Category Archives: Thanksgiving foods

Turkeys in a Pen

What that label really means: Thanksgiving Edition

If you’re hosting the annual Thanksgiving feast this year, you’ve been doing a lot of shopping. You’ve probably grabbed some sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cans of pumpkin and maybe some green beans.

But when you approach a refrigerated section of the store piled high with turkeys, you’re suddenly inundated with labels: natural, fresh, no hormones, young, premium and so on. Pretty soon, your head is spinning, so you grab the nearest one. As you head to the checkout line, you wonder if you’ve just made an ethical choice or been duped.

This scenario has become part of the Thanksgiving experience for many shoppers. If you’re like me, you may have told yourself that, someday, you’ll learn what all those labels actually mean. Well, today is that day. Because this is your guide to the utterly confusing world of turkey labels — a glossary for the wannabe informed Thanksgiving shopper.

What you might think it means: The turkey was slaughtered this morning (or maybe yesterday) and was rushed to my local grocery store, where consumers like me will taste the difference!

What it actually means: “Fresh” has nothing to do with the time between slaughter and sale. Instead, it means that the turkey has not been cooled to below 26 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, it was never frozen. Above 26 degrees Fahrenheit, the meat can remain pliant — you can press it in with your thumb.


What you might think it means: This bird was killed at a younger age than most turkeys and is therefore more tender and delicious. Maybe it also suffered less.
What it actually means: The bird was likely killed at the same age as most other turkeys. According to Daisy Freund, an animal welfare certification expert at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, most commercial turkeys are slaughtered at 16 to 18 weeks, compared to the roughly 10 years turkeys live in the wild. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not define “young” for turkeys, but it requires that turkeys that lived more than a year be labeled as “yearling” or “mature.”


What you might think it means: The turkeys have been raised in a “natural” environment, wandering around in the woods or on a farm, scavenging food and gobble-gobbling their cares away.
What it actually means: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it means no artificial ingredients have been added to the turkey meat, and the meat is only minimally processed. But Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety and sustainability for Consumer Reports, says the term isn’t helpful at all. “It has nothing to do with whether the turkeys got antibiotics every day, were living in filthy conditions or were confined indoors,” she says. Her organization is campaigning against the use of the term, which they feel misleads consumers. The Food and Drug Administration also has admitted it’s a challenge to define the term and just asked the public for help.

On that note, let’s pause for a minute to answer a basic question — how exactly are most turkeys in the U.S. raised?

“The vast majority of turkeys are living in crowded houses — football field-sized sheds that are entirely enclosed — by the tens of thousands,” says the ASPCA’s Freund. 

She says the 30-pound birds typically have their beaks cut to prevent them from injuring or killing one another, and are allotted an average of two square feet of space. “It’s like living your entire life in Times Square on New Year’s Eve,” she says.

Meanwhile, Freund says, manure often piles up beneath the birds, and ammonia hangs thick in the air. Many turkeys are routinely given antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick. Plus, modern turkeys have been selectively bred to mature quickly and have extremely large breasts (for more white meat). Many have trouble standing and are incapable of having sex — their large chests get in the way, Freund says.

To be clear, turkey producers must still meet basic safety standards and the meat should be safe. But terms like “natural” may be misleading consumers about how the birds are actually raised.


What you might think it means: These turkeys roam freely on a farm, pecking at the lush grass and getting more exercise than I do.
What it actually means: In some cases (on some small farms), it does mean what you’re picturing. But Rangan says in the vast majority of cases, “free-range” turkeys are raised in the standard, crowded houses. The only difference, she says, is that these birds must have “access to the outdoors.”
But the word “access” is broadly used. “If the animal never even went outdoors, but you sort of opened and closed the door every day, that would suffice to label the bird as ‘free-range,’ ” she says.


What you might think it means: This turkey had a better life than most, because at least it wasn’t stuffed into a tiny cage.
What it actually means: This turkey’s life was probably the same as most, because turkeys are not raised in cages. The conventional practice — which accounts for well over 95 percent of all commercial turkeys, according to ASPCA — is to raise them in open houses. So, calling a turkey cage-free is sort of like calling a cantaloupe cage-free.

What you might think it means: This turkey is a higher grade of meat, and is more delicious and healthy.
What it actually means: Basically, nothing. The USDA grades beef cuts with words like “prime,” “choice” and “select,” but premium is not one of their designations and these graded terms are not used for poultry anyway.
 A company can label any kind of turkey as “premium.”

