Thanksgiving dinner made healthier and less stressful

Trainer Maciej ‘Magic’ Pawilkowski and his daughter Liliana preparing food together.

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner can be stressful. I want to have enough for my guests, but I don’t like a lot of unhealthy leftovers that I will invariably eat. Serving healthy dishes is fine, but if they don’t taste good, why bother? Plus, I’m always rushing to put so many things together that it’s hard to enjoy the company. So I consulted with some professional caterers and nutritionists to build this Thanksgiving Checklist.

When you’re putting together the menu, you don’t need to include an endless buffet of options. People like to sample a little of everything. But, the more choices you give them, the more likely they are to overeat. A few top-notch dishes are better than a bunch of mediocre ones.

Pick things that you know will be enjoyed. That doesn’t mean you only have to serve items high in fat, sugar and salt. You can find lots of healthy and tasty options at http://www.WeCookFit.com. If you’re planning on something new, cook it before the big day and see if it’s something you’ll enjoy. Don’t experiment with new recipes when you have a houseful of guests coming.

Cooking what you can ahead of time to reduce stress. You can make gravy, rolls, cranberry sauce and pies a day or two in advance, then put them in the refrigerator or freezer until Thanksgiving.

Don’t ignore the options supermarkets offer. Most have large sections devoted to sides, desserts and rolls. Many even have several versions of each item so that you can choose between things like regular or cornbread stuffing. You can buy a single slice of dessert so each person can get exactly what they want. Not only will these save you time, but you’ll avoid being tempted by leftovers.

Give yourself plenty of time to thaw the turkey. It takes about 24 hours in the refrigerator to thaw four pounds of turkey. That means a 16-pound turkey will take at least four days. As long as it stays in the fridge until you’re ready to cook it, having it thawed a day early isn’t a problem.

Appetizers will vary depending on when you’re serving dinner and how long people will be waiting. If you’re eating early, you’ll need less. Typically you should make six-eight appetizer bites per guest, per hour until dinner.

To save time, look for things that don’t require a lot of hands-on preparation. A crock pot of mini meatballs is delicious, but it can take a while to make. Think about things you can scoop like Texas caviar or hummus with pita bread and vegetables.

Here’s how to figure out how much you’ll need per person. Take the serving sizes that follow and multiply them based on how many guests you’re having.

Soup or salad before

Green salad — 1 cup

Soup — 1 to 1 1/2 cups

Entrees

Turkey, chicken or duck already cut and boneless — 1/2 pound per person

With bones — 3/4 to 1 pound per person

A whole turkey, chicken or duck — 1 1/2 pounds per person

Additional meat like ham or brisket — 3 ounces per person

Sides

Rice, grains or pasta — 1/2 cup cooked

Stuffing — 3/4 to 1 cup

Potatoes — 2/3 cup

Gravy — 1/3 cup

Vegetable sides — 3 to 4 ounces of each side

Corn on the cob — 1 ear

Cranberry Sauce — 1/4 cup

Pie — 1/6 of a 9-inch pie.

Bread — 2 rolls or 2 slices per person.

If you’re deliberately trying to have extra for leftovers, add one person for each leftover meal you want.

Once dinner is planned, shop early. Whatever you can buy in advance, do. Stores tend to run low the week of Thanksgiving, and the lines grow longer. While you’re there, pick up any extras you might need, like appetizer plates, cooking platters and to-go containers.

Make a schedule for the big day. Plan hour-by-hour what needs to be baked, boiled, arranged or moved. This will allow you to spot problems like conflicting oven temperatures or a shortage of burners on the stove.

Finally, remember you don’t have to do it alone. Memories are made when people do things together. Ask guests to bring some of the dishes and prepare others with the help of your family and friends.

Check with your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program. For a free consultation with a WeBeFit trainer, call 305-296-3434. Read articles online at http://www.webefit.com and get updates by following us on Facebook.