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How Can I Add Healthy Foods to Thanksgiving?

October 26, 2021
How Can I Add Healthy Foods to Thanksgiving? - Lark Health

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In this article:

  • Making small changes can give you more nutrients and fewer calories while still having tasty foods. 
  • This article has tips that can make Thanksgiving dinner healthier and better for weight loss. 
  • These 10 recipe ideas are more nutritious and lower-calorie than many other Thanksgiving foods, but they taste great.
  • Use Lark during the holiday season to keep weight in check. You can be in a better place on New Year's Day!

Thanksgiving is the biggest eating day of the year. The Calorie Control Council estimates that Thanksgiving dinner has about 3,000 calories. And they are not usually very healthy ones. 

Thanksgiving foods can be healthier and better for weight loss if they are any of the following.

  • Lower in calories
  • Lower in sugar, refined starch, and saturated fat
  • Higher in fiber, antioxidants, and vegetables.

It is possible to make Thanksgiving healthier. WIth some easy swaps, you can incorporate healthy foods into recipes that still taste great. These are some tips for making healthy changes. swaps. We also have 10 healthy recipe ideas to try.

A Healthier Thanksgiving Meal

When it comes to Thanksgiving and calories, it can help to change your way of thinking. The calories add up fast. That can be discouraging. 

But it can be encouraging to subtract instead. For example, a serving of turkey with skin, canned cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes with gravy can have 1,000 calories. Ugh! But consider this: if you remove the skin from the turkey, make sugar-free cranberry sauce, puree your potatoes with milk instead of butter, and top them with broth-based gravy, your new total may be only 500 calories. You may still be on track for a higher-calorie meal than normal, but the damage may be a lot less than it would be with the original choices.

These are some swaps to consider. Each one lowers the calorie count or improves the nutritional profile of the original food. But it retains the spirit and basic flavor.

Instead of… Consider… Estimated Calorie Reduction per Portion
Chips with ranch, onion, or other creamy dips
Raw vegetables with salsa
Bread or rice stuffing cooked inside the turkey with butter, bacon, and sausage
Brown rice or whole-grain bread stuffing cooking alongside the turkey, with equal parts of vegetables and grains
Turkey with skin
Turkey without skin
Canned cranberry sauce or cranberry sauce made with sugar
Cranberry sauce made with less sugar plus cinnamon, or made with a sweetener such as monk fruit or stevia plus vanilla
Mashed potatoes with butter, cream cheese, and sour cream
Pureed cauliflower and mashed potatoes with reduced-calorie margarine, fat-free sour cream, and buttermilk.
Gravy made with drippings and butter
Gravy made with broth, carrot, and onion
Creamed onions
Roasted onions
Green bean casserole with butter, cream, and fried onions
Roasted green beans or green bean casserole with low-fat cream of mushroom soup and chopped pecans
Corn casserole with cream
Roasted corn on the cob
Thanksgiving salad with greens, dried cranberries, cheese, and crispy noodles, with creamy dressing
Greens with other items served on the side
Pumpkin pie with whipped cream
Pumpkin pie cup with pumpkin puree, whipped topping, and pumpkin pie spice, plus crumbled regular or chocolate graham cracker on top
Apple pie with two crusts
Baked apple, halved, cored, and stuffed with oats, pecans, cinnamon, and sugar

Ten Healthy Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas

1. Green Salad with Thanksgiving-Inspired Toppings

Green Salad with Thanksgiving-Inspired Toppings

A Thanksgiving salad with dressing, croutons, cheese, dried fruit, and deli meat can have more calories than an entire meal should have. Instead, if you are in charge of making the salad, try serving a large bowl of greens with smaller bowls of toppings on the side. Then everyone can serve themselves. To keep calories down, load your plate up with a plate of greens and small amounts of toppings and dressing. These are some healthier ones to consider.

