Preparing and eating safe and healthy Thanksgiving holiday meals

There’s nothing like Thanksgiving Day in America. There isn’t a better time of the year for gathering family, thanking God for his provision of life and bounty, and feasting on the best that tradition and family chefs provide.

As you prepare to gather friends and family, and as you personally prepare for perhaps the year’s largest meal, here are some tips for healthy and humane meal preparation, storage and leftovers, and an eaters’ guide.  Enjoy!

Healthy and humane meal preparation

  1. Choose a humanely raised turkey  

When shopping for a Thanksgiving turkey, look for these labels: “Pasture Raised,” “USDA Organic,” “American Humane Certified,” “Animal Welfare Approved” or “Certified Humane.” These labels indicate that animals were generally raised under more humane standards and were given access to sunlight, fresh air, and freedom of movement. They were also spared non-therapeutic antibiotics and growth-promoting hormones. Avoid misleading labels such as “Natural” or “Naturally Raised.” While “Naturally Raised” ensures animals were not given antibiotics or hormones, this claim does not require that the animals have freedom, fresh air or sunlight. The term “Natural” has no relevance to animal welfare, and merely indicates that the product was minimally processed and contains no dyes or preservatives.

2. Substitute high fat ingredients with lower-fat or fat-free ingredients.

3.  Choose food low in added chemicals and pollutants. Food can contain ingredients we don’t want to eat — from pesticides to hormones to artificial additives to food packaging chemicals. Some simple tips to cut the chemicals from Jane at EWG:

Buy organic when you can. I make sure fresh fruits and vegetables are on the menu, and I go organic when I can. Organic produce is grown without synthetic pesticides (I prefer my dinner without, thanks!). Organic meat and dairy products also limit your family’s exposure to growth hormones and antibiotics.

It’s OK to choose non-organic from less-contaminated conventional fruits and vegetables, too. These include:

  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Mangos
  • Sweet Peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe (Domestic)
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Honeydew Melon

Cook with fresh foods, not packaged and canned, whenever you can. Food containers can leach packaging chemicals into food, including food can linings that leach the synthetic estrogen bisphenol A into food. Instead, head for fresh food or prepared foods in glass containers. Pick recipes that call for fresh, not canned, foods.

4. Use Non-Toxic Cookware

Using a great pan makes a huge difference. Avoid the non-stick variety so you and your family don’t don’t have to breathe toxic fumes that can emit from non-stick pans on high heat.  Non-stick cookware is in most American kitchens. Is it in yours?

For safer cooking, use cast iron, stainless steel, and oven-safe glass. Yes, there are many new products on the market, but most companies won’t tell you exactly what they are. Even if they’re advertised as “green” or “not non-stick,” manufacturers do not have to release their safety data to the public.

Cook safer with non-stick if you’re ‘stuck’ with it. You can reduce the possibility of toxic fumes by cooking smart with any non-stick cookware you happen to own: never heat an empty pan, especially at high heat, don’t put it in an oven hotter than 500 degrees F, and use an exhaust fan over the stove.

Healthy Storage and Leftovers

  1. Leftover Turkey? Instead of turkey sandwiches, use the leftover turkey to make a pot of soup with fresh chunky vegetables
  2. Store And Reheat Leftovers Safely. Leftovers can extend the joy of a holiday — by giving you a break from the kitchen! But be sure to avoid plastic when storing and (especially) when heating them. Here’s why — and how:

  • Skip the plastic food storage containers if you can. The chemical additives in plastic can migrate into food and liquids. Ceramic or glass food containers (like Pyrex) are safer.
  • Don’t microwave food or drinks in plastic containers, even if they claim to be “microwave safe.” Heat can release chemicals into your food and drink. Microwaves heat unevenly, creating hot spots where the plastic is more likely to break down.
  • If you do use a plastic container you already own, handle it carefully. Use it for cool liquids only; wash plastics on the top rack of the dishwasher, farther from the heating element (or by hand!); use a paper towel instead of plastic wrap to cover food in the microwave. Also, avoid single-use plastic whenever you can — reusing it isn’t safe (it can harbor bacteria), and tossing it fills up landfills (and pollutes the environment).

 Healthy eating

If your only responsibility is to eat (that would apply to many of us), here are some tips on healthy eating:

1. Don’t go to the Thanksgiving dinner hungry: we often eat faster and more when we are hungry – therefore eat a wholesome breakfast and lunch on the day to avoid overeating at dinner time.

2. Thanksgiving dinner is not an all-you-can-eat buffet: Fill your plate half with vegetables, one quarter with a lean meat and the rest with a starch of your choice. Eat slowly and stop when you are full.

3. Turkey – go skinless: choose your 4-oz turkey portion skinless to slash away some fat and cholesterol. Save your appetite for the side dishes and desserts.

4. Side Dishes – watch your portion size: go for smaller portions. This way you can sample all the different foods. Moderation is always the key.

5. Make a conscious choice to limit high fat items: high fat food items can be found in fried and creamy dishes as well as cheese-filled casseroles in a traditional Thanksgiving meal . For instance, mashed potatoes are usually made with butter and milk; green bean casseroles are often prepared with cream of mushroom soup, cheese and milk and topped with fried onions; candied yams are loaded with cream, sugar and marshmallows. If you cannot control the ingredients that go in to a dish, simply limit yourself to a smaller helping size. Again moderation is the key.

6. Drink plenty of water: alcohol and coffee can dehydrate your body. Drink calorie-free water to help fill up your stomach and keep you hydrated.

Happy Thanksgiving!


About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group ( Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
This entry was posted in Creation Care, Environment, Family, Green Tips, Holidays, Jim Jewell, Thanksgiving and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Preparing and eating safe and healthy Thanksgiving holiday meals

  1. Ben DeVries says:

    Jim, thanks very much for the encouragement you provided toward finding a humanely raised turkey in this post and your previous post on Thanksgiving. I’m grateful that you did, and mentioned both posts in my own today on Not One Sparrow, “Happy Turkey Day?” (
    best wishes, and a very happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

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