Over the river and through the woods to our Thanksgiving feasts we go. Tis the season of gatherings and grand feasts, and of all the side dishes that grace our Thanksgiving tables, stuffing (also known as dressing) is one of our nation’s most beloved. In fact, it’s estimated that roughly 60 million boxes of Stove Top stuffing mix are sold each year.
The Stuffing Problem
“Stuffing is one of the most calorically dense Thanksgiving side dishes out there,” says Alexis Appel a Roper St. Francis Registered Dietitian. It’s often made with refined white bread and/or fat-laden starches like corn bread or fried croutons. “Many recipes provide the same amount of carbohydrates as four to five slices of sandwich bread per serving,” she notes. Dressing often includes ingredients high in saturated fat, like sausage and butter, and boxed varieties come loaded with excess sodium.
In fact, one serving of Paula Deen’s Country Stuffing—which calls for two loaves of white bread (that breaks down to a fourth of a loaf per serving!), 2 cups of white rice, a sleeve of Saltine crackers, and a pound of breakfast sausage—is loaded with 727 calories, 24g total fat, 7g saturated fat, 1,660mg sodium, and 97g carbs.
The Stuffing Fix
So what can you do to give your stuffing a healthier twist? Try cutting back on calories, saturated fat, cholesterol and carbs while increasing the fiber and overall nutrition of the dish with the following swaps. Replace store-bought mix with homemade, whole-wheat breadcrumbs or even whole grains like farro or quinoa, and swap out high-fat sausage for a hearty stock like beef or veal. Add fiber and bulk to the dish while using less bread by mixing in a variety of cooked vegetables like onions, carrots, celery, squash, bell peppers, and mushrooms; roasted fruit like apples, pears, or cherries; and chopped nuts. Lastly, use herbs to boost flavor without adding sodium.
If it’d be sinful to modify your great grandmother’s recipe, give yourself permission to indulge in a small portion and cut back somewhere else—perhaps by skipping the buttered dinner roll or limiting the desserts in which you indulge.
To Stuff or Not to Stuff?
Though it‘s safe to cook stuffing inside a turkey, it can be tricky as both the stuffing and the meat have to reach an internal temperature of 165°F, which can result in either tough, overcooked meat or dry stuffing. To play it safe without compromising the taste of either, cook them separately.