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Everyone loves Thanksgiving. It is our national family social get together and our yearly communal sit down. Probably the only American meal where we actually sit down and eat the same basic set of items. Roast turkey and gravy. Cranberries. Stuffing. Mashed potatoes. Squash or pumpkin. Checking my facsimile edition of The Original Boston School Cooking Book published in 1896, the menu items are pretty much the same. The notable exception is oyster soup. Does anyone serve that anymore? Certainly not me. I have made many Thanksgiving dinners for family and friends over the years because the tradition deserves to be honored. But turkey is not my favorite. A little too bland. And sometimes a little too dry. Do I love the day any less? Absolutely not! It just means I put aside my taste for a really gamey bird and cook to please the less adventurous who come to my table to indulge.
Looking at a whole meal has always fascinated me. Eating is holistic. People eat meals as opposed to individual items and since Americans eat pretty much the same set of items, Thanksgiving is a perfect meal to look at. Using recipes from my software data base, prices from various local markets, and some off the shelf preparations, here is the menu board for a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Onion Soup, ¾ cup (180ml)
Roast Turkey with Skin, 6 ounces (170g)
Turkey Gravy, ¼ cup (60ml)
Bread Stuffing, ½ cup (100g)
Cranberry Sauce, 2 Tablespoons (35g)
Mashed Potato, ½ cup (105g)
Green Beans with Almonds, ½ cup (120g)
Sparkling Apple Cider, 8 fl oz (230ml)
Pumpkin Pie, 1 piece (155g)
total cost $7.40 ● total calories 1240 per serving
Let’s talk dollars first. Any foodie worth his salt can drive the cost up by sourcing specialty items. Free range grain fed turkeys. Even better heirloom wild turkeys (my personal choice). Maybe a bottle of vintage wine… But Thanksgiving is not complex and perhaps it is more in keeping with tradition to keep the meal simple. Besides, many people prefer the taste of turkey, not the more gamey flavor of a heirloom bird. My first surprise was how reasonably priced a traditional Thanksgiving could be.
My second surprise was how much time the analysis took. What I thought would be a straightforward exercise ended up getting complex. Some items have incomplete data and due diligence is required every step of the way to determine a reasonably accurate calorie count. That may be one of the reasons why so few meals seem to get analyzed.
Besides the time commitment, however, there may be another reason meals, especially great meals, do not get analyzed. Companionship, cooking, setting, sharing, savoring – the magic of a great meal is what my fellow foodies love and cherish. The risk of analysis is that it can break the magic of the moment. And that is a valid observation.
But let’s just try a bit of analysis by putting the calories into the context of who may be sitting at table. Aunt Sally is over 50, never exercises, sometimes indulges in sweets but otherwise eats like a bird – miniscule portions, no skin, no dark meat, no gravy, and a whole piece of pumpkin pie. Makes sense because her daily requirement is about 1600 calories. She will also get full benefit of the only deep orange vegetable on the table. Then there is cousin Jeremy. On the move, physically active, into sports, early twenties, always hungry. He eats double portions of everything in sight. Makes sense because his daily requirement is about 3000 calories. And then there is everyone else in between, but that is enough for now. A little bit of analysis goes a long way and I need to get cooking …
Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy the meal!
Summer is coming to an end. The days are getting shorter. A chill in the evening air means an end to summer salad suppers and the beginning of more robust meals. But while summer is still here, a large salad is satisfying, refreshing, and takes about 30 minutes to put together as long as the greens are washed and ready to go. For protein, I use both legumes and canned salmon. Grilled chicken or canned tuna are good substitutes for the salmon. Vegetable ingredients vary depending on what comes in and out of the market during the growing season, but my base always starts with mesclun. I buy weekly from a vendor who lets me mix my own from the many offerings of multi colored, multi textured, slightly bitter leaves. Proportions are for two people. For robust appetites, serve with crusty bread.
½ cup (125 ml) olive oil and yogurt dressing, as per proportions below
7 tablespoons (100 g) canned chickpeas, rinsed, drained
¾ cup (50 g) red cabbage, washed, coarsely shredded
3 ½ cups (100 g) washed mesclun or assorted greens
1 medium (150 g) tomato, washed, cored, coarsely chopped
½ each (75 g) Haas avocado, peeled, seeded, sliced
1 – 6 ounce can (170 g) wild Alaskan pink salmon, canned, drained
Using a bowl with a 2 quart (2 liter) capacity, make a dressing in the bottom of the bowl with 4 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons white wine or sherry vinegar, 2 tablespoons 0% Greek yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, oregano, basil, pepper, and about 1/4 teaspoon flake salt. Put chickpeas and cabbage in first, then mesclun, then tomato and avocado. Other vegetable options are peppers, fennel, carrots, and cucumbers. Arrange drained salmon on top. Mix salad just before serving.
makes about 6 ½ cups ● cost $12.20 ● 1070 calories
portioning information: 540 calories for 2 people ● 270 calories for 4 people ● 180 calories for 6 people
This salad delivers phytonutrient and fiber rich vegetables, mixed proteins, and oleic acid rich, omega-3 rich, vitamin E rich unsaturated fats. Moreover, I used clean sustainable salmon and a seasonal heirloom tomato. Despite these benefits, the salad cannot be labeled healthy because total fat exceeds acceptable parameters established by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Sodium and saturated fat also exceed acceptable parameters, but are easier to adjust in accordance with current regulations.
Before going back to school, I always made classic vinaigrette – three parts oil to one part vinegar. My studies progressed, I learned about too much fat, and I stopped. Experimenting with other combinations and substitutions became the goal. For example, some variations on classic vinaigrette call for some crème fraîche and yogurt works really well. I even tried fat free salad dressing once … But the classic version kept calling me back because it makes such an elegant delicious product.
Let’s call it the olive oil dilemma. The cook in me says enjoy the salad! Just be careful the cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is what the label says it is. The dietitian in me says maybe it is not quite that simple. The nutrient benefit is significant. The three fat sources in question come from “good” fats and other options are out there. I can run the numbers again adding bread with the meal or fruit and yogurt after the meal. I can manage the impact over the day and plan according. The dietician in me also knows that nutrition research is ongoing so I can continue to scan the literature for new perspectives on total fat in the diet and the value of good fats …
This summer I went classic and kept an eye on my daily calorie count. And with summer coming to an end, I will not have to wrestle with the dilemma again until next year.
Nutrition Facts per ½ cup serving* (g): Calories 160, Fat 12g, Saturated Fat 1.5g, Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 10mg, Sodium 180mg, Carbohydrate 7g, Fiber 3g, Protein 7g. Vitamin A 30%, Vitamin C 15%, Calcium 2%, Iron 6%. Excellent Source vitamin A, vitamin B12. Good Source vitamin C, protein, fiber, niacin, folate. Natural Source omega-3 fatty acids.
*Serving sizes are reference amounts defined and regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.