Diverse and healthy Thanksgiving foods

Tara AbrishamiFor me and for all foodies, I suspect, Thanksgiving is a uniquely exciting holiday.

Almost all holidays are accompanied by excellent food, but Thanksgiving basically revolves around it. Thanksgiving dinner is something familiar to every American. Turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie are the quintessential Thanksgiving dinner and probably the closest thing to real “American food” there is. But I wonder how many Thanksgiving dinners actually resemble this lofty standard?

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Kelly Garbato/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 In the South, baked macaroni and cheese is popular on Thanksgiving.

As a vegetarian the answer is none. And I suspect that there are others with a similar dilemma: people who don’t like turkey, perhaps, or those who prefer chocolate cake to the more seasonal pumpkin or apple pie. Thanksgiving is so unilaterally linked to the foods we associate with it that even suggesting change is weird. But Thanksgiving dinner is ready for a little diversity.

A quick search proved that, thanks to how elaborate the holiday meal tends to be, a fair amount of diversity actually already exists. Apparently, sauerkraut is a common Thanksgiving meal addition in Baltimore, and baked macaroni and cheese is popular in the South. Even things like hominy and chitterlings, neither of which I have ever even heard of, appear in Thanksgiving dinner in various regions. (Chitterlings are the small intestines of a pig. No wonder I hadn’t heard of them.)

After being distracted by how Wikipedia knows so much about food, I realized how interesting it is that traditional Thanksgiving meals have developed regionally. Thanksgiving is about bringing neighbors, friends and families together, so Thanksgiving meals should naturally be shaped by those closest to us.

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Kelly Garbato/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 In the South, baked macaroni and cheese is popular on Thanksgiving.

Therefore, I challenge you to approach this Thanksgiving in a new light. Instead of focusing on eating, focus on cooking. Even if you’re not a cook, stretch yourself a little and try it out for the one meal. Invite a family member or friend to join you and make a dish you don’t normally have on Thanksgiving. If you want to be especially creative, try a vegetarian dish. It’s not as hard as you might think, and I can swear to their deliciousness!

Sweet potato lasagna is one of my personal favorites.

Try to pay attention not just to what you’re eating, but where it comes from. If you don’t already, make your cranberry sauce from scratch. Canned cranberry sauce has lots of added sugar, so yours will almost definitely be healthier. And won’t it be so much more satisfying knowing you made it yourself?

One of the most important historical parts to Thanksgiving is celebrating the harvest. The cultural norm of eating seasonally has drastically decreased in recent years, but eating seasonally is a great thing to do for your health and for the environment. Seasonal eating helps ensure that you consume a variety of nutrients and can also help reduce the amount of artificial ripening and transportation the food undergoes.

With that in mind, the fruits and vegetables in season for the Baltimore area this Thanksgiving are apples, sweet potatoes, kale, parsnips, potatoes, rutabaga, pumpkin, winter squash, turnips, collard greens, onions, radishes, spinach, leeks, pears, broccoli and fennel. If you’re up for the challenge — and I encourage you to be bold and creative — choose your new dish this year to incorporate only seasonal produce. It doesn’t even have to be overwhelming or complicated. One thing I’m looking forward to trying this Thanksgiving is making apple cider, which is seasonal!

Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with your loved ones, relax and give thanks for whatever it is you’re thankful for. It’s also a great opportunity to appreciate the food that we all ultimately depend on. So this Thanksgiving, make it about the food, for the right reasons.

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