Make some of these health-conscious decisions this Thanksgiving to keep your Turkey Day a happy day.

Healthy Choice 1: Practice food safety by preventing cross-contamination

With many dishes cooking at once and the big turkey to handle, there are many opportunities for cross-contamination to occur on Thanksgiving. Cross-contamination is the spread of detrimental bacteria from one surface or food-source to another. Two of the most common bacterial agents from raw meat and poultry include Salmonella and Clostridium Perfringens, which can result in some pretty nasty symptoms.

Here are a few tips to reduce the spread of harmful bacteria when you cook your turkey:

Designate separate plates, utensils, and cutting boards when preparing raw meat, poultry and seafood and fresh or cooked food.

Separate prep-ware which has held raw meat and poultry for washing. Clean and sanitize them in between uses in hot, soapy water or the dishwasher.

Keep paper-towels and sanitizer wipes nearby. Using towels and rags for hand and counter wiping can easily spread bacteria if you have handled raw meat and poultry.

Wash hands frequently, especially after handling the turkey or other meat. Try a touchless soap dispenser to make it easy to keep hands clean and prevent recontamination from the top of the soap dispenser. Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water.

Use one utensil to taste and another to stir or mix food to prevent the spread of germs.

Do not wash your turkey. Bacteria present inside and outside the turkey can only be killed via the cooking process and washing the turkey may spread bacteria around the sink area.

Cook to proper temperatures to avoid foodborne illness. Turkey should reach an internal temperature of 165 F at the thickest portion of the breast and inner portion of the thigh and wing. The same temperature counts for stuffing inside the bird!

Healthy Choice 2: Lighten up your side dishes

The turkey is the main event and as a lean source of protein, it is OK to gobble it up! However, we know our Thanksgiving plates are filled with much more than just “The Bird”. For those following a heart-healthy diet and/or watching their weight, it’s a good idea to lighten up those side dishes.

Here are some tips on how to reduce excess fat, calories, and salt in your side-dishes while preserving taste and satisfaction:

Reduce and/or replace fats: Traditional Thanksgiving recipes contain large amounts of butter, milkfat, oil, and lard. Adding additional spices/seasoning, reduced-fat milk products, and plant-based buttery spreads help to enhance the flavor and retain creamy texture without all the saturated fat and calories.

Add complex flavor without fat by using an array of herbs and spices in your side dishes. Roasted garlic in mashed potatoes, Thanksgiving herbs like sage and dill or good old onions give side dishes like green-bean casserole and stuffing more flavor so you won’t miss the fat. Same goes for the sweet side dishes. Add plenty of cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla extract instead of extra butter and sugar.

Substitute with plant-based buttery spreads such as Benecol and Promise which are high in heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats as compared to butter and still have a delicious buttery taste!

Use reduced-fat dairy in cooking and baking. This is an easy swap because reduced-fat dairy still imparts the texture and mouthfeel of full-fat milk or cream, just with less (saturated) fat. Fat-free milk tends to be watery, making soups and sauces difficult, but 1 percent provides just enough milkfat to hold up in cooking.

Reduce oil in cooking/baking: When sautéing, use just enough to coat the pan (1-2 teaspoons), an oil-mist device, or cooking spray. Misting devices and sprays allow nice even pan coverage and far less oil used. In Baking, use oil/fat substitutes such as applesauce which helps give moisture to baked goods while slashing fat and calories.

Reduce sodium: From the turkey to the side dishes, the Thanksgiving meal can be packed with sodium. For those watching their sodium intake and/or following a heart-healthy diet, reducing added salt in cooking is important.

Use low-sodium canned/pre-made products. From chicken-broth to canned soup bases, sodium content can be excessive. Most brands offer reduced and low-sodium options. If possible, choose low-sodium, which has more stringent guidelines on how much sodium the product contains vs. reduced-sodium.

Use extra herbs and spices and salt-free seasoning blends to add complex flavor and color. Here is a recipe from the Dunn County ADRC which has recently been utilized in the Healthy Hands Cooking class with rave reviews!

Visit foodsafety.wisc.edu, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service & Eatright.org websites for further information on Food Safety and Nutrition.

Caroline Fox is a Dietetic Intern with the University of Wisconsin-Stout currently in her rotation for Public Health with the Aging and Disability Resource Center and UW-Extension of Dunn County.

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Dunn County News Editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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