No Hormones Added
What you might think it means: This bird is healthier than most because it wasn’t pumped full of the hormones that turn some turkeys into the Incredible Hulk.
What it actually means: Once again, this term is misleading. By USDA law, turkeys (and other poultry) are not allowed to be given growth hormones.

Humane/Non-Certified Humane

What you might think it means: Finally, a bird that has been raised according to an ethical set of principles. It was probably treated fairly and lived a decent life. Maybe it even got to kiss its loved ones goodbye.

What it actually means: If there is no certifying agency, which there isn’t for this term, the label is probably meaningless, says Rangan from Consumer Reports. That’s because the USDA allows companies to come up with their own definition of “humane” and it gives its seal of approval if the company meets its own standards. In these cases, “it probably just means they met the conventional baseline,” says Rangan.

That’s most of the virtually meaningless terms. Let’s move on to some labels that have at least some significance.


What you might think it means: The turkey was raised according to a stricter set of hygiene standards. It was probably kept cleaner and healthier.
What it actually means: The turkey was probably raised in the same crowded house conditions as most turkeys. The only difference is that it was slaughtered according to a set of kosher principles.


What you might think it means: This turkey enjoyed a lush supply of greens and grains, replicating its natural diet.
What it actually means: The bird probably ate what most turkeys eat: corn. But these birds have not had their diets supplemented with animal byproducts, which does happen in some settings. The irony, though, is that turkeys are not natural vegetarians. In the wild, they eat a variety of bugs and worms, along with grass and other plants.

Raised Without Antibiotics/No Antibiotics Administered
What you might think it means: These birds were never given any antibiotics of any kind.
What it actually means: These birds were given drugs only if they were sick, but not for growth promotion, feed efficiency or to prevent disease. That means their producers are contributing less to the risk of antibiotic resistance and to “superbugs”— a serious health concern. However, Rangan suggests that consumers look for the USDA label with this term, to verify that the companies have been inspected. And she points out that the label does not mean the birds were raised in more sanitary conditions — only that they were not given routine antibiotics.

What you might think it means: These turkeys were raised on a steady diet of organic vegetables, green smoothies and Bikram yoga.

What it actually means: To meet the requirements for the USDA’s Certified Organic program, animals must have some access to the outdoors (though there’s debate about whether or not most organic turkeys actually go outdoors), be fed only organic feed (non-GMO and grown without chemical pesticides) and must not be given antibiotic drugs on a routine basis. Rangan says organic conditions are “significantly different” from conventional conditions. And yet, she says, organic lags behind the conditions enjoyed by humanely raised birds.

Which brings us to the final section.

There are three main organizations that have publicly available standards for “humane” treatment. Birds bearing these labels typically are granted real access to the outdoors, eat a diverse diet and have the opportunity to behave as they would in the wild. You can read more about the specific criteria by clicking on each name.

Animal Welfare Approved

Turkeys with this label come from farms that have been audited at least once a year, and have met criteria for animal welfare, environmental protection and community well-being. According to its website, “Provisions are made to ensure [the animals'] social interaction, comfort, and physical and psychological well-being.”

Certified Humane

This is also a label with clearly defined parameters for animal and environmental care. Its website says, “The goal of the program is to improve the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for kinder and more responsible farm animal practices.”

Global Animal Partnership, or GAP

This is a rating system with six different levels, ranging from less crowding (level one) to animals without clipped beaks spending their entire life on the same farm, with enhanced access to the outdoors
 (level five-plus).

To summarize, here’s a cheat sheet:

Labels that mean very little: Fresh, Young, Natural, Premium, Cage-Free, Free-Range, No Hormones Added, Humane (not certified or USDA certified)

Labels that mean something specific: Kosher, Raised Without Antibiotics/No Antibiotics Administered, Vegetarian-Fed/Grain-Fed, Organic

Labels that mean the birds were raised humanely: Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, GAP

And there you have it. This information has certainly enlightened all of us at and put us to work on a whole new shopping mission for Thanksgiving 2015! We love to understand exactly what a label is telling us … what’s hype and what’s highly important. As soon as consumers understand labels, they know how to find what they’re looking for and that means they know exactly what’s in their food.

Kind of like our website and our app. Funny how that works.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Our Thanksgiving Table: Saving the best for last – Pumpkin Pie!

