Healthy Thanksgiving recipe alternatives to traditional heavy dishes

Updated: Nov 19, 2021


You may have heard this scary statistic before about average calorie consumption on Thanksgiving: many Americans will stack their Thanksgiving plates with between 2,500 and 3,000 calories, plus over 150 grams of fat. This is more in one meal than many people need to consume in a whole day!


While holidays such as Thanksgiving aren't necessarily the time to deprive yourself, you can still stick to a mostly healthy diet by making a few smart swaps.


And even when you do opt to indulge in your favorite Thanksgiving comfort foods, simply keep an eye on portion sizes and try to balance things out by filling your plate with lots of vegetables.


Healthy Thanksgiving Recipe Swaps

Every cook will tell you that it's completely possible to cook delicious recipes that are still good for you. A few substitutions, such as adding in more veggies and taking out some added fat and sugar, can make all the difference.


Below are lightened up, but still, flavor-packed Thanksgiving recipes that make smart swaps for some of the less-healthy classics:


Instead of: Sweet Potato Casserole

Have: Roasted Sweet Potatoes


Sweet potatoes themselves are full of fiber, vitamin A, potassium, and magnesium. However, when coated in sugary marshmallows, this starch loses some of its health benefits.


A lighter alternative is to simply roast the potatoes whole in the oven and then sprinkle them with some cinnamon and sea salt, or dice them first and toss them in olive oil and your favorite seasonings.


Instead of: Traditional Mashed Potatoes

Have: Mashed Cauliflower


Mashed potatoes are amongst everyone's favorite side dishes because all of the added butter and cream make them especially rich and tasty.


The best way to turn this favorite into a healthier dish is to sub in low-calorie, high-fiber cauliflower for the potatoes, and to use less cream and butter.


Cauliflower becomes surprisingly soft and creamy once cooked and it takes on other flavors such as chives and sea salt well, so you won't even notice much of a difference but will be saving yourself hundreds of calories.


Instead of: A Big Spoonful of Stuffing

Have: Mini Stuffing Muffin Cups


There are dozens of different ways to make stuffing, including variations made with different types of bread, meat, vegetables, and herbs.


If you prefer to enjoy the classic type of stuffing that includes ingredients like white bread, butter, and sausage, the best thing to do is focus on portion control. A clever trick is to bake stuffing in small muffin cups, which helps everyone stick to one small scoop and limits the chances of you filling half the plate with stuffing.


Instead of: Creamy Green Bean Casserole

Have: Roasted Green Beans or Brussel Sprouts with Slivered Almonds


Nutrient-rich vegetables like green beans, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and carrots are always a welcomed addition to a healthy Thanksgiving table. However, how these veggies are prepared will determine how calorie-rich they wind up being, for example, whether they're cooked in lots of sugar, honey, cream, or butter.


Generally speaking, the healthiest ways to cook vegetables are to steam, saute or bake/roast them with a bit of good quality oil plus salt and pepper. Roasting veggies tend to make their flavor pop the most and allows you to add other healthy ingredients such as diced onions or shallots, garlic, herbs, nuts, and spices.


Instead of: Canned Cranberry Sauce

Have: Homemade Low-Sugar Cranberry Sauce


Just one small slice of canned cranberry sauce packs in more than 20 grams of sugar, which is equivalent to consuming more than 4 teaspoons of added table sugar!


Making homemade sauce with fresh cranberries, oranges, spices and just a bit of added sweetener is a smart way to control how much sugar you're eating. You can even blend regular sugar with a zero-calorie sweetener, such as stevia extract or monk fruit, to cut down the sugar content considerably while still maintaining a great flavor.


Instead of: Pecan Pie

Have: Lightened Up Apple Crumble


Pecan pie might taste great, but it's one of the most calorie and fat-dense desserts there is, due to ingredients like added sugar, butter, flour, and roasted nuts. Just one average slice of pecan pie has about 500 calories, which is what most people consume in a whole meal!


To pack all the flavors of fall into one healthier dessert, try baking cored apples stuffed with a homemade crumble of oats, cinnamon, and a bit of sugar and butter. Since the apples are naturally sweet you don't need a lot of added sugar to make this dessert taste great.


Want some other tips for keeping your Thanksgiving light and healthy?

  • Try filling half your plate with veggies. Vegetables are high in nutrients, fiber, and volume but low in calories, so eating them is the best way to balance richer recipes,

  • Opt for white meat turkey with the skin taken off instead of dark meat with the skin on. Go light on gravy, and instead add flavor by enjoying turkey with a bit of cranberry sauce.

  • Skip the buttery rolls and biscuits, which offer very little in terms of nutritional value. To satisfy your desire for comforting carbs, try having potatoes instead.

  • Monitor how much alcohol you drink. Stick to 1-2 drinks, aiming for having no more than one drink per hour to manage your appetite, since alcohol tends to increase hunger.