Each year it seems I’m facing down the Thanksgiving Turkey as though we are in a Mexican standoff.
And I don’t even eat land animals anymore.
I grew up with Thanksgiving feasts that fed more than thirty people. There were four kinds of potatoes, six kinds of meats, numerous stewed vegetables of every shape, color and name, all cooked to their appropriate level of mush and seasoned with more meat. Homemade rolls, loaves of bread and spongy sweet breads were sprinkled around the table, not to mention the traditional stuffing and the richly baked macaroni and cheese. Ruby red beets glistened in sauce and Jello salads twinkled in their cut glass bowls.
Then there was dessert. My favorite part.
Heirloom fudge, peanut butter candies and pecan-topped cookies preceded the meal, cakes and pies followed it. And as a special treat, Grandma’s homemade custard was gently served warm in small bowls to everyone at the table.
If you’re not salivating right now, then you might want to check your pulse.
Curing Resplendent Rockwellian Epicurianism
That said, our Brilliant Weight Watchers Leader Bobbi suggested that we might want to just consider the Points Plus values of our holiday table choices – in case, you know, we might eat all that stuff on a non-holiday-day.
It’s a fun little game. Pin the Points on the Plate. Here’s how to play.
Get yourself one of those old fashioned white paper plates – you know, the really thin kind with the scalloped edges that you have to put a single scoop of something in the center then gingerly roll it like a taco for it to hold up long enough to eat the single scoop of something you put on it.
Got it? Good. Now grab a pencil or a pen. Imagine your holiday table in front of you – or your Mom’s holiday table or Aunt Doris’s or Sweet Janine down the street or Cousin Tom. Wherever you’re going to be this year.
Got the image of the table? Good!
Start drawing on your plate (and labeling, if you’re an artist like me) all the yummy things you plan to enjoy. A spoonful of dressing, a scoop of mashed potatoes with gravy, green bean casserole, of course some of Mom’s baked macaroni and cheese (because when are you going to see that again?). If you feel like guesstimating how much you’re putting on the plate, feel free. If you expect to get seconds of anything (because really… just one homemade roll? Please!), just note “x 2” next to the label or in the center of your artistic rendition of feast essentials.
One last thing – write around the edge of the plate dessert(s) you expect to enjoy and anything you plan to drink that has calorie/ point values. Wine, beer, egg nog, soda, sweet tea, etc.
Got it? Hungry yet? Excellent!
Now turn the plate over. This is where the fun really begins.
Alrighty then! Make a little chart on the back of your plate that looks like this:
Made your list? Checked it twice?
Now hold your breath. We’re about to jump down the rabbit hole.
I made my list based on my childhood Thanksgiving table because, although we may be a much smaller group at Thanksgiving these days, it’s that farm table feast that truly feels traditional to me. Given free reign and no food awareness, here are the choices I would make:
In case you were tabulating, that works out to somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 to 130 points.
For. One. Meal.
That’s over four days of my daily point allotment.
Strategies for the Holiday Table
There are a few ways that I’ve tried navigating the holiday table, to various levels of success.
(1) BYOF – Bring Your Own Feast – If I’m dining at someone else’s house, I have tried to bring a few things that will help me round out my plate without further rounding out my thighs. These offerings have included veggie or fruit trays, faux cobbler, roasted mashed cauliflower and garlic green beans. My aim is to have at least one or two high fiber, low calorie options that can help me get full without diving eyeball deep into the bread basket. That said, be sure to always ASK before you show up at someone’s house with food. Holiday traditions come with all kinds of unspoken rules, so if there’s a taboo on strawberries at Thanksgiving, you’ll want to avoid crossing those lines.
(2) Holiday at Your House – If the dinner is at your house, you get to set the menu – in theory. Try to offer a mix of lightened up favorites but don’t mess around too much with core traditional dishes. If your guests have had Grandma’s custard for the last 30 years and you try to serve up frozen Greek yogurt instead, your offering may not get the warm reception you hoped for. That said, you do get to add more veggies to the table and perhaps put a wee bit less butter in the mashed potatoes. Truly, no one will notice.
(3) Make Reservations for Dinner – One of the great values of eating out is that there are NO LEFTOVERS. While this will sadden turkey sandwich and cold dressing aficionados, it is a big help toward making sure that the holiday meal is confined to a meal vs. a weekend (or longer). It makes it easier to indulge if all the extras stay at the restaurant. Plus, no clean up!
(4) Pre-Track It and Enjoy It – Write down everything you plan to have at the holiday meal, including your desserts and drinks, just do it ahead of time. Pre-tracking lets you enjoy your planned indulgences AND it throws a red flag when you start to veer off course. The words, “I didn’t put that in my tracker,” will (hopefully) bounce around in your brain long enough for you to make a conscious choice about whether you really want that extra goodie. Maybe you’ll choose to swap it for something else, or you might decide that you really do want Aunt Ruth’s chocolate cake instead of an extra roll.
(5) Peruse and Be Picky Before You Plate – Decide what you really want before you put it on your plate. For me, once it’s on my plate, I’m going to eat it. I try to only add those things that are truly exquisite, once-a-year indulgences. Store bought bread and canned yams may have been made with love, but they weren’t made with love by Aunt Martha using Great-Grandma Sadie’s secret recipe.
(6) Big and Little – Have big servings of the lower-point items like roasted vegetables and jello fruit salad, then smaller spoonfuls of the richer items. Your plate will still be filling and Points-full, but it won’t be an avalanche. Also consider eating before you go to dinner. A big salad and some fruit before you sit down to the feast-i-licious table will mean you’re not sitting down ravenous and light-headed. You’re sitting down slightly hungry and making clear-headed decisions about exactly how much stuffing to pile on.
(7) One Meal, One Day, No Regrets – This, too, is an effective strategy, and it’s the one I’m using this year. I will enjoy everything I want at the Thanksgiving table, including dessert. I will not apologize for it one whit nor write down one thing. I will also NOT eat until I am uncomfortably full, or worse, to the point of pain. I will not clean my plate quickly so that I have room (on my plate) for seconds. I will enjoy sharing precious time together with my family, reminiscing and swapping stories of the years past.
I am also going to the gym in the morning and having my normal breakfast, because these anchors help me avoid going off into eat-everything-in-sight-it’s-all-allowed-la-la-land. My Mom and I plan to put together a photo journal after dinner, pulling pictures from through the years.
And of course, there’s always football to enjoy, whether you play it or watch it.
Thank You, Sarah Hale
Thanksgiving was made an official national holiday by President Lincoln in the middle of the Civil War, thanks to a campaign led by New Hampshire native and writer, Sarah Josepha Hale. Quite the successful writer and independent woman, Sarah Hale was extremely influential in her time.
It’s comforting and helpful to me to recall that her gift to us was time. Before becoming a national holiday, Thanksgiving was celebrated regionally on differing days. By declaring a national holiday, Thanksgiving came to be celebrated on the same day throughout the country.
Which means (hopefully) most of us have the day off from work and able to share a meal and a day (or portions thereof) with extended friends and family.
In our time-starved century, the gift of time is definitely worth celebrating. The feast is just table dressing.
Wishing you a most Awesomelicious Thanksgiving,