303 Thanksgiving dinnerThanksgiving is upon us, soon to be followed by further “food-centric” holidays, blowing the imperial lid off of our year-long attempts at clean, responsible eating. For approximately one month, we will gorge ourselves stupid, insisting that these holidays “come only once a year” and that tradition trumps rationale.

Millions of people will sit down this Thursday to a bounty of glazed hams, turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes complete with a moat of melted butter, candied yams, stuffing, deviled eggs, freshly baked bread, and more. Then come the desserts: pecan pie. Pumpkin pie. Apple pie. Cookies. Bread pudding.

And this is all to be eaten in the same day. Of course, leftovers will feed your family for a week after, just in time to prepare for December’s forthcoming festivities. And more food.

Here’s the kicker: traditional Thanksgiving Day food is not inherently unhealthy. Turkey and ham are both excellent sources of lean protein. Brown sugar and gravy? Not so much. Green bean casserole: Yay on the beans; nay on the deep-fried onions and cream. Pecans = so nutritious. Except when bathed in corn syrup, butter, and sugar while housed within a flaky pie crust.

We come so close, yet remain so far away.

How about starting some new traditions this year that don’t require the inglorious unfastening of one’s pants. It’s worth a try, right?

303 cauliflowerDietary dilemma: Mashed Potatoes One of my favorites, but the innocuous potato suffers a plentitude of creative methods that morph the starch into a gut-busting, artery-clogging mashed mess. Buttermilk, butter, margarine (really? Who’s still buying this stuff?), creamed corn, cheese, and breadcrumbs.

Solution: Tweak your usual recipe by using only half of the recommended potatoes and supplementing the other half with cauliflower. Cut both vegetables into equal sized pieces to ensure they cook thoroughly. Instead of butter, try using olive oil for a heart-healthy dose of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Once tender, mash away and voila, you’ve just fed your family a solid serving of vegetables. They’ll never know the difference.

Dilemma: Sweet potato casserole Most Coloradans are privy to the nutritional value of the cherished sweet potato, however the benefits become diluted when pulverized among butter, brown sugar, heavy cream and marshmallows.

Solution: There are plenty of recipes online that can help cut calories and retain holiday cheer. Use honey in place of granulated sugar. Skip the marshmallows and top with pecans.

Dilemma: Gravy I suppose I should thank my lucky stars that gravy does not appeal to me in the slightest, but I am under no illusion that mine is the collective opinion. Gravy is just as much a part of Thanksgiving dinner as is the centerpiece and stuffing. And it seems to be poured over everything (except maybe the centerpiece). Turkey pan drippings, flour, and more butter, and you have most certainly sealed the deal on record-breaking calorie consumption. Nap time, anyone?

Solution: Herbs and spices. Rosemary, black pepper, smoked sea salt, cumin and garlic will surely help anyone disembark the gravy boat. Place a bay leaf or two on top of your turkey for added flavor. Finely chop some chives to add to your revamped mashed potatoes.

My point is, you don’t need to give in to societal pressure to enjoy your holidays. Surrounding yourself with the people you love and preparing a meal intended to both nourish and comfort are what the holidays are all about. Bon appetit.

PT-color-headshot-I3Jodilyn Stuart is the Health & Sports Senior Staff Writer for 303 Magazine, owner of ModaBody Fitness, and has been a professional fitness geek since 1997. If you have questions, feel free to email at: [email protected]