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updated: 11/21/2010 8:42 PM

Healthful recipes come to the Thanksgiving table

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  • Don Mauer

    Don Mauer


How times have changed.

In 1990, Thanksgiving made me uneasy.

Not about getting together with my family. No. That year I'd lost more than 100 pounds for the first time and Thanksgiving dinner triggered the start of a food-centric race running for the next six weeks. T-Day 1990 marked the single toughest meal I'd faced that year.

If such things as fat-free sour cream, cream cheese or mayonnaise existed 20 years ago, I wasn't aware of them. Without those now easy-to-find ingredients, that year's dips and chips delivered too much fat and way too many calories for a newly lean guy.

At that time, as a Lean Wizard-in-training, I had almost no idea how to turn overly rich mashed potatoes (whipping cream, sour cream and butter) and high-fat gravy (turkey fat) and stuffing (starts with a butter stick) into healthy and still-delicious meals.

My family loved the standard sweet potato casserole smothered with marshmallows and a Mauer family classic: green bean casserole (ours wasn't fried onion topped; we used sliced almonds and loaded the sauce with Swiss cheese).

Nor was brining on my lean radar either, so roasted turkey breast slices ended up dry and the turkey's moist dark meat moist because of it's fat didn't make it to my dinner plate.

Standard Thanksgiving desserts like pumpkin pie and pecan pie topped with premium ice cream didn't work for me either. I'd take a small bite and walk away.

No mystery that 1990 Thanksgiving feast, as well as other holiday meals that year, required strong will power and denial of some items if I wanted to keep the weight off.

Today's a happier and tastier story. Since the '90s I've learned how to make almost every part of that Thanksgiving dinner lower in calories and fat without sacrificing great taste.

I've created dips that use a blend of fat-free and reduced-fat cream cheese and sour cream along with reduced-fat mayonnaise to make celebration-starting dips that taste so close to the original that most folks cannot tell the difference. For those dips I bake my own warm corn tortilla chips or lay out a platter of colorful and fat-free vegetables.

I've learned that brining a never-been-frozen, free-range, bone-in turkey breast creates succulent meat and you don't have to worry about overcooking the breast to ensure the legs are cooked through.

Cornflakes add an almond-like crunch with just a bit of fat to my green bean casserole and few guests notice that I use fat-free Swiss cheese. I pass on mashed potatoes and that cloying sweet potato casserole and bake a sweet potato casserole that's colorful, big on flavor and delivers less than four fat grams per generous serving.

By using Butter Buds (no artificial flavor; made from real butter) blended with a rich chicken stock my herb stuffing (whole wheat bread cubes) couldn't be more flavorful or leaner. I eschew the roux and thicken my turkey gravy with cornstarch.

I've never found a way to duplicate pecan pie's smooth texture and rich flavor (those pecans deliver too much fat and the filling too much sugar). but I have slimmed down pumpkin pie with fat-free evaporated milk and a reduced-fat graham cracker crust.

Times have truly changed and now I couldn't be more pleased with T-Day dinner and just relax and enjoy my family and the meal.

This is my new lower-calorie, lower-fat take on sweet potato casserole. I use "real" maple syrup (Grade B has more flavor than Grade A) not "breakfast" syrup for its great flavor without being overly sweet. I'm thankful for it and hope you will be to.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at