Alright, guys, it is T-MINUS 1.5 WEEKS UNTIL THANKSGIVING!! One of the best eating holidays ever so naturally a favorite of mine. Cooking in the kitchen equates to fun family and friend time for me, we all know nothing brings people together like food… so hosting my loved ones around the table filled with seasonal, fresh delicious food makes my heart all warm and fuzzy. If you want some Healthy Thanksgiving Basics, this post is for you!
That being said, it can be quite intimidating to host or even to contribute with so much going on and all the pressure! But honestly, it doesn’t have to be. And it doesn’t have to be a whole week-long preparation either. Just get your menu down, figure out the timing ahead of time and make whatever you can ahead of time. Encourage guests to bring their own booze and/or dessert or whatever helps.
Let’s get to it. These are my favorite, simple, TRIED AND TRUE Thanksgiving BASICS. I’ve made them while hosting for the past 3 years in a row, tweaking them to be better and simpler each time. They’re always crowd pleasers and are made with nutrient-dense, healthy ingredients for a nourishing and flavorful holiday meal everyone will feel great about!
Before we hop into the recipes, I’m sharing my favorite kitchen tools which will be mentioned in the recipes below and make life 1000% easier.
THANKSGIVING KITCHEN TOOLS
PERFECT ROASTED TURKEY
A mix of herbs and butter under the skin keeps this turkey juicy and tender with a crispy skin. The broth underneath is ready to be used as a delicious turkey gravy!
- 1 14lb. Turkey (simply increase the proportions for a larger bird)
- 1/2 stick grass-fed butter (or any saturated fat*) (lard for AIP would be great)
- 2 Tbsp herbs de provence (mix of thyme, marjoram, savory, oregano, etc.)
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- plenty of sea salt
- 3 cups vegetable broth can sub any broth you like
24 HRS BEFORE YOU SERVE: Simply defrost your turkey beforehand, remove the giblets and neck and put away in the fridge for later use, rinse the turkey well. Pat turkey dry and add the turkey to a large pan. Salt the turkey well. You want to sprinkle the salt from high above the turkey so you don't only salt one portion, rub the turkey skin well so it can penetrate. This helps to prep for taste and texture, keeping the bird moist. (I know it seems weird for salt to do that, but trust me). That's it for prep, cover the turkey with tin foil and place it in the fridge until Thanksgiving morning. (Nope, I don't brine, I find this technique keeps it way moister and is less messy and stressful)
Next, make your game plan and timetable before cooking. Watch the link and confirm how much time it will take you to cook your bird depending on the size, etc. and remember if you add more to the oven, it will slow down the cooking. The only recipe here you'll add to the oven is to finish off the brussels sprouts, and that can be done while the turkey rests. Look for dishes that can also bake up in a hot oven in less than an hour so it can all be done while your turkey is done and resting. Also, on that note, make sure you allot time for the turkey to rest for 30mins and up to one hour before serving. You can serve appetizers at that time if you'd like!
DAY OF: Now that you have your timetable worked out, let's start. 1 HR before you are going to cook the bird, take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature.
After that 1 hour has passed, preheat your oven to 500f degrees which you'll use to cook the bird just for the first 30 minutes (trust!) - This helps with that crispy skin.
In watching the video link below, you'll see how to loosen the skin by placing your hands at the neck area and patiently working your fingers throughout to loosen it. It works easier as the bird gets to room temp. Have faith and don't be too scared or too rough!
Next, give your hands a good wash and start making your herbed butter. Mix the herbs, minced garlic and butter in a food processor until well combined. Break off pieces of the butter and start adding it underneath the skin on each piece of meat (so to speak), like on each breast, leg, thigh, backside, and near the wing Pitts as I call them! Use as much as fits well and try not to rip the skin. If it tears a bit, just keep the skin covering as much as you can so the butter absorbs into the meat during the roasting process.
