Thanksgiving meal alternatives are varied for those seeking lighter fare or less work

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For people who don’t care for the traditional Thanksgiving Day dishes, prefer a lighter meal or just hate cooking (and the cleaning), there are options.

Dietitians are ready with advice for altering recipes or bucking the usual courses. And some restaurants stay open so people can leave the work to someone else.

Broomfield resident Jessica Roberts is president of the Denver Dietetic Association and works for St. Anthony North Health Campus in Westminster. Her first piece of advice for anyone off-put by the indulgent nature of Thanksgiving eating: Relax and enjoy yourself.

“I think it’s important for everyone to remember that it is just once a year,” she said.

Thanksgiving Day recipes are typically high-calorie and high in fat. There are the cheesy potatoes, sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows and stuffing dripping in buttery goodness.

It’s OK to enjoy the deliciousness, Roberts said, especially in moderation. Most enjoyment from food comes in the first four to five bites, so Roberts recommends trying a little bit of everything as opposed to huge helpings of just a few options.

For people watching their waistline or living with dietary restrictions, there are ways to adjust those recipes.

Use olive oil instead of butter when basting the turkey or roasting vegetables. Try a nut-based crust for pies and desserts. For lactose-intolerant guests, make mashed potatoes with almond milk or vegan butter instead of dairy. Eat the white meat as opposed to dark meat from the turkey and pass on the skin. Both will save calories.

Roberts also has tips for anyone who doesn’t like the usual Thanksgiving Day spread. There’s no hard and fast rule that people must have turkey, she said. Some families prefer ham or even a Cornish hen, which is not as rich as turkey.

“Remember that Thanksgiving and all these holidays are about being with people and enjoying people,” Roberts said. “Don’t let any food fears or food restrictions keep you away from spending time with the people you love.”

While most restaurants close for the holiday, some stay open and urge community members to leave the cooking and cleaning to them.

Lakewood restaurant Tstreet Roadhouse stays open on Thanksgiving and does every year, said director of operations Justin Adrian. They offer their regular menu, for people who prefer steak to turkey, but also a special Thanksgiving Day meal with “all the fixings” — homemade cranberry sauce, stuffing and mashed potatoes.

“We’re doing smoked turkey this year as well as regular turkey breast,” Adrian said. “We brine it for 24 hours.”

Adrian said they typically have a packed house on Thanksgiving. They get everyone from single community members to families who don’t have time to cook, most by reservation. Time constraints and the busy nature of hosting family are among the main reasons people opt to eat out, he said.

The restaurant does close early, with last seating around 8 p.m., so employees on a later shift can leave to spend time with their own families.

In Lone Tree, the 2-month-old restaurant Urban Village will offer Thanksgiving Day catering and stay open to the community. The eatery offers contemporary Indian cuisine dreamed up by executive chef Charlie Mani.

Their dishes are low in spices and avoid butter, Mani said, two ingredients that often deter people from trying Indian food. He wants to make the cuisine approachable for everyone. They also cater to gluten-free, pescatarian and vegetarian clients.

Mani said he’s keeping the restaurant open on Thanksgiving as a “thank you” to his Lone Tree community. He also has advice for anyone looking to bypass traditional Thanksgiving dishes or planning on cooking themselves.

“Just come and eat my food,” he said with a laugh. “Don’t do my job at home, I’m here to do that.”

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