Thanksgiving Shopping Cart

No other holiday holds a candle to Thanksgiving when it comes to preparing a special meal. Each of us has our own tradition for eats on the fourth Thursday of November, but for the majority, it will include roast turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

Even within those dishes, there’s a whole lot of variation. We at GoodGuide wanted to dig a little deeper into what’s behind two versions of the classic Thanksgiving meal: one that’s based on supermarket shortcuts and another that’s primarily made from scratch. If you were to actually buy the ingredients listed on packaged foods and in recipes for these dishes, what would your shopping cart look like?

A Convenient Thanksgiving

A Made-From-Scratch Thanksgiving

It’s obvious that there are many more ingredients in the first shopping cart. Many of these ingredients are added in to replace nutrients lost during processing, maintain longer shelf-life, and improve the texture of the final product. While there seems to be very logical reasons for using these ingredients, there is very little transparency into the convoluted process of approving these ingredients for use in foods. This was made clear in a recent report by the Pew Health Group on the food additive regulatory process, which states:

…there are an estimated 6204 current affirmative safety decisions which allow for more than an estimated 10000 substances to be used in food. More than half of the safety decisions are not made by FDA or EPA. Overall, federal agencies made approximately 40% of the more than 6,000 safety decisions allowing substances in human food. These decisions allowed an estimated 66% of the substances currently believed to be used in food. FEMA has made more affirmative food safety decisions than FDA. In addition, an estimated 1000 manufacturer safety decisions are never reported to FDA or the public.

The other message is that Thanksgiving meals aren’t really healthy to begin with (salt, sugar and butter are hard to miss in the “made-from-scratch” cart, and there is a dearth of vegetables). It would be incorrect to assume that there is more of any one particular ingredient than another from these charts though, as bigger words just mean the ingredient shows up in multiple foods. Still, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add a few green sides to the table.

In the end, it may take a little longer to transform the bottom chart into a tasty holiday spread, but at least you can be confident in knowing exactly what is in the food you feed your loved ones. Plus, you’d be able to name all the ingredients in less than a minute.

The charts above were made using Wordle. If you’re wondering what recipes will be created with the made-from-scratch cart, here’s the list:
Simple Roast Turkey with Rich Turkey Gravy
Herb and Onion Stuffing
Perfect Mashed Potatoes
Jellied Cranberry Sauce
Pumpkin Pie (with Gingersnap Cookies)

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
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One Response to Thanksgiving Shopping Cart

  1. Lynette says:

    I love this post! The ingredients from my Thanksgiving dinner resembles the 2nd picture because I make most everything from scratch. It’s a 3-day (highly organized) cooking “process” leading up to the Big Day, but everything tastes sooo much better! Thanks, Sheila!

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