Now, add more sea salt all over your bird! You can add any other seasonings you like here too. I do recommend adding kitchen twine just to close the drumsticks and the wings. This helps to keep it all in place, but if you don't, it's not the end of the world.
To your roasting pan, pour the vegetable broth into the bottom, and add that neck you saved to the bottom as well and then set the rack on top. Place your turkey on top and begin roasting for 30 minutes, SET A TIMER!! Then reduce the temperature to 325-350f degrees and continue roasting, allowing 16 minutes per pound. Baste turkey every 30 minutes after the first hour and if you see one side getting darker than the over, spin your turkey around!
Check the temperature using a meat thermometer (you can start checking before the projected "done" time as your oven may be quick, see variables below)- 170 degrees means you're all done. Check the thickest part of the breast and thigh (without touching the bone) to be sure. Remove when done.
LET IT REST before you carve! Plan for 30mins up to 1 hour for resting with tin foil covering the bird. Trust me, it will still be very hot before you carve it. If you want a juicy bird, do not rush this process!
When you're about to carve, get some assistance with lifting the bird out of the pan and onto a board where someone can carve it. In the meantime, grab that neck and the juices in the pan and make a quick pan gravy by heating it in a saucepan with a bit of starch. Start with 1 Tbsp of arrowroot starch in 4 oz. of water and stir well to create a slurry. Pour that slurry when dissolved into the heated sauce and whisk until it thickens! Add any herbs you like, you can even cook the liver and heart in here if you'd like.
VOILA. Carve that bird up, serve and have your turkey drippings gravy on the side.
*be sure to use a saturated fat such as: butter, ghee, lard, or coconut oil since this will cook at a very high heat.
There are many variables to when the Turkey will be done, use these tips as a template but when you check in on it to baste if it seems done quicker, do begin checking the temperature.
- If other items are cooking in the oven (will slow it down)
- How strong your oven is
- How large the turkey is
Watch this video to see some of my tips in action: “How to prepare and roast your Thanksgiving Turkey”
Read these tips that I’ve incorporated into my directions so you understand a bit more about the reasoning behind the techniques! “Perfect Roast Thanksgiving Turkey” >>
SIMPLE CRANBERRY SAUCE
Next up! Besides the turkey drippings gravy… I love to have a dollop of cranberry sauce on my plate for the turkey. Not to mention… so I can make sandwiches with that as my spread the next day like I did here. Commercially bought cranberry sauce, as well as just traditional recipes, tend to have a lot of refined sugar in it… but we can do better. Cranberries are already pleasantly sweet but are also tart, so they do need some help. Just a bit of non-refined sweetener will be helpful to bring out the sweetness that’s already there. This is a simple recipe you can easily make ahead and store in the fridge.
All the simplicity, natural sweetness and tanginess of a traditional cranberry sauce without the refined sugar. Smear it on turkey and... everything else for that matter.
- 12 oz fresh cranberries
- 2 oranges, juiced
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 dash nutmeg (omit for AIP)
- 3 Tbsp maple syrup
- 1 pinch sea salt (to taste)
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
Bring the sauce to a low boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the cranberries soften and burst, it should take 12-15mins
Stir around with a wooden spoon, and remove from heat and let it sit to cool off. The sauce will thicken as you let it sit. Store in the fridge if not serving day of or serve right away!
CAULIFLOWER MASH (PUREÉ)
Nothing against mashed potatoes, but with all the stretchy pants, apple pies, and excess eating and sugar many of us end up doing… the less blood sugar spikes, the better. Just keeping it real, folks. I don’t need to waste it on mashed potatoes hehehe… mashed cauliflower is EASIER, FASTER and just as delicious. It’s not as fluffy because of the lack of starch, but it is super creamy and holds gravy perfectly, which is really all I need out of a good mash anyway.
A low-carb option swap for traditional mashed potatoes, not to mention it's quicker and easier to make!
