Health In Focus


  • The fourth Thursday of November is celebrated as Thanksgiving Day in the US.
  • Thanksgiving dinner is the highlight of the day and consists of turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, green bean casserole and cornbread.
  • Originally the first thanksgiving feast was the same as that which is enjoyed now.

Thanksgiving day is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the US and on the second Monday of October in Canada. This day was originated to celebrate and be thankful to God for the blessing of the harvest.

Later it turned out to be a holiday season with carnivals, feast and football. Anyway, the focus of the day is the 'Thanksgiving dinner' that is prepared and enjoyed with the entire family. In some cases, friends and neighbors get together for the meal.

What's on the Menu for Thanksgiving Dinner?

Since this is one of the most enjoyed and relished feast, the best food is prepared and put on the table. The food which is usually served includes, turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.
Thanksgiving Dinner: What’s On Your Plate?

Turkey with stuffing: The turkey is the main course of the meal and is stuffed with bread or vegetables, mainly cauliflower or yam. The meat, weighing about 20 to 30 pounds is cooked for 8 - 12 hours depending on the quantity. Slow cooking on the oven makes it exceptionally delicious.

Mashed potatoes: This is the main accompaniment that goes along with the meat. The potatoes or sweet potatoes in some cases are cooked in milk and butter or cream.

Gravy, sauces to go along with the turkey and potatoes. The sauce is a high calorie food made with mushrooms and butter.

Grilled vegetables, beans are other add ons in the menu. Americans usually have a balanced meal with vegetables and greens. It may be in the form of salads or grilled or boiled.

Pumpkin pie: For dessert, pumpkin pie, pecan pie are served. The reason for pumpkin to pop up might be because it is seasonal.

Wine: No meal is complete without alcohol. When it is a party and spending time with friends, alcohol is preferred.

Though, this is said to be a traditional meal, is it really what was on the first thanksgiving?

What was the First Thanksgiving Meal?

The First Thanksgiving which took place in the year 1621 was a feast between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony. The feast included waterfowl, venison, ham, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash.

Surprising, isn't it? The thanksgiving meal was altered based on the preferences of the nationals. In England, there is a liking for turkey compared to other meats and so they adopted the meat from the vast list of protein that was served at the first meal.

The turkey which is now the highlight of the meal wasn't in the picture. It is said that wild turkeys were also used along with venison (deer). The pilgrims were early Europeans who hunt. They relish venison, ham and prefer seafood and waterfowl.

So turkey was included in the menu in the late 1800's since the Presidents back then wanted to include it in the meal. Benjamin Franklin had a liking for turkey. Officially in America, turkeys were on the menu after 1863 when the day was declared a national holiday by Lincoln.

Along with chopped celery, carrots, and onions sage is the traditional herb added to the stuffing. Bacon, chopped tree nuts, cranberries, raisins, were also added to stuffing.

Turnips, carrots, onions, garlic and pumpkins were harvested. The Indians taught the colonists to grow them and the first produce was on the table for thanksgiving feast.

The popular pumpkin pie and the cranberry sauce were not on the list. Yes! Pumpkin was served as soup. The oven was not invented in the 1600's so there was no possibility for a pie. Also, the pilgrims settled in a new land which means that they had to cultivate their own crops and so they had no access to wheat or flour.

It was just in the 1800's that the pie and the cranberry sauce was included in the White House menu and later became popular.

Wall, a foodways culinarian at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth has given inputs on the first Thanksgiving meal.

According to the culinarian, like most eastern woodlands people, had a "varied and extremely good diet."

The forest provided chestnuts, walnuts and beechnuts. "They grew flint corn (multicolored Indian corn), and that was their staple. They grew beans, which they used from when they were small and green until when they were mature," says Wall. "They also had different sorts of pumpkins or squashes."

Let's Rewind

Looking at how the ancient Thanksgiving feast took place, there is a better understanding on what makes the traditional meal. Not that we should follow the exact meal. but we could alternate some of the foods that were most relished.

Meat, mainly duck, venison or turkey and plenty of sea food, carrots, turnip and pie. The ancient meal was a high protein, low carbohydrate one and was packed with nutrients. There was no room for extra sugars. Also, the meal was less processed, meaning, there was very minimal cooking which retained more nutrients.

So, what needs to be changed? The choices are many.

Source: Medindia

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