|Weight gain and post-meal torpor have become almost as traditional during the holidays as turkey and stuffing. But if you have had it with holiday overstuffing, don't fret. There are a few simple meal modifications that can help you control your calorie count this year, without sacrificing taste and pleasure. Below, Dr. Lou Arrone, author or "Weigh Less, Live Longer," Chef Alain Sailhac, Dean of Culinary Studies at The French Culinary Institute in New York City and registered dietician Kathy Isoldi, offer healthy cooking tips for Thanksgiving this year.
There is a long tradition of putting butter or oil in the pan with a turkey as it's cooking. Is this necessary?
ALAIN SAILHAC: No. If you want the meat to be more lean, you can cook the turkey in a tightly sealed pan, in the skin, which will retain the juices, and then remove the skin, which removes the fat. Use a lot of herbs, and not too much salt. Use a little bit of water, or just a little bit of chicken stock. Place the bird in a shallow sauté pan, and cook it very slowly, with some vegetables around it. Because the bird is tightly sealed in the pan, you will have retained the juices and it won't require constant basting with butter or oil. It is going to be tasty with far less fat because you have removed the skin.
LOUIS J. ARONNE: I agree with this method. It's a good way to cut down on calories very quickly. If you cut the fat out of the turkey preparation, you can cut the calories down dramatically.
Is stuffing a very caloric part of the Thanksgiving meal?
KATHY ISOLDI: Stuffing has lots of calories if it's made in the traditional fashion, where butter is added. People will put in sausage and nuts and other ingredients that are high in fat. The average number of calories for stuffing for a serving of one cup is about 400 calories. I think most people don't realize that.
You can make your stuffing fat-free by replacing the sausage and nuts with celery and vegetables, and some dried fruit, perhaps. It tastes delicious and this can cut the calories down by more than 50%.
Could you share a stuffing recipe with us Chef Sailhac?
ALAIN SAILHAC: If you need to cut down on calories and fat, you can make a stuffing with only vegetables and bread. You soak the bread just in water or very light chicken stock. You squeeze it all in and mix the bread with the vegetables, which will act as the binding. Use a little thyme, a little rosemary, a little garlic, a little onion and celery, and it's going to be great. If you don't like to use bread, you can use chestnut, which is a vegetable and acts as a natural binder. You chop the chestnut, crush it a little bit, mix the whole thing, and cook like this. The chestnut gives stuffing a fantastic taste.
You can avoid practically all meat in a stuffing. You just need to make sure you have a nice binding.
Add salt and pepper and you put the stuffing into a mold for cooking. Don't cook the stuffing in the turkey if you want to save calories. Cover the stuffing and cook it in its own juices.
Sweet potato casserole is another holiday favorite. Are there any healthy cooking tips for this dish?
KATHY ISOLDI: You can make a sweet potato casserole by mashing it and putting in some vanilla for flavor, maybe a small amount of maple syrup, rather than drowning it in syrup, sugar and heavy cream or butter. You can also prepare baked sweet potatos, and bypass all the syrups and butter, and they will be delicious all on their own.
Vegetable side dishes can be useful in controlling the calorie count. How can people use them to their best advantage?
LOUIS J. ARONNE: If you're hungry, filling up on side vegetables is a great way to go, because you can probably eat as much of them as you want and you're not going to gain any weight. It's a very good tactic to use.
It's very hard to sit there and be hungry at a meal and not overeat. It takes superhuman effort. Filling yourself up on things that are low in calories is very helpful, and then you can just have a little taste of the higher calorie foods, the calorie minefields.
How do you suggest we control calories in the cranberry sauce?
KATHY ISOLDI: Usually it's too high in sugar. You can cut the sugar content in half, and if you want it a little bit different, add frozen fruit, which is a natural sweetener. Frozen raspberries or peaches can give the sauce a bit more flavor and sweet taste, without all that sugar.
What are some calorie-conscious desserts?
KATHY ISOLDI: Well, traditionally pies are served at Thanksgiving, and most of the fat and calories are in the crust. So any of the pies that are two layers, like apple pie, will have a lot of calories in the crust. If you have something with just one topping, something like a crisp, you can cut the calories probably in half.
A crumb topping, for instance, does contain some butter, but it is not as dense and solid as a full crust on top and bottom. Of course, most people have their pie à la mode, with premium high-fat ice cream. If you want that flavor on top of your crisp, put some low-fat or fat-reduced ice cream or frozen yogurt on top. This will really cut the calories.
If we take in fewer calories and eat less, will we be less tired when the meal is over?
LOUIS J. ARONNE: Yes. If you inundate your body with so many calories that it stops sending blood to your brain, it's got to send it to your stomach to help absorb all the calories.
And if you want to feel better after Thanksgiving dinner this year, get up, get off the couch, turn the football game off, and go for a walk.