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ISU nutritionist shares tips for a healthy Thanksgiving, even with rising grocery prices

Virus Outbreak Altered Thanksgiving
John Minchillo
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AP file
In Illinois, the average price for a Thanksgiving meal for 10 is expected to jump 13% this year, to $65.53, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s latest Thanksgiving Cost Survey.

On Thursday, many of us will give thanks and hopefully enjoy a full plate of traditional dishes. That’s the easy part. Preparing the Thanksgiving dinner takes much more consideration.

Rising food costs make it even more challenging, especially if you want to include healthier options while sticking to a budget. In Illinois, the average price for a Thanksgiving meal for 10 is expected to jump 13% this year, to $65.53, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s latest Thanksgiving Cost Survey. Price increases were even higher on individual items like turkey (21%) and cubed bread stuffing (69%).

With those increases, it’s still important to keep healthy eating at the forefront, said Julie Schumacher, a registered dietician and nutritionist and professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Illinois State University. One way to do that is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, she said, which will help you avoiding processed food that has less nutrients.

“The perimeter of the grocery store oftentimes has the fresh fruits and vegetables, the dairy products where you can look for low-fat dairy options that are higher in protein. And frozen foods as well … frozen fruits and vegetables are high in nutrients, as well as lean protein options in that freezer aisle,” Schumacher said. “That way people can avoid spending their money on processed foods, which have less nutrients in them.”

Another cost-saving tip: Embrace seasonal produce.

“Buy produce that’s in season, such as kale, collard greens, winter squashes like butternut squash, root vegetables like carrots and beets; fruits like apples, cranberries, pomegranates – they’re all in season as well,” Schumacher said.

And remember: It is quite alright to indulge in that favorite once-a-year food on Thanksgiving. And if you’re cooking for people with allegories of certain diets, consider making two different versions of the same recipes, Schumacher said. If you have a famous green bean casserole, you could make a version using a low-sodium soup to accommodate those trying to eat heart healthy.

“With Thanksgiving, it really comes down to the ‘how much people are eating,’” she said. “Allow yourself to taste those foods, especially those once-a-year foods – the pumpkin pie, your aunt’s cheesy potatoes. But look at going once through the line of food and watching how much.”

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Jayla Johnson is a reporting and audio intern at WGLT. She joined the station in 2022.
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