We’ve all admitted that Thanksgiving dinner could never be a complete experience without dessert – and more specifically, pie. And even more specifically, pumpkin pie!

It’s a turkey day tradition … and some form of pumpkin pie (although not the one we enjoy today) could have easily been present during that first Thanksgiving feast in the early 1600s. Early American settlers of Plimoth Plantation, the first permanent European settlement in southern New England, might have made a “pumpkin-pie-like treat” by making stewed pumpkins or by filling a hollowed out shell with milk, honey and spices, and then baking it in hot ashes.

A recipe for pumpkin pie appears in a 1651 cookbook from France. This recipe is the first that includes a pie crust making the dish fairly identical to the pumpkin pie we enjoy today.

We’ve almost finished our meal around the Thanksgiving table. So let’s enjoy our favorite Thanksgiving dessert. Sad thing is that when we indulge in this traditional compliment to our holiday meal, it will cost us upwards of 400 calories per slice with a hefty 14.3 grams of fat per serving.

We don’t want to feel guilty about this great dessert. We want to enjoy it, savoring each bite. And the only way we can think about doing this (especially immediately following that incredible meal we all just shared), is to find a way to lighten up this recipe WITHOUT sacrificing any of the flavor.

Here’s what you’ll need:
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
2 large egg whites
1 can evaporated skim milk
1/4 tsp finely grated orange zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 can pumpkin puree
1 frozen pie shell, thawed
For the topping:
1/4 cup whipping cream

1. Position oven rack to lowest position. Preheat oven to 425° F.
2. Combine all ingredients except pumpkin in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add pumpkin, and continue stirring until smooth.
3. Pour pumpkin mixture into the crust. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 350° F (do not remove pie from oven); bake an additional 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely on wire rack.
4. To prepare topping, beat cream with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form. Serve with pie (1 Tbsp per slice).

This recipe produces a very flavorful pumpkin pie! It also brings the calories down to 210 per slice with 6 grams of fat! That’s a pretty significant savings of fat and calories!!

We’ve really enjoyed having you all gather together around our Thanksgiving table at If you’ve been following along with us, you’ll know that the traditional dinner we’ve profiled came in at 1766 calories and 83 grams of fat for Roast Turkey, Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing, Candied Yams, Cranberry Sauce and Pumpkin Pie. We’ve outlined some lighter recipes for that same Thanksgiving meal. It now comes in at 876 calories and 23.4 grams of fat. That’s over 50% less calories and over 71% less fat than the traditional recipes we’re all used it. is excited to sit down to our healthier feast this Thanksgiving. We hope you give some of these lighter ideas a try. You’ll not only feel good about the nutritional value of your holiday meal – your family will feel good about the wonderful flavors and aromas rising from your kitchen this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving from!

Our Thanksgiving Table: Roast Turkey … the holiday centerpiece

We’re getting closer to the big day and as we do, our thoughts turn repeatedly to the centerpiece of our table — the roast turkey!

There really isn’t much that compares to the aroma of a golden brown turkey roasting away in the oven on Thanksgiving morning. And then there are the leftovers! The possibilities are endless … turkey sandwiches with gravy, turkey pot pies, turkey and stuffing casseroles are just a few of our favorites.

Gather round our table where the turkey is the Thanksgiving day main event. But sadly, the centerpiece of our meal can inflict a heavy dose of fat and calories on the holiday dinner. The typical roast turkey prepared in the traditional manner supplies about 400 calories per serving with 16 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat and 994 mg of sodium.

Did the pilgrims actually include a turkey in their original Thanksgiving feast? The jury’s out on this one. It appears that in Massachusetts in 1621 there were plenty of wild turkeys keeping the colonists company. So it would certainly seem natural that a bird would be part of that original dinner thanking God for the harvest and for the colonists’ survival in the new world (which was not an easy feat). The pilgrims celebrated that first Thanksgiving for three days – so we’d have to assume that more than one wild turkey was included. That was quite a feast!

While we love the roast turkey, we also love the rest of the meal and want to enjoy it in its entirety without worrying about compromising our healthy lifestyle in order to do so. That can become difficult when most of the side dishes we love so much are very high in calories and fat, as well as sodium. So what can we do about keeping our turkey at reasonable fat and calorie levels, without sacrificing any of that marvelous flavor? We’d also like to make sure that we keep our favorite, old-fashioned aromas wafting through our homes in the morning hours of Thanksgiving day.

