Have you ever felt the stress of trying to create the perfect holiday meal? Especially when you wake up, realize that Thanksgiving is this week — and that you haven’t created an action plan?
Yes, an action plan is key to removing that stress of planning your Thanksgiving dinner and holiday.
It’s difficult enough just getting the timing right preparing a holiday meal so that everything is ready at the same time. Then you add the stress of thinking about how the meal is going to completely bust your health goals and possibly a zipper.
Instead of focusing on how to avoid all the things we love, I like to “healthify” our favorite dishes and reduce stress with my “Thanksgiving Week Meal Prep Timeline + Clean and Lean Thanksgiving Meal Plan.”
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This is the meal plan and timeline that I use to navigate this tricky holiday meal.
Simply having a plan and writing it down will reduce the holiday madness so you can spend more time with your family. You’ll know what your next steps are in each process. You may even make fewer trips to the store, and you’ll know the order to prepare your dishes.
Let’s get started with the meal plan, timeline and what it means to “healthify” a recipe. And I’m sharing one of those recipes from my e-book, “Foxy Holidays.”
This is my meal plan. While your exact menu may vary, the idea can still be much the same.
Clean and Lean Meal Plan
- The perfect turkey
- Turkey gravy
- Spice It Up Cranberry Sauce
- Sweet potato with bacon casserole
- Mashed “Faux”tatoes
- Green bean casserole
- Massaged kale salad
First things first, when you start planning your big dinner, invite someone to bring the rolls, stuffing and pies to eliminate the workload and kitchen demands on cooking day. Or decide that you are going to buy these items from the store’s bakery or freezer case. Plus, these are the items most difficult to “healthify,” and this leaves you control over the rest of the menu. While it might still seem like a lot to prepare, it will be easier with this timeline than any big meal you’ve ever prepared. It’s all in the details.
Thanksgiving Week Meal Prep Timeline
3 days before the big day
▪ Make your grocery list. Look through your recipes. Don’t forget you can likely find healthier versions of your family favorites online at many recipes sites. Be sure to inventory your pantry, herbs, spices and refrigerator to verify what you have and what you still need.
▪ Purchase all your fresh goods at the grocery store.
2 days before
If using a frozen turkey, let thaw in the refrigerator. It’s recommended that you let it thaw in an aluminum roasting pan. Rule of thumb is 24 hours of thaw time for about every 5 pounds, so adjust as necessary. For more information on safe turkey thawing, check out the USDA website at www.fsis.usda.gov.
1 day before
▪ Prepare the Spice It Up Cranberry Sauce (or your favorite sauce).
▪ Prepare a healthy salad. For instance, I do a Massaged Kale Salad.
▪ Bake your holiday desserts or pies if you don’t have guests bringing them.
▪ Find something relaxing to do for yourself today, so you don’t spend all your time stressing about the big event. Do not skip this step. It’s a great day for board games or for a movie night before the big day.
The Big Day
▪ Rise and shine with a big smile. Review your lists and priorities. Remember that this day is about family, friends and showing gratitude. Set an intention for an easy and joyful holiday.
▪ Have a healthy low-glycemic breakfast. It will keep your blood sugar stable. You’ll need the energy, and you’ll avoid getting hangry (hungry + angry).
▪ Get started in the kitchen one hour before the total estimated cooking time of your turkey. (The turkey should cook for about 13 minutes per pound of turkey. Ex: If you have a 12-pound bird, start about 4 hours before you want to eat.)
2 hours before dinner
▪ Set the table (or designate someone to set the table) and prepare to enlist one to two people to help in the kitchen.
1 hour before dinner
▪ Prep all the side dishes.
30 minutes before dinner
▪ Remove turkey from oven and let rest under a foil tent.
▪ Place a sweet potato casserole and/or green bean casserole in the oven.
▪ Make your mashed potatoes and gravy. For instance, I make my Mashed “Faux”tatoes and gravy on the stove top.
▪ Bring the meal to the table.
▪ Ask the people who just lounged while you did all the cooking to take care of clearing the table and doing the dishes.
▪ Enjoy your holiday and holiday meal. Remember that more than anything else, this is a time to savor with your friends and family. A good meal, especially a healthy one, is just a way to enhance the day. Food is a celebration that helps foster community and caring. Happy Thanksgiving!
