Going Back to Our Roots—Recreating Thanksgiving

#TBT ThrowBackThanksgiving – Bitsy’s Co-Founder Maggie Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with her son on Central Park West in New York City.

Going Back to Our Roots—Recreating Thanksgiving

by Laura Cipullo RD, CDE, CDN, CEDRD, Mom, and Bitsy’s Registered Dietitian 

Here in the USA, Thanksgiving is the day to celebrate the harvest. Thanksgiving dinner is informally yet nationally known by all as the meal and even day of binging on harvest foods, including turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and, of course, a pie of apples, pumpkin, or sweet potatoes.

How did we get from giving thanks to a day that sometimes seems focused simply on overeating?  For many of us there is nothing to be more thankful for than a healthy family.  So how can we return to the roots of gratitude of Thanksgiving, while celebrating over a traditional healthy and wholesome family meal?

As you read this blog, consider how you and your family can go back to the roots of the first Thanksgiving in 1621, when the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag natives gave thanks for the plentiful harvest. Both pilgrims and the Wampanoag natives were accustomed to giving thanks by feasting and sport, whether recreational or dance (the latter referring specifically the natives)1.

The original feast likely included wild fowl of some sort, but not necessarily turkey. Rather, it was geese and waterfowl such as ducks that probably appeared on the first-ever Thanksgiving menu1. And if there was stuffing of the fowl, it would have been made with herbs and onions; perhaps the Pilgrims even used oats. What about cranberry sauce? Being that sugar was quite expensive at that time, it can be assumed our sauce version was not on the table. Rather, cranberries were found in recipes of Wampanoag dishes, and “possibly added tartness to a Pilgrim sauce1.” However, it was “fifty years later when an English writer would mention boiling this quintessential New England berry with sugar for a “Sauce to eat with… Meat.”1” Potatoes are from South America and were not yet a staple in New England’s diet. Wampanoag did eat other tubers including Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts, Indian turnip and even water lily. Pumpkins and squashes were native to New England but again, sugar, butter and piecrust were not available and thus pumpkin pie was not on the first menu1. “Today’s typical Thanksgiving dinner menu is actually more than 200 years younger than the 1621 harvest celebration and reflects the holiday’s roots in Colonial New England of the 1700s and Victorian nostalgia for an idyllic time when hearth and home, family and community were valued over industrial progress and change.1

So the recipes have changed since the first three-day celebration of Thanksgiving, and it could be said that we have certainly lost some of the true focus of the day, gratitude.  As we teach todays children the meaning of this special holiday, let’s go back to giving thanks and move away from mindless eating.

Give thanks and be mindful this Thanksgiving. Here are a few tips:

  1. Read your children stories on www.scholastic.com about the first Thanksgiving. Books may include: Thanksgiving for Emily Ann  and The Thanksgiving Story.
  2. Start your Thanksgiving afternoon giving thanks for health with a fun family activity, whether it be a game of football, a drumming session, or even a family yoga session.
  3. Start your Thanksgiving meal with a prayer or poem about thanks. Your children can write these poems.
  4. Recreate the original Thanksgiving meal of stuffed fowl, with Indian corn, cranberries, and squash. Research dishes native to the Wampanoag’s. Make multiple dishes without added sugar. This will be both an educational and experimental lesson.
  5. Practice mindfulness at the meal. Perhaps read the story of the first Thanksgiving meal between dinner and dessert.
  6. Discuss giving thanks. List five things you are thankful for and five things you can do to give back at the end of the meal.
  7. Celebrate this holiday season by volunteering and doing an act of service and giving together as a family.  For ideas on how to volunteer with young children visit www.generationOn.org or www.handsonnetwork.org.



1. “Partakers of Our Plenty.” Plimoth Plantation. Plimoth Plantation, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.





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