Six Simple Steps for a REAL FOOD Thanksgiving

Where are you in your journey to eat REAL FOOD? It can be overwhelming to make changes in what you eat, and that’s especially true on holidays like Thanksgiving when you’re entertaining friends and family. So if you’re new to eating less processed foods, what are some simple ways to improve your Thanksgiving meal? Here’s my list of six easy steps you can take to walk away from processed food and towards REAL FOOD that’s better for you and our planet:

1. Let’s talk turkey:  The turkey is the centerpiece of most Thanksgiving meals, yet it’s also very symbolic of what’s wrong with the industrialized food world. Raised inhumanely in confinement on factory farms, the modern day turkey dines on GMO corn, supplements, and antibiotics vs. the grasses, grubs, and insects they thrive on in the wild. To make matters worse, turkeys like your classic Butterball are injected with saline solutions, sodium phosphates, and other “natural flavorings” (if you’ve read my series called “All Natural … Really?”, you’ll know better than to feel good about these natural flavorings). In fact, today’s industrialized turkeys are so bastardized that they can’t even reproduce. Is something wrong with this picture? Yes!  This year, find a local farmer and look for a heritage, organic, or sustainable turkey. And please remember–be prepared to change how you cook your turkey–heritage birds are smaller, leaner, and just different (thank goodness) from the turkey you used to get. So here are some heritage turkey cooking tips from LocalHarvest as well as a Rosemary Maple Butter Turkey recipe.

2. Can the cans: Emptying your recycling bin after Thanksgiving often sounds like the bride and groom’s car driving off after their wedding. Yes, lots of canned food goes into most Thanksgiving meals. But recent research conducted by the Breast Cancer Fund found that nearly half of the Thanksgiving canned staples tested had comparable BPA levels as those in past studies where BPA levels have been “linked to adverse health effects.” [Grist: Your Canned Thanksgiving staples are full of BPA] So kick the cans to the curb. Believe it or not, substituting fresh, unprocessed ingredients isn’t that hard.

Cranberry Relish: I ditched the jellied stuff in a can years ago, but I’m looking forward to trying something new. I just found this recipe on Homemade Mommy for a fermented spicy cranberry relish that sounds wonderful.

Sweet Potatoes: Honestly, you don’t need the cans nor the marshmallows to make delicious sweet potato side dish. I made this Balsamic-Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Butternut Squash recipe a couple years ago, and I’m definitely making it again.

Pumpkin Pie: Here’s a link for die-hard pumpkin pie fans on how to make your own pumpkin puree. I use organic pumpkins from my CSA to make the puree. And if you’re looking for a great, Pumpkin Pie recipe, check this one out from Carrie Vitt at Deliciously Organic.

3. Mashed Potatoes: With claims that they “taste as good as homemade,” boxed potatoes have been a modern-day timesaver. But is this processed food tradeoff really worth it? Filled with GMO ingredients like maltodextrin, soybean oils, BHT, and other ingredients that read more like a lab experiment, I’ll stick with my homemade mashed potatoes.

If you’re ready to give homemade a try and don’t have a recipe, here’s a simple one that will make your entire family happy: Boil water and add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and if you like garlic (1-2 cloves, minced). Add 3 lbs. of gold, organic potatoes, quartered (I prefer unpeeled, but my son still likes peeled better). Cook about 15-20 minutes until tender. Drain, cool for 5-10 minutes, then rice the potatoes into a large saucepan and add 10 T. organic half and half, 4 T. organic butter and mix over low heat. Add  more milk or half and half until you get the consistency you prefer. Salt & pepper to taste. Enjoy!

4. Stuffing: Pepperidge Farms stuffing has been a Thanksgiving staple in my family’s house as long as I can remember. But did you know it contains High Fructose Corn Syrup, LOTS of sodium, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and other GMO ingredients? I know better these days. Making your own homemade bread for stuffing may be out of reach for many cooks, but there are organic options like Whole Foods 365 Stuffing Mix. And if you’re looking to do something really special, then check out this Chestnut and Prosciutto Bread Stuffing recipe by Lisa Leake at 100 Days of Real Food.

5. Green Bean Casserole: Okay, for many families this may seem like heresy, but why not skip this Thanksgiving classic and replace it with a REAL vegetable like green beans or brussels sprouts? I’ll give you two good reasons to reconsider. One 3/4 cup serving of this casserole concoction has 9g of fat and 530mg of sodium. And when’s the last time you ate just 3/4 of a cup or green bean casserole? So try this simple green bean recipe: Boil water in a large saucepan. Drop in 2 pint of green beans that have been trimmed. Cook for about 5 minutes or until beans are tender (but still bright green–don’t overcook). Remove, drain, squeeze juice from half a lemon (or to your taste), grind some fresh pepper over the top, and add butter and salt to taste. If you’re out of lemon, use some balsamic vinegar. And, if you want to make it look fancier, brown some sliced almonds and put them on top.

6. Butter: Ahh… sweet creamy butter. It’s another Thanksgiving staple that’s used as an ingredient in almost everything you cook. But did you know your supposedly real, “all natural” butter is most likely made with rBGH cream? Don’t know about rBGH yet? You can learn more about it here. Basically it’s a hormone used by the dairy industry to increase milk production. The US is now the only developed nation that allows its citizens to consume milk made with artificial growth hormones. Land O’Lakes and most store brand butters contain rBGH. So make a simple switch and choose organic butter instead–and if you can find grass-fed organic butter, that’s even better!

Take one of these steps or take all six…the important thing is to keep making progress on your journey to eating REAL FOOD. I know I’m still learning on my REAL FOOD journey, so I’d love to hear your ideas for making Thanksgiving just a little better.

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This Thanksgiving post was originally published on November 16, 2011. I’ve updated it a bit with some new recipes and links. Hope it helps you out!

I’ve also added some new Thanksgiving posts including:

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. organiceater

    LOVED this! Thank you so much and I’m sharing with my readers!!!!!

    1. Bruce Bradley

      Thanks! Glad you liked it, and thanks for sharing.

      Have a great Thanksgiving!


  2. organiceater

    PS: I’m from Charlotte, so I appreciate your college education as well!!:) go BlueDevils!

    1. Bruce Bradley

      Very nice. After college I lived in Charlotte for several years. I loved it! I definitely miss the long fall and spring seasons. Here in MN, fall and spring can zoom by in just a couple weeks (although this year we’ve had a long, nice fall).

      Thanks again for stopping by!


  3. Stephanie P

    Very helpful info. We are getting better every year. This year we found a very small farm and got our turkey there. Very different from the store bought. It does not have yellow tint to it like store bought.

    1. Bruce Bradley

      Good for you, Stephanie. Small steps is what it takes. Just think of all the progress you’ve made. Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  4. Laura

    It wasn’t until I moved to the UK that I realized how much we cook from cans in the US. This year not a single food from a can or a box will be hitting our table. We will be introducing the UK tradition of having lots of roasted root vegetables and brussel sprouts. I will be making a green bean casserole but mine is completely from scratch even down to the fried onions. 🙂 Turkey isn’t very commonly raised locally so we had to resort to a free-range organic turkey from the store.

  5. Melissa French

    These are very helpful tips for making a real food meal for the holidays. I linked to this post in my thrifty Thanksgiving post. Thanks!

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