This healthier recipe will ensure both the flavor and fragrance of a winning roast turkey. The apples and onions help to keep the bird from drying out, so that you’ll achieve that moist texture that’s so important.

Here’s what you’ll need:

• 1 10- to 12-pound turkey
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus a few sprigs
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, plus a few sprigs
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, plus a few sprigs
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 1/2 pounds small onions, peeled and halved lengthwise, divided
• 1 tart green apple, quartered
• 3 cups water, plus more as needed

• Position rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 475°F.
• Remove giblets and neck from turkey cavity.
• Place the turkey, breast-side up, on a rack in a large roasting pan; pat dry with paper towels.
• Combine oil, chopped parsley, sage, thyme, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the herb mixture all over the turkey, under the skin and onto the breast meat. Place herb sprigs, half of the onions and apple in the cavity. Add 3 cups water to the pan.
• Roast the turkey until the skin is golden brown, 45 minutes. Remove the turkey from the oven. Cover the breast with foil, cutting as necessary to fit. Add remaining onions to the pan around the turkey. Reduce oven temperature to 350° and continue roasting a thermometer registers 165°F, 1 to 1 3/4 hours more. If the pan dries out, add more water.
• Transfer the turkey to a serving platter (reserve pan juices and onions for gravy) and tent with foil.

This will make for a great turkey day experience for everyone. Flavorful and moist for less than half the calories and fat of a traditional recipe. The apples really add to the flavor and aroma of the bird. We love adding this healthy option to the Thanksgiving table and can’t wait to sit down to this year’s better-for-us feast!

Our Thanksgiving Table: Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing

There are so many different traditions for Thanksgiving stuffing or dressing (including whether or not the turkey is stuffed or the dressing is baked alongside the turkey). One of the more common recipes for stuffing or dressing is Cornbread and Sausage. It’s a savory/sweet side dish with Southern roots that’s happily eaten at Thanksgiving tables all over the country.

Let’s gather round the Thanksgiving table as we alter the traditional Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing a bit to make it a lighter, healthier and less caloric side dish to the main attraction. O.k., we didn’t just alter the stuffing recipe a little … we took the sausage completely out of the equation, while still allowing you and your guests to enjoy a savory and satisfying stuffing experience!

The history or stuffing (or dressing) may predate Roman civilization. The earliest recipes for stuffing can be found in a Roman cookbook that was written in the late 4th century AD. Recorded in this book were recipes for stuffed chicken, rabbit, pig and dormouse (which, believe it or not, was considered a delicacy in ancient Rome.) In these ancient Roman recipes, featured ingredients in stuffing were vegetables, herbs, nuts and ancient grains like spelt. It was not unusual to find various organ meats included like liver and brains.

In England prior to the sixteenth century, stuffing was called “farce”. Then in the Victorian era, it became known as dressing. Because stuffing was common in England prior to the establishment of the American colonies, it is easy to assume that the Pilgrims, after deciding to make the turkey the focal point of the first Thanksgiving feast, would have naturally chosen to stuff it.

And undoubtedly, after that first Thanksgiving, stuffing recipes have evolved pretty dramatically. Cornbread or white bread? Stuffed inside the bird, or baked alongside? Eggs or no eggs? There are plenty of competing methods for preparing the much-loved and traditional Thanksgiving stuffing. Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing recipes abound and this is one of the most popular preparations at Thanksgiving in millions of homes.

Sadly, though, the typical Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing boasts over 500 calories per serving, with over 38 grams of fat (oh my) and over 900 mg of sodium. That nutritional data isn’t exactly side dish worthy. Put the stuffing next to your turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie and the numbers might actually resemble two or three full days of food consumption!

Stuffing really needs to lighten up a little. So here’s our suggestion:

6 corn muffins (prepared from a good organic mix, like Shiloh Farms), crumbled
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion diced
2 large diced Portobello mushrooms
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried sage
Half teaspoon dried rosemary
2 cups hot vegetable broth
1 tablespoon almond butter
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Crumble the corn muffins into a large mixing bowl
3. Melt two tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan
4. Sauté vegetables and garlic until softened – 4 to 5 minutes
5. Add vegetables to crumbled corn muffins
6. Stir in the herbs gently, evenly distributing in the muffin-vegetable mixture
7. Stir the almond butter into the vegetable broth
8. Pour over the muffin-vegetable mixture a little at a time until moistened throughout. Use additional broth if necessary. Mixture should be moist, not overly wet and no liquid should be evident at the bottom of the bowl.
9. Lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish. Transfer dressing into dish and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Cover dish with foil.
10. Bake for 30 minutes covered. Remove foil and return to the oven to bake for another 30 minutes until brown.
11. (Or you can stuff your turkey with the unbaked mixture and roast your turkey as usual – adding additional time per pound for the stuffing as per your roasting instructions.)

