With COVID-19 guidelines making gatherings a bit smaller this year for many people, it can be a great time to try reinventing some holiday classics with a healthy Thanksgiving twist. Here are our top five tips for a healthier traditional Thanksgiving meal that doesn’t sacrifice any flavor:
1. Homemade cranberry sauce with honey or maple syrup
The store-bought cranberry sauces available for Thanksgiving are convenient, but they’re also mostly added sugar. The good news is, there are many recipes on the internet for cranberry sauces with more natural alternatives.
Using ½ cup of honey or maple syrup to make your cranberry sauce lowers the overall amount of calories from sugar in your cranberries, lowers the glycemic index of your cranberry sauce—meaning your body will release less insulin after eating it—and can add a more complex flavor to the dish. By making homemade cranberry sauce you’ll also be avoiding the chemicals used in processing.
2. Make gluten-free, carb-free stuffing for low-carb diets
Thanksgiving can be made into a low-carb, paleo-friendly meal pretty easily, since it’s mostly made up of veggie sides and turkey. The one thing that can get in the way of that is the stuffing, but for many people, that traditional stuffing flavor is an important part of the Thanksgiving experience. Luckily, a recipe exists to save the day. By sauteeing veggies until they are very soft—including celery, onions, mushrooms, and apple—and then baking them with poultry seasoning and eggs, you can create a totally paleo-friendly healthy Thanksgiving classic that tastes remarkably similar.
For the people who plan to use bread in stuffing, a tip to make it healthier is to choose whole grain. You can still add sauteed soft veggies and egg to your recipe to add some nutritional content, too.
3. Get the most out of mashed potatoes
Mashed potatoes sometimes get a bad reputation, but potatoes are actually healthy foods if prepared properly. The issue is more with how they are prepared for this hearty recipe, so a few small changes can go a long way to making a healthier dish. First, try to include the potato skin in your mash. The skin is loaded with vitamins and minerals and is the healthiest part of the potato, and it can add texture to the dish.
Another tip is to blend in some boiled cauliflower with your mashed potatoes in the mixer, to boost the nutritional density of the dish. Finally, consider using Greek yogurt instead of sour cream to get a tangy flavor that’s higher in protein.
4. Healthier sweet potato casserole
Sweet potato casseroles can sometimes come out more like a dessert than a main course, but there are a few ways to make them a bit healthier. Sweet potatoes are naturally very healthy, loaded in potassium and beta carotenes. To get the most out of them, consider using a dried fruit or sliced apple topping instead of just marshmallows.
There’s even a recipe for a nut and almond flour crumble over the top, and you can add a few small marshmallows to it just for fun. You can also try using honey or maple syrup instead of white sugar for this recipe, since these sweeteners are stronger and will require less to get to the same level of sweetness. Vanilla extract and crushed pineapple can add a little sweetness, too.
5. Make more vegetable sides
Making a few more vegetable sides is some extra work, but the payoff is huge. Not only will you have more delicious veggie options to load up your plate with, but they will actually help you get full sooner on nutritious foods and avoid going back for as much of the more indulgent stuff. The more variety you have, the better this works, and the more fun it will be to load up your Thanksgiving plate with all the options.
A few ideas for healthy sides that don’t take too long include green beans, scalloped potatoes, butternut squash (as a roast, mash or soup), honey glazed carrots, roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower, or baked apples. Add a couple more of these than you originally had planned—if you can squeeze them into your oven rotation—and you’ll feel like you have more of a feast and end up with a healthy Thanksgiving overall at the same time.