Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas...with a Healthy Twist!

There’s a lot to love about Thanksgiving dinner. With many of us placing an increased emphasis on healthy eating, though, it can be difficult to prepare a holiday meal that meets our dietary criteria. Fortunately, there are plenty of Thanksgiving dinner ideas that easily convert your favorites to healthier versions. 

Vegetable Sides are Foundational

Thanksgiving is inherently based around a variety of vegetable dishes, from green bean casserole to butternut squash to corn. It’s very possible to tweak many of these recipes so that they are healthier. Removing some of the butter, cream and cheese that many of these sides call for is a great first step. Food like sweet potatoes with brown sugar, too, can be changed to require less sweetener.

Give a roasted carrot and fennel dish a try for some healthy fall color in your meal. You’ll need to halve the fennel, trim the carrots of their greens and cook both with olive oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet. You can add lime juice, cilantro, scallions and even feta or pistachios to taste.

If you’re a fan of green bean casserole but want to lighten it up, you can make a green bean salad instead. Adding a delicious Dijon vinaigrette provides the perfect degree of tanginess. Cherry tomatoes, walnuts and feta are nice toppers for this dish.

Lighten Starches and Meat

Looking for a healthy twist to your favorite sweet potato casserole? This one calls for making a peach and oat streusel to top the dish. Best of all, leftovers of this tasty side can grace your table at breakfast, dinner or even as a late-night dessert.

The star of the Thanksgiving meal, of course, is the turkey. While you can’t do much to change the bird itself, you can alter how it’s prepared. Avoid dark meat and skin if you are trying to lower your fat and calorie intake. Additionally, you could hold off on rubbing the bird with oil or butter before it is cooked.

Change your stuffing recipe to be a bit lighter. This homemade one calls for whole grain bread and copious herbs to compensate for less fat. It’s a delicious addition to your meal.

Lighten up Desserts

Desserts are one of the best parts of Thanksgiving, so it wouldn’t do to go without them entirely. However, you can put a twist on many popular holiday treats to make them fit your diet.

For instance, consider a single-crust pie instead of a double-crust pie. Fruit pies may have fewer calories than cream pies, depending on how much sugar is added. Some pies, like apple, actually don’t need sugar at all if you use sweet apples and enough cinnamon.

An alternative to pie is a baked apple or baked pear dish. This can be made in the form of a galette, tart or with freestanding fruit. These baked apples are stuffed with oats and have a streusel-type taste.

Top your treats with low-fat ice cream or whipped cream, and sample a small serving of each dessert, rather than having more than one normal serving. You can also set aside certain desserts that you would like to try and plan to have them the next day (perhaps for breakfast, if you can’t wait much longer).

Change How You Eat

You can also make changes to how you eat on Thanksgiving. Fill your plate most of the way with vegetable side dishes, followed by heartier parts of the meal like stuffing and turkey.

If you’ll be having appetizers before your meal, indulge in a little bit of everything, but don’t treat the pre-dinner course like a meal all its own. It’s easy to fill up on snacks and then feel like you’re still obligated to have a large dinner simply because it’s a holiday.

Limit how many drinks you have, whether you’re sipping soda or chardonnay. These can cause you to feel full quickly, but they contain a large number of essentially empty calories. If you’ll have a non-water beverage with your Thanksgiving meal, it’s best to drink it slowly through the course of the meal.

Eat your food more slowly, and enjoy the time you have with family and friends. Savoring the meal you have labored over can be extremely satisfying, and it may also help you to feel full more quickly.

Finally, be sure to save room for dessert. Thanksgiving desserts are some of the best of the year, and you’ll want to pace yourself throughout the day so you can indulge in something truly worthwhile.

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