Senior Physical Health

When You Can’t Butter ’Em Up: 5 Ways Grandma Can Enjoy a Low-Fat Diet

When You Can’t Butter ’Em Up: 5 Ways Grandma Can Enjoy a Low-Fat Diet

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“May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey be plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!”

CJ Beaman

Thanksgiving has long been a favorite meal of Americans, whether at home, in restaurants, or in assisted living facilities. Turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, fresh bread, a smorgasbord of pies… and that age-old argument about the yeas and nays of cranberry sauce.

Makes my mouth water just to think of it.

So what happens when the doctor tells Grandma and Grandpa “no” to basic ingredients?

Time to look at substitutions.

Frontida Senior Living Communities, such as Fond du Lac’s Adelaide Assisted Living and Memory Care Facility, provide you with posts like this one to help you live your best life.

If you haven’t yet, check out this other post on getting creative with salt or how to make recipes sugar-free. But salt and sugar may not be the only ingredient you have to worry about.

Here are more tweaks to keep the Thanksgiving smile on everyone’s face.

(Again, the fine print: I am not a dietician or a doctor. These are just ideas I’ve learned along the way. I always try hard to research what I write, but please check with your doctor/dietician to confirm it’s okay for you and YOUR grandparents.)

To Butter or Not to Butter

Ah, that IS the question.

And the discussion can get very confusing.

  • Traditional research, along with food plans like Body for Life, say only use fat that stays liquid at room temperature. Like olive oil. Sunflower oil. Safflower oil.

Basically keep to the unsaturated—mono and poly— “healthy” fats.

Eaten in moderation, they’re said to lower your cholesterol, reduce heart disease, and even help you lose weight by avoiding the “starvation metabolic-halt.”  

  • Keto says those healthy fats are great, but fear no butter.

Which is right?

Seems new research can’t agree. It may relate to how much you eat of each and what else you’re eating.

But rather than get into the whole debate here—you get enough of that on social media—let’s talk ways to cut down on fat in general.

1. Criss-Cross Applesauce

You know that ol’ apple a day? Guess what. It comes in handy here, too.

In baking—cakes, cookies, muffins—replace half the butter or oil content with applesauce.

Preferably the unsweetened kind.

  • So if you need ½ cup of butter, use ¼ cup of it plus ¼ cup applesauce.

I’ve even used it in my bread maker, replacing the entire fat called for.

  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter becomes 3 heaping Tablespoons of applesauce.

The rise is a little lower, i.e. a little more dense, but it’s incredibly moist.

2. Good Grief, Good Gravy

With a really good meal, you want all the flavor—without having to count calories for every bite.

Can you get that with gravy?


Que Kitchen Science for 100. And the answer, “What is fat density?”

Because fat is less dense than the rest of the turkey drippings, it floats to the top, making it easy to remove.

Especially if you have a fat separator.

Pour the meat drippings into the separator, wait for a few minutes, and then pour out all the turkey juice with none of the fat.

No separator? No problem.

  • Place a Ziploc bag in a bowl, pour in the drippings, and seal it.
  • Wait for a few minutes.
  • When the fat (the yellower part) floats to the top, puncture a small hole in the bottom of the bag and let the bottom drippings seep out until just the fat is left.

Now you can use all that fatless juice to make your gravy, choosing just how much of the fat you want to include.

Then? Go ahead. Smother everything in gravy.

3. The Turkey Tan

Norman Rockwell’s iconic picture of Thanksgiving dinner proves it. Everyone wants to see that beautiful golden sheen on the bird.

Usually it’s made possible by lots of butter applied like suntan oil all over the skin, and then several bouts of basting.

But olive oil can have the same effect.

  • You can either just use the liquid oil
  • Or use half butter, half oil.

Either way, you’ve cut the calories.

And in the end, in the words of Paul Hollywood (Great British Baking Show), you don’t just want style. You want substance.

Looks are great. Taste is vital.

Thankfully, spices like garlic add zero calories and a whole lot of flavor. So rub that into the skin before tossing it into the oven. You’ll never know you’ve cut down on the fat.

4. Kick the Fat out of Stuffing

Whether you call it dressing or stuffing, basically, re-read #3. And ditto.

Partially swap out olive oil for butter, double up on the spices (yes, garlic!), and if you want to get creative, add apple sauce to the mix.

My family never knows the difference. And they love my stuffing.

5. Bread Butter Side Up

Okay, unless you have dipping oils, the one place you can’t really use plain olive oil is as a spread on your rolls.

If you’re in the alternative-to-butter camp?

  • Your grocery probably has lots of oil sprays in the butter section. They taste so real, you won’t believe they aren’t butter (*wink*).
  • Need a soy-free option? Try Earth Balance. It still has calories and some saturated fats, but less than butter.

[Earth Balance ingredients: Oil Blend (Palm Fruit, Canola, Safflower, Flax, And Olive Oils), Water, Contains Less Than 2% Of Salt, Natural Flavor*, Pea Protein, Sunflower Lecithin, Lactic Acid (Non-Dairy), And Naturally Extracted Annatto (Color).]

When Butterfingers Could Ruin Thanksgiving…

Face it, Thanksgiving has plenty of calories. If you can cut a few here or there—without losing flavor—why not? Especially if it means Grandma and Grandpa can eat their favorites.

Whether it’s applesauce, olive oil, garlic, or a blend of those and butter, Thanksgiving will still taste just as yummy—and everything can sit a little lighter on the table.

Now, if your grandparents big bad wolf is sugar? Check out this next post on sweet possibilities to make sure they can enjoy ALL the holiday cooking.

Frontida Assisted Living loves celebrating holidays—and every day. Come check out how these Wisconsin Senior Living Communities enjoy the festivities.

Check out these other helpful posts to learn more about eating and dietary issues for grandparents.

Thank you to William Krause on Unsplash for the featured photo

Elizabeth Daghfal
• 4 min read

Elizabeth Daghfal is a writer, teacher, speaker, and community volunteer. When she isn't teaching or writing-- Who are we kidding? Her husband and five kids say she's ALWAYS teaching and writing. She has a passion to help people who are struggling and is happy to say her shoulders are drip-dry. Born and raised in the South, she now lives in Wisconsin and loves it--except for the fifteen months of winter. Read more about her at