When it comes to the holidays, sticking to your low-carb diet can be rough. The holidays are filled with tempting, luscious desserts, sugary treats, and comforting side dishes that mama always made. The good news is that both turkey and ham are low-carb goodies that you don't have to give up, except for the sugary glazes and carby brines, so coming up with a healthy Thanksgiving menu or some really good Thanksgiving side dishes and ideas isn't difficult. It just takes a little bit of planning.
If Thanksgiving isn't going to be at your house, that isn't hard either. All you have to do is take a couple of low-carb side dishes with you, and maybe share a super-good sugar-free dessert. Alternatively, especially for those who have to eat gluten free, you can simply cook your Thanksgiving dinner at home and then take a plate with you. There is always a way to make it work, so don't despair. Low-carb doesn't mean misery. You just have to be a little creative and be willing to start new holiday traditions.
Take Thanksgiving Day Off? Not So Fast!
There are lots of low-carb dieters that take Thanksgiving off. They help themselves to a large serving of turkey or ham, fill a third of their plate with salad, and then take very small servings of the sugary sweet potatoes with marshmallows, grandma's green bean casserole, that fruit-salad fluff stuff that mom always makes, and maybe just one of Aunt Jesse's homemade rolls. They can even stop at half a serving of pumpkin pie with a squirt of whipped cream, and be right back on their low-carb diet the following morning completely satisfied.
But not everyone has that type of control. And not everyone can eat like that even for just one meal and not make themselves sick for a couple of days. Lots of people are sensitive or allergic to wheat and don't know it, so it only shows up when they go off plan.
For many people even a single bite of pie or turkey stuffing can get the wheels of craving moving so quickly that before they know it, they've gone face down into the mashed potatoes and gravy and only come up for air after polishing off a second piece of Pecan Pie. Still others find it easy to make excuses about returning to their low-carb diet plan the following morning. A week later, after polishing off all of the Thanksgiving leftovers, they find themselves chowing down on chocolate chip cookies and Salsa Verde Doritos.
Why beat yourself up for going off plan and ruin all your hard work when it's so easy to come up with tasty low-carb Thanksgiving side dishes that will help you continue moving toward your weight loss goals? Low-carb options for Thanksgiving don't have to be dreary and boring. Save those plain steamed vegetables for those crazy nights when dinner is late and you need a quick meal. There is no need to feel deprived if you take the time to think ahead.
Let's Talk Appetizers
Traditionally, a Thanksgiving table contains a lot of finger foods: crackers with spreads, raw vegetable platters with homemade Ranch Dressing, potato chips and dip, olives, pickles, and a bunch of other goodies. Platters can be made low-carb with a little pre-prep and know-how. In a previous blog post, Low-Carb Superbowl Goodies, I explained how to make your own dips, spreads, and cheeseballs, as well as provided links where you can find recipes for almond-nut crackers, cheese crackers, and homemade salsa.
And while you're there, don't forget to check out the list of extra Superbowl ideas, as some of them such as stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, cold shrimp, and even jalapeno poppers would be great to add to your Thanksgiving table. Although ham and turkey usually play center stage, there's no rule that says they have to. Meatballs, spicy chicken wings, cheese cubes, and even hot dog chunks wrapped in bacon and broiled can beef up your holiday table and turn it into something special.
What About the Main Dish?
Hubby wants to try and smoke a medium-sized turkey this year in the smoker, so that's what we are going to do, but you can easily roast up a turkey, ham, beef roast, or pork loin in the oven without a lot of fuss. A turkey bag will work to keep both a turkey or ham nice and juicy. Just follow directions on the box of bags. If you don't want to use a bag, just simply roast the turkey, ham, beef or pork roast underneath a tent of foil. It works beautifully for almost any type of meat. If you enjoy crispy skin, just remove the foil for the last hour.
Since both hubby and I are gluten-free, Thanksgiving is always held at our house, but company rarely shows up, so a smaller turkey will be more than big enough for the two of us. Other years, we've simply roasted up a couple of game hens instead. A turkey breast thrown into the crock pot would also make a nice Thanksgiving main dish for two. If you're feeding a crowd though, you'll want to plan about half a pound of turkey or ham per person. That will give you plenty of leftovers for salads and lunches throughout the week.