- 2 heads cauliflower
- 2 cups water
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Bunch of fresh chives for topping
- pinch of sea salt and pepper (omit for AIP) to taste
Cut cauliflower into florets and rinse off any dirt.
Bring water to boil in a large pot and use a steaming rack for the top where you’ll place the cauliflower.
Once the water is boiling, toss the cauliflower in a steam rack and cover. Let the florets steam until tender and you can easily pierce with a fork (but they’re not falling apart), approx. 7-8 minutes or so.
Once ready, remove the rack and give it a good shake over your pot. Turn the heat off and place the cauliflower in a large mixing bowl or dry pot. Try not to let any excess moisture in (the less the better).
Now, add your olive oil, sea salt and pepper to taste over top. Using a masher, first mash up the cauliflower a bit by hand. Then whip out the hand blender (or you can toss the mixture into a blender) and pulse until smooth, don’t over-do it or it will become too loose and watery.
Transfer the pureé to a serving dish and top with fresh chives and sea salt if needed. Serve with mushroom gravy or with more olive oil!
HERBED MUSHROOM GRAVY
Who misses gravy out of an envelope? Good, me neither. It’s super easy to make from scratch, and you can really make it your own with your favorite herbs and veggies. The smell that fills the kitchen is well worth the extra effort! This served over the cauliflower pureé or your favorite mash will have all your guests passing that gravy boat AROUND and AROUND!!
Say goodbye to powdered gravy from a box, it's time to make it your own from scratch! You'll be so thankful you did.
- 1 Tbsp ghee butter, or olive oil for AIP
- 1 small yellow onion or 2 shallots
- 10 oz crimini mushrooms (Baby Bellas)
- 2 Tbsp arrowroot starch
- 2 cups vegetable broth (can sub any broth you like)
- 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary (added to taste)
- 3 sprigs of fresh thyme (added to taste)
- pinch of salt & pepper to taste (omit pepper for AIP)
Clean the mushrooms by taking a damp paper towel and wiping any dirt off the mushrooms carefully. Slice mushrooms thinly and set aside.
Chop onion/shallots into small and thin pieces and set aside. Also roughly chop the herbs after stripping them off stems.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add ghee/butter/oil to the pan and melt, swirling the oil around until it’s coated the bottom of the pan. Add the chopped onions and stir with a wooden spoon for 2-3 minutes until translucent (do not burn). Next add the sliced mushrooms and continue to sauté until they are soft for approx. 5 minutes or so. Add a pinch of sea salt. Moisture should be releasing, continue to stir until it evaporates.
Turn the heat to low and sprinkle the starch over top, continue to mix until a paste starts to form after a few minutes and turns golden.
Slowly whisk in the broth, ensuring the starch is thickening it up into gravy and any clumps are dissolved.
Add in the fresh herbs and season again with salt and pepper. Bring the gravy to a simmer, it will continue to thicken after 7-8 minutes. Continue to whisk until you are happy with the texture. It will continue to thicken even as it cools, so don’t let it get too thick before removing from the heat!
Pour into a gravy boat or bowl and use to top your mashed veggies or meat.
GHEE ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Last but not least, BRUSSELS SPROUTS!! My Thanksgiving plate is not complete without perfectly roasted sprouts. I’ve tried these with bacon, balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese (back in the day) and don’t get me wrong… ALL AMAZING. However, nailing a perfectly roasted batch with just ghee and sea salt is all I need to see stars. I also like keeping them simple when my plate overfloweth with other goodies. Now you can do these on a baking sheet with some parchment paper and call it a day, but you’ll notice I prefer to do them in a cast iron pan. I find that by sauteéing them in ghee for a few minutes before roasting in the oven, I can get them perfectly crisp on the outside but still moist and plump in the center. Sometimes when I chuck them on a baking sheet, I overdo them. Trust me, you will love them like this!!
