How to Have a Healthy & Relaxing Turkey Day

Thanksgiving is a holiday most people enjoy, but it can also be stressful time for some. Preparing food and entertaining guests can take a toll on the body and mind so to make the process easier, I’m sharing some food safety tips, tips on making the healthiest choices during the meal, and tips on how to have a relaxing holiday.

Food Safety Tips for A Healthy Thanksgiving Meal 

  •  All cooking and handling surfaces should be fully sanitized before and after foods are placed on them. This is especially important when handling raw turkey.
  • Be sure to use separate cutting boards and knives for vegetables and meat/poultry items. Cross-contamination is a serious issue in household kitchens.
  • If you purchased your turkey frozen, it will take a minimum of 24 hours to defrost PER 4-5 pounds. Therefore, if you bought a 10 pound turkey, allow at least 48 hours to defrost in the refrigerator.
  • When storing your bird, it should be placed in a leak-proof bowl on the bottom shelf of the fridge.
  • Warm water should not be used to thaw a frozen turkey because warm temperatures are a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Stuffing…should not actually be stuffed into the bird during cooking. The inside of the turkey has to fully cook to at least 165° F or else bacteria can rapidly grow, especially in the moist internal areas of the turkey. The stuffing may not be able to reach those temperatures without overcooking the turkey, which can lead to bacterial contamination. Prepare your stuffing in a separate oven-safe dish and cook outside of the turkey.
  • If you are going to cook your stuffing in the turkey, make sure you have a thermometer that can fully reach the inside where the stuffing is and make sure it is at least 165°F. Be aware, the oven temperature for cooking a turkey is usually set to 325°. Higher temperatures for longer periods of time may dry out the turkey.
  • Check the temperature of the bird in several locations during the final stages of cooking. Be sure to poke at the thickest parts.
  • Have a fire extinguisher readily available (Have this in your kitchen at all times).
  • Once cooking is done, serve within minutes. The longer the time elapsed between taking the turkey out of the oven and serving, the higher the risk for bacterial growth.

In addition to having a safe cooking experience, you’ll also want to have an enjoyable, healthy eating experience.

Tips on how to enjoy the meal and make the healthiest choices:

  • Light meat poultry is lower in fat and calories than dark meat poultry, but dark meat poultry is typically a bit juicer and is also higher in iron. Keep that in mind while making your turkey selection and mix it up. I tend to choose light meat turkey (found in the breast) but only because I like the taste better.
  • Try mixing a bunch of oven-roasted veggies in with your stuffing. Depending on what stuffing recipe you’ll be eating, it can either be a healthy choice, or not so much. Bread-based stuffings are not what I’d call a health food, but it is a holiday, so enjoy in moderation. If you’re the one preparing the stuffing, try a quinoa or wild-rice based recipe.
  • If you’re a guest, prepare a healthy salad or side dish ahead of time. If you’re traveling and have access to a healthy eatery, make a pit stop and pick up a vegetable platter or veggie-based side. Your hosts will be appreciative and you’ll also have something healthy to nibble on as an appetizer. You can also bring a healthy dessert, such as fresh fruit.
  • Try to make your plate ½ veggies, ¼ turkey, and ¼ of another side dish (such as stuffing). The veggies will fill you up and the protein from the turkey will make you feel full for a long time (decreasing the desire for multiple rounds of desserts).
  • Limit calorie-containing beverages and stick to water or light fruit juice with seltzer. With so much good food, it’s better to enjoy yourself with solid deliciousness than empty liquid calories. However, if you are going to drink your calories, and if you are going to consume alcohol, do so in moderation. This is especially important if you’re driving home later in the evening.
  • Desserts are one of the best parts of holiday meals, and thanksgiving is no exception. If pie is your thing, enjoy small slices of your favorite types. You can prepare or bring a fresh fruit platter and have half your dessert plate be fruit to limit that heavy feeling after eating too much pie. If cookies are served, sample one or two, and again make half your dessert plate a healthier choice with fresh fruit.
  • Another idea for dessert is to serve a fruit sorbet or frozen Greek yogurt, instead of ice cream to accompany the pie and cookies.

Holidays should be a time for relaxation and enjoyment. Be sure to make time to relax in a healthy way with these tips:

Tips on Holiday Relaxation:

  • Relaxation shouldn’t mean you park yourself in front of the TV eating a bag of chips and feeling sloth-like. As tempting as that sounds, you won’t feel good after the chip-eating has ended (trust me, I’ve learned from experience). Instead, try to get outside or do some physical activity during the day. You’ll work up an appetite and the thanksgiving meal itself will be more enjoyable than if you snacked all day.
  • If physical activity during turkey day doesn’t appeal to you, and the couch still beckons, choose healthier fare for snacking like roasted mix nuts, popcorn with olive oil, and whole wheat pretzels.
  • Sometimes we need an escape from our otherwise loving, welcoming family. If you have access to a car, try taking a ride somewhere scenic. Bring your favorite music and forget about your worries.
  • A steaming hot shower does wonders to relieve tension, especially if you’re the one cooking. Have someone else keep an eye on the bird, and take time for your self.
  • Instead of going out shopping on Black Friday, stay in and watch your favorite movies. If you’re crafty, another idea is to make your holiday gifts during this time.

I’ll be posting some recipes later in the week, and some turkey-day leftover recipes as well, so check back soon! Most importantly, have a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!

-Jess

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