some great ideas! The cornbread stuffing from Rufus’ Guide can be made with vegetable stock to make it vegetarian, and the spiced sweet potatoes with pecans look amazing.
4. Bring a vegan dessert to share! Vegan baking is often the hardest for others to accommodate, so take the burden off them and offer to bring a treat to share. Check out this recipe for a Pumpkin Brownie Pie from Oh She Glows, or this Vegan Apple Cranberry Crumble from the Smart Kitchen.
5. Be flexible. For me, it is more important to enjoy the company of my friends and family than to worry if my mom made the stuffing with chicken or vegetable stock. If you do need to know if something has any animal products, ask the cook in a respectful way, and use it as an opportunity to inform them of all the things you can eat as a vegan/vegetarian.
Because it is a holiday that centers around rich food, it is a challenge to maintain your healthy eating habits, veg or not. In my opinion, it is okay to relax slightly and enjoy a few indulgences on this decadent holiday. However, going too far can lead to stomach aches, the “too-full feeling”, and tight waist bands. Did you know that the average American consumes 4500 calories in one sitting on Thanksgiving? This statistic is not meant to steal your holiday joy, but just to make you an informed eater. If you are looking to avoid the post-prandial food coma, here are some strategies to for the day:
1. Preface your meal with a salad and/or soup. This fall themed salad from Oh She Glows has fruits, veggies, nuts and amazing dressing to kick off your meal. My Butternut Squash and Apple soup is low fat and calories, and is a tasty preface to the meal. By filling your stomach slightly with these, you are less likely to overindulge in the other holiday treats.
2. Lighten up your mashed potatoes with less butter and cream, using skim milk and plain yogurt as substitutes, but fill up the flavor with unsuspected additions like turnips or parsnips. Leeks also add great flavor to mashed potatoes, and cauliflower can be used for added creaminess without too much flavor alteration. Check out this great mashed potato recipe featuring celery root and parsnips from What Would Cathy Eat.
3. Don’t forget the green stuff! Fill up half or more of your plate, with salad and any other veggie that might make a Thanksgiving appearance. There are so many wonderful fall veggies, so don’t forget to make use of them in your Thanksgiving spread. These green beans are simple but delicious, and give Brussels sprouts a chance with this amazing recipe, another from What Would Cathy Eat.
4. Enjoy a bite of everything, but keep your portions small. There are so many things to sample, and of course you don’t want to leave anything out! Use the non-veggie filled side of your plate for small spoonfuls of the other, more calorie-dense sides. Getting a taste will satisfy your craving so that you won’t feel deprived by skipping a favorite.
5. Watch for sneaky sugar! It often creeps into casseroles, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and dessert. Cut the sugar in your baked goods in half, and look for lower sugar recipes. My cranberry sauce is lower sugar than most store-bought versions, and the sugar can be reduced and still give sweet results!
Lastly, make sure you get some exercise, even if you are in a tryptophan-induced coma. My family always takes a long walk after holiday meals, taking the time to enjoy each other’s company and let our food digest before dessert. Even a simple half hour walk can burn 150 calories. If you are of my dad’s mindset, that means you get to enjoy an extra few spoonfuls of stuffing! ;)
Regardless of the food that you have at your Thanksgiving feast, I love some of the ideas behind this day: gathering together with people who you love, celebrating the blessings you have in your life, and taking time to be thankful. I hope you are excitedly preparing to share good food with people you love, and maybe you can find a new recipe or two from this post as you put together your shopping list! I haven’t made any of these yet, but am excited to incorporate a few of them into our holiday meal!
Questions: How do you maintain your healthy lifestyle as you approach the holidays? Do you allow yourself indulgences, or stay strictly to your normal eating habits? What is the one dish you are most looking forward to at Thanksgiving this year?