Seven Swaps and Additions for a Healthier Thanksgiving

Like any logical American, I look forward to Thanksgiving starting the day after the previous year’s Thanksgiving. Personally, I’m in it for the brussels sprouts and dessert. I really like any reason to celebrate - mainly by baking and eating - so this all-day event is right up my alley of celebrations expertise. However, I don’t love the heavy, food coma-inducing feeling in my stomach at the end of the night. With that in mind, I put together some helpful swaps and additions for your Thanksgiving meal that don’t sacrifice taste.

1. Steam vegetables instead of using oil and butter.

While grassfed butter and olive oil certainly have their health benefits, reducing your use of these fats on Thanksgiving day can help lower your total caloric intake and ease your digestive system. While I’m a firm believer that calories aren’t everything, we all know that our energy input and energy output around the holidays are a little askew.

Pick one vegetable dish to steam instead of sautéing or baking, and serve it with a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper. Green beans and asparagus are great choices for this! A Thanksgiving meal is bursting with flavor, so this light and clean taste will be a welcome addition to any plate.


2. Make your own dressing without the added sugar.

Many (if not most) store-bought salad dressings contain added sugar, but making your own at home is super easy and arguably tastier. Try this lemon tahini dressing or an oil-free Dijon vinaigrette. I’m a fan of tahini - a paste made from sesame seeds - because it’s a healthy fat that’s high in protein and minerals. Plus, it brings a robust flavor to your salad.

3. Mashed potatoes two ways.

There’s no need to skip this favorite dish. All we’re doing here is lessening our total caloric intake by making a substitution. You can use a non-dairy milk instead of milk and cream in mashed potatoes, or you can save some of the starchy cooking water to use. This leftover water is similar to milk or water mixed with flour and can give you the fluff you need. You can also use it to make gravy without the use of thickeners.

4. Include a whole grain.

Add a side dish with whole grains or even rethink your stuffing like in this wild rice and quinoa stuffing. Fiber will help you feel full so you don’t overeat and helps regulate your blood sugar. If you want to keep the bread in your stuffing, take a look at this New York Times recipe for a whole grain stuffing.

5. Skip canned cranberry sauce and make your own.

Does anyone else find making cranberry sauce to be strangely therapeutic? Maybe it’s the motion of it, or maybe it’s the sense of power that comes from creating something delicious out of what might be the worst tasting berry in the world. That being said, if you’ve ever had a cranberry, it’s obvious that they need some sweetening. But canned cranberry sauce is full of energy-dense sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup. Instead, try this naturally-sweetened cranberry sauce with maple syrup and freshly squeezed orange juice. This way, you can cut back on the sugar while maintaining the health benefits of cranberries (did you know that only blueberries top cranberries when it comes to antioxidants?)


6. Rethink your protein.

Is this a sin? Now, I’m not saying eliminate the turkey (it’s a holiday, eat what makes you happy), but you can also add some fish to your menu. Wild-caught salmon is best known for being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for our health because of their important role in reducing inflammation. But if you’re buying a turkey, try to find one that’s organic and free range.

7. Serve a fruit plate with dessert.

It would be offensive to skip dessert on Thanksgiving, and I have no intention of doing so. But adding a side of fruit to your pumpkin pie will not only add some nutrients, but will also add some fiber to fill you up and keep you from going back for seconds and thirds. You could even make a coconut dip to serve alongside it.

You can also choose to skip store-bought and make a healthier version of your favorite treats, like this sweet potato pecan pie or this apple tart. This year, I’m planning on making a Kabocha Pumpkin Pie and leveraging its naturally sweet and buttery taste.

Do you have other tips for preparing a healthier Thanksgiving? We’d love to hear them!


Emily Smith

PR and Marketing Specialist of Vegetable and Butcher and a self-proclaimed nutrition nerd and sustainability junkie. Emily called DC home for three years before making her way to California. Emily has her master's in Nutrition Education and is a Certified Nutrition Specialist® (CNS®) candidate. She's passionate about helping people learn to use food to fuel their outdoor activities, and in her free time you can find her rock climbing. . You can connect with her on her website and on Instagram.

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