Mr. Hanson’s Healthy Thanksgiving Guide

HTML tutorial

Image by Vincent Chu and Christina Wang.
Image by Vincent Chu and Christina Wang.

When you hear the word “Thanksgiving,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many, Thanksgiving is more about the family meals and juicy turkeys than Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock, or the parades and football games across the country. The holiday is one of stuffing, corn bread, pumpkin pie, and other delectable dishes—many of which can be very unhealthy. In the spirit of finding low-calorie, low-fat choices, Athletic Director and Physical Education teacher Keith Hanson tested out a number of healthy Thanksgiving alternatives meant to taste as close to the originals as possible. He shared his results.

Students at Townsend Harris have had all sorts of Thanksgiving dinners, from baklava to pasta to curry and everything in between. Mr. Hanson, however, sticks to a more traditional meal, with dishes like roast turkey and pumpkin pie. The key to eating healthier, he explained, is not to create an entirely new menu, but to substitute certain ingredients with leaner, organic options.

“A butterball turkey alone can be a major source of trans fat,” he explained, citing the additives and processed ingredients found in the popular Thanksgiving staple. “Basting and seasoning it yourself can cut down on the calories and make it a much better choice.”

Here are more of his simple, health-conscious suggestions:

  • prepare from scratch or use raw ingredients to replace processed ones
  • use egg whites instead of whole eggs (to cut down on cholesterol)
  • add skim milk instead of 2% or whole milk for dishes like lasagna
  • use cottage cheese instead of ricotta
  • choose whole grain flour over white flours
  • use natural sweeteners like fruit juice or applesauce in place of sugar

Even sweets can be created using basic, beneficial ingredients. Mr. Hanson makes “blondies” using flaxseed, assorted berries, fruit juice, and other nutrient-rich ingredients in order to have a satisfying and healthy dessert.

Do you have to sacrifice flavor for nutrition? Mr. Hanson doesn’t think so.

“We use healthier alternatives like this all the time in my family, and they like it,” he said. “Even when we have guests over for Thanksgiving, they never notice the difference.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, Thanksgiving dinners can contain upwards of 4,000 calories, with many coming from saturated and trans fats.

The stuffed feeling one gets when they lay on the sofa holding their stomach comes from too much sodium intake, explained Dr. Thomas Goldberger at Doctors Express. “There are some people who when they consume salt tend to retain a lot of water, which often ends up in their lungs, and they can’t breathe,” he said. As Mr. Hanson maintains, healthy meal choices on Thanksgiving can certainly help those who might have such issues.

In order to make sure that his health students remember these precautions when sitting at the table, Mr. Hanson gives his students an exam on healthier food choices shortly before Turkey Day, knowing that a few smart decisions can make all the difference.

The Classic’s Recipe — Inspired by Mr. Hanson’s Suggestions


3/4 pound lean ground turkey
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 oz) cans tomato paste
2 (6.5 oz) cans tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
12 lasagna noodles
16 oz cottage cheese
3/4 pound low fat mozzarella cheese, sliced
3/4 cup grated Parmesan

Heat a large skillet over medium heat; cook and stir in the first four ingredients for about 15 minutes. Put in tomatoes and water. Sprinkle with herbs. Leave uncovered on stove for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Boil a large pot of water with salt to taste. Cook lasagna for about 8 minutes. Drain.

Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise in a 9×13 baking dish. Divide sauce from step 1 into 3 even amounts spreading first layer on top of the layers. Sprinkle a ¼ cup of all 3 cheeses. Repeat process two more times. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

Bake in oven for about 50 minutes or until cheese is golden brown. Cool before serving.

The printed version of this story did not explicitly clarify that these recipes were adapted by Classic staffers using Mr. Hanson’s suggestions.  They are not Mr. Hanson’s specific recipes.