Healthify — what it means and how to do it
It’s not uncommon these days to have a family member or two (and maybe it’s even you) who has a food sensitivity or allergy or who simply wants to eat clean. The holidays don’t have to interfere with this. You also don’t want to pack on the pounds this holiday just to have more to deal with when you set your new year’s resolution. Instead, make a pledge to eat healthy throughout the holiday season, and your new year’s goal can simply be to keep doing what you’ve been doing. Remember, you can find lots of tips online at your favorite health and cooking websites — and even Pinterest — for “healthifying” meals and individual dishes or working with food sensitivities and allergies. Start with a simple web search and these tips:
▪ Every single traditional item can be modified to meet health needs. A Thanksgiving meal can be gluten-free and dairy-free with just a few simple swaps. There are lots of online tips for this, or you can consult my e-book, “Foxy Holidays.” Details are at the end of this article.
▪ Use maple syrup or honey instead of brown sugar and other refined sugars. Both are higher in nutrients and are more effectively used by your body than refined sugar.
▪ Fruits, vegetables and proteins are obviously naturally gluten-free unless they have been processed in some way. (Foods that are one-ingredient foods tend to be gluten-free because gluten has not been added — unless, of course, we are talking about gluten-containing grains.)
▪ Use as many one-ingredient foods as possible when cooking. Instead of cream of mushroom soup, find a great dairy alternative like coconut milk and add in spices and fresh mushrooms.
▪ For the gravy, instead of wheat flour and cornstarch, use potato flour.
▪ Instead of using dairy in all your recipes, substitute a dairy-free milk option where appropriate. I prefer coconut milk because it’s loaded with healthy fats and is creamier than some other options. (I also mean coconut milk in the can, not the box.)
▪ Swap out mashed potatoes for mashed cauliflower because cauliflower is lower on the glycemic index. That will help keep your blood sugar stable.
▪ Using fresh foods instead of canned will often increase the nutrient content of certain foods.
▪ Stuffing, pies and rolls are the hardest thing to make gluten-free. However, with so many people having gluten sensitivity, there are plenty of gluten-free options available in the supermarkets.
▪ Use gluten-free bread for stuffing or swap it out for a healthy grain.
▪ Buy gluten-free pie or frozen pie crusts. Or you can even make your crust with nuts or coconut flour.
Jessica Wyman is an Idaho native, author, speaker, nutritionist, mountain biker and Mrs. Nampa United States. Visit her blog at Jessica-Wyman.com for more recipes and lifestyle advice. If you are interested in getting her e-guide, “Foxy Holidays,” you’ll find it for $2.99 at bit.ly/foxyholidays. Every recipe in “Foxy Holidays” is gluten-free and dairy-free. You’ll also find all the recipes from Jessica’s plan in this story in the e-guide.
A few turkey tips
▪ Letting it rest is essential. This is when the turkey develops its juiciness by allowing all the goodness to soak back into the bird instead of being lost during carving in the bottom of your pan.
▪ The turkey drippings make the best gravy. I grew up using the powdered stuff for gravy until a friend showed me the difference. I’ve never turned back.
▪ To stuff or not to stuff? Stuffing the bird increases the cooking time so keep that in mind when deciding.
▪ Cooking time is typically 13 minutes per pound of unstuffed turkey. Remember to include letting it rest when determining your timeline.
Spice It Up Cranberry Sauce
Total time: 10-15 minutes
Author’s note: This recipe is not your typical cranberry sauce. I recommend you make a double batch because it’s going to change your day after turkey sandwiches. It’s got a little pep and really is more of a relish than a sauce, but it’s absolutely divine and prettier to look at than the cranberry jelly shaped like the can.
12 ounces of fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 cup raw honey
1 jalapeno (remove seeds)
4-5 green onions
1-2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
Remove the root and dark green ends on the green onions. Remove seeds from the jalapeno. Wear gloves and wash your hands immediately after this part of the task. Rinse the cranberries. Blend all ingredients but the honey in a food processor. Process until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the honey.
Serve immediately or do as I recommend in the timeline: Make ahead and refrigerate until Thanksgiving dinner.
Optional step: Place in a pot with 1/4 cup water and reduce for about five minutes or until the cranberries are softened. I offer both options because some people prefer their food raw and others like it prepped a little more.