Traditional Thanksgiving Side Dishes Low-Carb Style
Low-Carb Gravy: If you like a bit of gravy over your turkey, low-carb gravy isn't difficult to make, thanks to the thickening power of cream cheese. Just put a cup of chicken broth into a small saucepan, and add 4-ounces of cream cheese chopped up, so it will melt easier. Heat the broth, stirring constantly, until the cheese is melted, and the broth is creamy. Season the gravy with poultry seasoning, sage, basil, and whatever herbs and spices you like. The gravy will thicken as it simmers, but if you don't want to reduce the volume and it isn't as thick as you would like, you can always add a pinch of xanthan gum or guar gum to make it thicker. But be careful. Too much vegetable gum will ruin the gravy. Don't add more than a pinch. For a special touch, add some sauteed mushrooms to the sauce.
Low-Carb Turkey Stuffing: We are not stuffing folks. Never were, even before going low-carb. I did experiment once with using crushed pork rinds to make a stuffing, but it didn't turn out well, and I finally decided that trying to copy the diet that got me fat in the first place really wasn't a good idea. Nothing compares to the original, and you're more likely to cheat or go off plan when you start feeling deprived. I found it better to just come up with new holiday traditions rather than trying to copy what was. However, if you live in an area where you can get your hands on low-carb bread, here's a recipe for low-carb turkey stuffing that supposedly tastes like the real thing.
Fake Mashed Potatoes: The same thing goes for low-carb mashed potatoes. A lot of low-carb folks use cauliflower to imitate the texture of the mashed potatoes, but I've never been interested in doing that. Not after trying to make a fake potato salad using cauliflower. It didn't taste like potato salad at all. My taste buds could tell the difference and my mind wasn't very happy. But for those who want to give mashed cauliflower a try, you can watch how to do it in the following video:
Pumpkin Casserole: This is my one exception to imitating old Thanksgiving stand-bys. We really, really like this casserole, which imitates a sweet potato casserole I used to make before going low-carb. I've heard that you can add a small sweet potato to the pumpkin and it will give the dish a sweet potato taste and texture, but I've never tried that. You can find the recipe in our archives: Low-Carb Thanksgiving Pumpkin Casserole.
Low-Carb Cranberry Sauce: Cranberry sauce is super easy to make yourself. That allows you to control the type of sugar substitute you use, as well as the quantity. A typical recipe calls for a bag of fresh, whole cranberries, 2 cups of sugar, and a cup of water. The sugar can easily be substituted with Erythritol, Splenda, or a combination of both. I've made it both ways, and both ways came out good. I've also done it with all Spenda, but it loses its traditional sticky goodness without the sugar alcohol. I have never tried this with Stevia, but there's no reason why it wouldn't work. In addition, I always add Christmas spices to my cranberry sauce: cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and cloves. Pumpkin pie spices or apple pie spices would also work.
Green Bean Casserole: Traditionally, green bean casserole is simply 2 cans of well-drained french-cut green beans mixed with a can of cream of mushroom soup. The beans are then piled into a small casserole dish and topped with crushed, canned french-fried onion rings, and baked until bubbly. You can do the same thing using the low-carb gravy recipe above. Just use 1/2 cup of chicken broth to the 4-ounces of cream cheese. Add some minced mushrooms and dried minced onions to the gravy, and top the casserole with some crumbled pork rinds rather than canned onions.
Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Side Dishes
Asparagus with Cheese Sauce: This is hubby's favorite vegetable side dish. He asks for it every Thanksgiving. I simply steam the asparagus in our steamer and then make a low-carb cheese sauce to ladle over the top. To make the cheese sauce, melt about 1/2 cube butter in a skillet. Once melted, add 4-ounces of chopped cream cheese. Stir and mash the cheese, until the cheese is hot. It won't melt all the way. Add 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Stir and cook the sauce until the cream cheese is completely melted. At this point, you can add a cup of whatever cheese you like. Parmesan will turn this into alfredo and a sharp cheddar will make a nice yellow sauce. Six to 8 slices of real American cheese (the kind that doesn't come individually wrapped) makes a smooth, traditional cheese sauce. You can kick this up a notch by adding some bacon bits and using some bacon grease to replace part of the butter.