Also, a quick word about cooking fat. Go with a saturated fat when you’re roasting and cooking at high temperatures. If you don’t want to use ghee, duck fat is also an excellent choice (but when isn’t it, really?) or for no animal fat at all… my go-to would be coconut oil.
3 ingredients to perfectly cooked brussels sprouts, simple is best sometimes!
- 6 cups brussels sprouts, cut into thirds
- 4 Tbsp ghee (to make AIP, use duck fat or coconut oil)
- pinch of sea salt
Pre-heat oven to 400f degrees (or in order of Thanksgiving, while your turkey is resting... bring the oven to 400f degrees).
Prep sprouts by slicing the very bottom stems which are usually dirty and remove the outermost leaves that have dirt on them (just the first two should do the trick but remove any dirt you find). Cut the sprouts to be all about the same size, for example, larger ones I will cut into thirds and smaller ones I'll just cut in half. The closer they are in thickness, the more evenly they'll cook.
To a large cast iron pan (lipped with edges), heat on medium-high until it's very hot. Add the ghee and melt.
Then add all your brussels sprouts to the cast iron pan, generously sprinkle sea salt over top and do your best to get the sprouts in a single layer if you can with a wooden spoon.
Let cook on medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes. Then with the wooden spoon, shake up the sprouts and turn them over. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes.
You should start to see crispy edges now, when you do, turn the heat off and with an oven mitt, carefully transfer the cast iron pan to the oven. Roast for 10 minutes, check to make sure they're cooked and remove when ready. Serve!
Want more? Check out these posts for more inspiration!
Thanksgiving Eating & Care Tips
Start your day with some warm or hot lemon water. As a bonus, add some fresh ginger. This will soothe your stomach for the eating bonanza that awaits you. No matter how much control you have, how slow you take it, or how much water you drink – show your digestive system a little love first thing. You may eat more than you normally do, in a short period of time or find yourself grazing all day until you’re in a Turkey coma. Sweets are usually a-plenty and you may find yourself indulging… hopefully you don’t go overboard, but regardless, prepping your stomach ahead of time will help out a lot.
Stay hydrated (half your body weight in ounces) in between meals. If you choose to fast until an early dinner, staying hydrated will be particularly important. If you’re eating later on in the evening, I’d encourage you to have a protein-rich, low carb breakfast. For example, a nice breakfast salad would be great! Something light but nutritious that will not spike your blood sugar much.
#2 Be Strategic
If appetizers are on the table, be strategic to avoid spoiling the main attraction and lean towards the veggies. For example, if I know I have 20 minutes before dinner is ready… I’ll wait until the last 5-10 minutes to grab an appetizer so I don’t have too much time to spoil the dinner with a ton of carrots and dip! There is so much more to come…
#3 Be Present
Pick your party: What I mean is, pick out what you’re favorite indulgence will be. Is it wine? dessert? biscuits? What are you most looking forward to as your treat? Pick that out and prioritize that above all else to really slow down and enjoy. There can be so many goodies around and/or awkward family conversation, it’s very easy to eat emotionally, indulge, and not even enjoy the very thing you were most looking forward to! Am I right?? You deserve to live in the moment. Mine has got to be a huge slice of apple pie…
Having fun, enjoying the company you’re with and being grateful are the themes of this holiday. So go slow, sit down, take 3 deep breaths before eating, enjoy each bite, and CHEW CHEW CHEW. Don’t rush, it’s not a race!
Get walking before and after the main event if you can! Some yoga or light stretching at night would be wonderful for digestion as well.
#5 Make a Plan to Rest
How do you unwind? After a day of eating and spending time with others, you might feel drained! A bubble bath, hot shower, curling up with a good book or Netflix might just do the trick. Know what you’re planning to do, so you know when to put the leftovers away and cut yourself off. Resting will be important also for digestion and recovery for the next day.
Happy Thanksgiving, guys! XOXO
Use #foodbymars to tag your FBM inspired creations! I’d love to see!