Portobello mushrooms add a savory flavor to any dish and make for a very enjoyable stuffing without the additional fat and calories from sausage. This stuffing is about 100 calories per serving, only 4.4 grams of fat and 45 mg. of sodium.

While Cornbread Portobello Mushroom Stuffing certainly puts a new twist on tradition, it really is a rich and flavorful dish. Unusually “meaty” for a meatless side, you’ll find that this recipe makes for a great inside-the-bird stuffing or an equally great baked dressing.

Our invitation to dinner will be open until Thanksgiving Day! All month long, will be taking a look at better preparations for all our favorite holiday foods. By the time we reach the end of November, we’ll have a great meal planned that we’ll all be able to enjoy that fits easily within our healthy lifestyle! And don’t worry … we aren’t going to forget dessert!

Our Thanksgiving Table: Candied Yams

We’re all looking forward to a happy, healthy Thanksgiving shared with family and friends seated around a table piled high with our holiday favorites! We’ll all be indulging a little this holiday season. Let’s face it, Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t feature traditional recipes that make the best of the fall harvest.

Let’s gather round the Thanksgiving table. This week, we’ll be putting a healthier spin on candied yams – a traditional dish for many this holiday season.
Yams are a very healthy food choice. They’re a great source of dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin C, manganese and vitamin B6. They have an earth flavor and are naturally sweet. Yams make for a pretty filling side dish. In addition, they are a truly authentic addition to your Thanksgiving feast.

Yams and sweet potatoes were grown on American soil pretty consistently by the time Christopher Columbus landed on our shores in the late 15th century. When the colonists put together their first Thanksgiving meal, it would be safe to assume that yams were a component. By 1880 Americans were enjoying some sort of variation of candied sweet potatoes. American cookbooks, such as the widely published 1893 Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fannie Farmer featured a recipe for glazed sweet potatoes.

Unfortunately, candied yam recipes tend to focus more on the sweet goodies in the average recipe than the yams themselves. The average  recipe contains over 400 calories per serving, 15 grams of fat and plenty of sugar. We have to remind ourselves that it’s this is only one of a variety of sides accompanying our turkey. It would behoove us to discover a more healthful recipe than our traditional method that often calls for plenty of brown sugar and corn syrup as well as marshmallows – which while tasty, offer nothing to the dish nutritionally.

So here’s our idea for a better candied yam recipe. You’ll need:

4 yams
1 jar of good quality sugar free apricot preserves (Nature’s Hollow would be a great example)
¼ teaspoon of orange zest
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
Nutmeg, ground cloves (just a pinch of each)
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup finely chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Boil the yams just until tender (about 25 minutes). Cool completely.
3. Remove the skins from the par-boiled yams.
4. In a medium saucepan combine the jar of sugar-free preserves, butter, orange zest and spices. Stir over medium heat until melted.
5. Slice potatoes into rounds about ½” thick. Layer the slices in a 9” baking dish. Pour half the glaze over the layer. Layer the remainder of the potatoes and pour the rest of the glaze over. Sprinkle with the chopped pecans. Cover with foil.
6. Bake 375° for about 30 min. Remove foil and bake 15 min. longer. Cook until yams are fork tender.

This variation on the traditional recipe for candied yams produces a rich and flavorful dish. And in the final analysis, it is really worth the makeover. This new recipe has 206 calories per serving, 5 grams of sugar, 30 mg. of sodium and 11 grams of fat. It isn’t just lighter and lower in calories. It’s really a healthier alternative.

O.k., we’ll admit it – this dish does not include marshmallows so you may experience some resistance from the die-hard traditionalists. We actually think they’ll change their minds after they taste it. will be inviting you to sit down to our Thanksgiving table every week until the big day. We’ll share all the wonderful nutritional information about the fruits of the fall harvest featured in our Thanksgiving feast and hopefully, give you new ideas on how to prepare that bounty in new and different ways. We’re already getting hungry just thinking about it!