Green Beans with Bacon and Mushrooms: I hardly ever make green bean casserole for Thanksgiving anymore. If asparagus isn't available, I'm more likely to fry up some bacon chunks, sliced mushrooms, and some chopped onions in a skillet. Once well cooked, add a couple cans of well-drained regular cut green beans to the skillet. I toss the beans as the beans heat up. A bit of chopped tomato is also nice in this.
Tangerine-Walnut Coleslaw: I normally don't serve a lettuce salad for Thanksgiving, since we eat a lot of salad throughout the year. If the weather is warm, I'm more likely to make coleslaw instead. This Tangerine-Walnut Coleslaw from our archives is really, really good. You can sub the walnuts for any type of nuts you like. Hubby prefers pecans. The little cutie tangerines are about 8 net carbs for a large tangerine. I've also made this recipe with an orange, when the cutie tangerines were not available, but the carbs are a bit higher. Dried unsweetened cranberries and a few sunflower seeds would also add a nice touch.
Low-Carb Spinach Pie: This is an extra special vegetable pie from our archives that's made with mushrooms, eggs, and cream cheese, and then baked in a pie plate without a shell. Originally, the Low-Carb Spinach Pie recipe called for sliced tomatoes on top of the pie, and Parmesan cheese, but I usually don't add the sliced tomatoes anymore. Some grated cheese on the top makes an excellent presentation, though, especially Parmesan cheese, as it browns nicely and adds a great flavor.
Low-Carb Thanksgiving Desserts
Low-Carb Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie: If you're not allergic to wheat, carbolose flour makes a super easy, good tasting low-carb pie crust. You just toss all of the ingredients together and pat the crust into the deep dish pie plate. I was really surprised when I tried it. There was no after taste at all, probably because of the pie filling. I just used a traditional pumpkin pie recipe with the carbolose crust, the recipe available on the back of the Libby's pumpkin can, but used sugar substitute for the sugar and 1/2 cup of heavy cream instead of the can of evaporated milk.
Low-Carb Pumpkin Custard: If you are sensitive to wheat, you can bake a pumpkin pie in a pie plate without the crust. Make sure that you butter the pie plate well, so the custard doesn't stick, and use the alternative instructions above with the recipe on the back of the Libby's pumpkin can.
Low-Carb Chocolate Cake: Pumpkin desserts are traditional for Thanksgiving, but back before I knew I had celiac disease, I used to make this Low-Carb Chocolate-Mayonnaise Pound Cake for special occasions. It does call for several specialty ingredients though, and needs to be made a day ahead in order for the moisture to redistribute itself throughout the cake. I have not tried to make this without the vital wheat gluten, as its the gluten that makes this recipe rise up like a traditional chocolate cake. Splenda quick pack is no longer available, but was equal to 1 cup bulk Splenda. The bulk Splenda will be higher in carbs, so the little packets might be a better choice.
Creamy Pumpkin Pudding Pie: This can be used with an almond or almond-coconut pie crust or simply served in fancy glasses as a pudding. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup mashed pumpkin, a small package of instant sugar-free vanilla or pumpkin pudding mix, and 8-ounces of cream cheese. Beat well. Adjust thickness with extra heavy cream if needed. Pile into a low-carb nut crust or fancy glasses and chill. To make a nut crust, combine 1-1/2 cups of ground almonds, 2 tbsp bulk Splenda, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 egg white. Carefully stir the mixture until the almonds are well coated with the egg. Press into pie plate and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. For a nut-coconut crust, simple substitute 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut for 1/2 cup grounds nuts.
Keep Holidays Special
The holidays are a special time to spend with family and friends, but don't let the social occasion spoil everything you've accomplished over the past year. Thanksgiving is a time to look at your life and find gratitude for your blessings. And health is certainly one of the blessings that sticking to your low-carb diet can provide. If you have insulin resistance, diabetes, cholesterol problems, or metabolic syndrome, seeking out low-carb recipes that you can use for social occasions rather than chucking your diet and eating whatever is available is essential to making your new lifestyle work.
Don't short-change yourself. Plan ahead and make your Thanksgiving Dinner the best it can be.