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The healthy holiday table

It was a Thanksgiving feast fit for royalty when we at the Village News prepared and enjoyed a delicious holiday meal together Friday, November 20.

Understanding that much discussion took place regarding the development of the menu, preparation of the food, attractive presentation of the cuisine, and nutritional requirements of this meal, it provided an opportunity for us to debate the pros and cons of various dishes and how they should be prepared. To say it necessitated copious research as the discussion raged on is an understatement. It was agreed that when it came to a couple of items, tradition could perhaps usurp the dietary guideline.

A beautifully roasted turkey was unanimously agreed upon by the holiday meal committee. Our publisher, Julie Reeder, insisted on preparing the traditional holiday bird for the staff.

“I like to use the roasting bags,” said Reeder. “[The turkey] always turns out nicely browned and moist.”

The turkey was truly magnificent, and a notably healthier choice compared to ham, duck or prime rib, which are also favored holiday meats by many.

It was disclosed that by ingesting a four ounce portion of roasted turkey (light meat), one has consumed 158 calories, 1.4 grams total fat, and only a small amount of sodium.

Roasted, cured, extra-lean ham carries different qualities, but it isn’t in the caloric count, the disparity is in the total fat and sodium count. Four ounces of ham equates to 187 calories, a hefty 8.6 grams total fat; and a staggering 1,569 mg of sodium.

Even higher in fat are duck and prime rib. A four ounce serving of roasted duck, sans skin, amounts to 227 calories, 12.7 grams total fat, and 73 mg sodium. When the subject of duck was brought up, the stories ensued about those things butchers do at the holidays where they stuff various meats inside each other. We decided not to dwell on that. It promised to be too time consuming to figure out the calories.

Roasted prime rib, a popular favorite for Christmas and New Years, was examined instead. Even if it is carefully trimmed for fat, it tops the list at 285 calories, 22.5 grams total fat and 225 mg sodium.

For side dishes, the committee decided on the traditional mashed potatoes, yams, green beans, garden salad, fresh cranberry citrus salad, and rolls.

A careful comparison was done on mashed potatoes. Which would be healthier – cooking up russet potatoes and preparing them homemade or using an instant mashed potato product? Come to find out, after extensive research, it’s a wash. We like to think we are purists, so there was not a chance we were going to opt for the freeze-dried stuff that you have to bring back to life.

“I cooked the potatoes a long time to make sure they would turn out extra creamy,” said graphic/pagination artist Forest Rhodes. Forest also brought turkey gravy to top the potatoes, but we turned a blind eye to the caloric consequences.

The only thing that makes a difference in the caloric/fat/sodium count for those favorite spuds is what type of milk and/or margarine or butter is used, unless you add ‘foreign’ things to your mashed potatoes.

One-half cup of mashed potatoes, made with whole milk and margarine weighs in at 118 calories, 4.5 grams total fat and 17.7 carbohydrates. Potatoes are decent in calcium and potassium count though.

When it came to the yams, the nutritional aspect won out after Forest insisted they be prepared in the healthiest way possible – au natural.

He selected nice large yams, washed them, and simply baked them in the oven. No butter, no sugar, no marshmallows were allowed to invade this nutritious food source.

Keeping it simple meant a one-half cup serving of yams carried 79 calories, 18.8 carbohydrates, 2.7 grams dietary fiber, and 5.5 mg sodium. The argument against some of those numbers was that yams are a great source of manganese, potassium, calcium and Vitamins A, C and B-6. The elusive Vitamin B-6 makes it very heart-healthy; and potassium has qualities for helping control blood pressure. In the newspaper business, we agreed this was helpful and that the special benefits acceptably negated the carb count.

Green beans are probably the most traditional vegetable that appears on the family Thanksgiving table. Kids (and some adults) that won’t come close to very many vegetables will usually choke down a green bean or two.

The problem at the holidays is that many cooks think they have to gussy everything up, including the green beans. The ever-popular green bean casserole is living proof of that. What is worth considering are the different ‘levels’ one can dress up this veggie.

If one simply steams their fresh green beans and keeps the dish natural and healthy, a three-quarter cup serving only adds up to 25 calories. Toss in some oven-roasted sliced almonds (plain) and it takes the caloric count to 70. At that point, its green beans almondine and that’s a pretty good presentation. For those who just have to take it to another level, add a light/moderate amount of bacon bits and that same three-quarter cup serving becomes 103 calories, 3.9 carbs and 1.9 grams dietary fiber. With those embellishments, should one just go ahead and succumb to the green bean casserole recipe? Only if they want to take those numbers up to 148 calories, with considerably more fat and sodium. It’s the soup that goes into the casserole version that is the villain.

I opted to fix the green beans and went ahead and dolled them up with the roasted almonds and bacon bits. Although some begged for the casserole, those of us with doctors breathing down our necks about our diets decided this was a fair compromise.

Julie also treated us to her personal favorite and family tradition – fresh cranberry citrus salad. She kept trying to describe it to the rest of us but we didn’t really appreciate it until we tasted it. A burst of flavor on the tongue, she whirled fresh cranberries with fresh orange and sections of pineapple. The piece d’ resistance was the addition of pecan halves to the mixture. Understandably, it had significant natural fruit sugar in it and carbs, but the plethora of vitamins and the wonderful perk it gave to the rest of the meal won us over. We were impressed.

The ever-popular token to a healthy meal, the fresh green salad, was in attendance as well. I offered to make the salad and used organic baby greens, grape tomatoes, carrots, red cabbage, and a few walnuts. We offered only light and fat-free dressings; everyone seemed happy enough. The salad brought a lot of color to the table, and was another nod to healthy eating.

No one volunteered to make homemade rolls, so it was agreed they would be store-bought. We confirmed that when it comes to the nutrition numbers, wheat appeared to be a better choice than white. Just for the heck of it, we checked out the brown and serve variety. A one-ounce white dinner roll packs 84 calories, 14.1 carbohydrates while a wheat roll is 76 calories, 12.9 carbs and 1.1 grams dietary fiber. The wheat was lower in fat and lower in sodium.

A decision was made to buy the white rolls, although the wheat was healthier. Why? We wanted to photograph our food for this issue of the newspaper and thought the white rolls may be better contrast in the picture. It was a sacrifice for art. Sometimes things just happen that way.

Since we are not known to be martyrs, dessert had to be addressed. In comparing calories and fat, and taking holiday tradition into consideration, the decision was made to have pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin pie is a far sight healthier than pecan pie, which is also favored here. One-sixth of an eight-inch pumpkin pie (3.8 ounce serving) carries 229 calories, 10.4 grams total fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 307 mg sodium, 29.8 carbs and 15 grams sugar. It sounds pretty bad until you compare it to pecan pie.

One-sixth of an eight-ounce pecan pie (4 ounce serving) has an incredible 452 calories, 20.9 grams total fat, 36 mg cholesterol, 479 mg sodium, 64.6 grams carbs and 31.9 grams sugar. That’s pretty much double when it comes to calories, fat, carbs and sugar. Pumpkin pie was definitely the better choice and we were very excited when Julie showed up with two of them hot out of the oven.

While we all have our family traditions, and personal favorites, it was fun to discuss the holiday meal in detail. Awareness of what we are eating and portion control seems to be in the health and wellness forefront these days. We proved to ourselves that a holiday meal can still be quite delicious, even if one is trying to pay close attention to the calorie count.


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