  • Pomegranate seeds have 1/4 of the calories per cup as dried cranberries, and no added sugar.
  • Pecans or walnuts are high in calories, but packed with healthy fats.
  • Blue or goat cheese adds a lot of flavor in a small serving.
  • Cooked beets or butternut squash in cubes have a different texture to contrast with the other crunchy ingredients.
  • Homemade dressing with olive oil, dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, and herbs such as sage

2. Whole-Wheat Stuffing with Extra Vegetables

Choose a stuffing recipe without sausage or bacon. Make the following changes.

  • Use whole-wheat bread, whole-grain cornbread, or brown rice instead of white bread, refined corn bread, or white rice.
  • Cut the amount of bread or rice in half. Add extra vegetables. Onions, celery, mushrooms, and cauliflower work well. 
  • If you like a sweet stuffing, add diced apple or diced pear instead of dried fruit.
  • Bake the stuffing alongside the turkey instead of inside of it. This will make the stuffing a little drier, so you can add extra broth before cooking and as needed while baking. As a bonus, you get a crispy top!

3. Easy Peasy Turkey

Roast the turkey in an oven bag, and you will not need to baste it. Better yet, there is no need to coat the turkey with butter. The turkey bag keeps the juices in so the meat comes out nice and moist. Serve it with deli or dijon mustard instead of creamy mayo or giblet gravy for more savings.

4. Smashed Cauliflower

Smashed Cauliflower

You may have heard of cauliflower as a substitute for potatoes. It works! Just cook a head of cauliflower (or a package of frozen florets) with a cut onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Break it into smaller pieces. Put the onion, cauliflower, and garlic in a food processor with 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a dash of nutmeg, and black pepper to taste. Puree it until it is creamy. You may need to add additional hot water to thin it out. 

You can use half cauliflower and half potatoes if you prefer. For a sweeter blend, use only half of an onion and add a peeled, cut turnip when cooking the cauliflower.

5. Lower-Fat Gravy

Turkey, mushroom, or chicken gravy mix is not very nutritious, since it is mostly starch and salt. Still, it is much lower in calories and fat than giblet gravy made with turkey drippings. If you prefer to make gravy yourself, consider using low-sodium chicken broth, whole-wheat and white flour, and an onion. 

6. Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

The oven will be on anyway. Why not put it to healthy use with these brussels sprouts? To make it even easier, purchase shaved brussels sprouts that are ready to use.

To serve 4 guests, trim and quarter a pound of Brussels sprouts. Then toss them with a mixture of 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 cloves of minced garlic, and 1/4 cup of low-sodium broth. Put them in a baking pan and bake until they are cooked.

7. Healthier Green Bean Mushroom Casserole

Green Bean Mushroom Casserole

Roasted fresh green beans, plain or with almonds, are a healthy bet. But if nothing besides creamy green bean casserole will hit the spot for you, a few changes can make it healthier.

  • Use fresh or frozen instead of canned green beans.
  • Add chopped mushrooms.
  • Use low-fat cream of mushroom soup instead of full-fat soup, sour cream, cream cheese, or heavy cream.
  • Top it with chopped walnuts or pecans instead of shredded cheese.

8. Baked Apples

Baked Apples

Once you give baked apples a try, you may wonder why anyone makes apple pie with so much sugar. Naturally sweet apples get even sweeter when baked. When you add cinnamon, they taste like apple pie. And when you add a topping with cinnamon and chopped pecans or rolled oats, it tastes and feels like a true dessert. 

9. Pumpkin Pie Cups

Pumpkin Pie Cups

Do you need to have two desserts for it to feel like Thanksgiving? Then why not try this twist on pumpkin pie? Blend together pumpkin puree, egg white, monk fruit or stevia, cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice, and drained tofu or cottage cheese. Then bake it in individual tart tins.

Go ahead if you want to add whipped topping for serving. Each tablespoon only has 10 to 20 calories, so you can still get away with a dessert that has around 100 calories. And if you need a crust, you can add 1 crushed graham cracker per cup on the bottom before pouring in the pumpkin mixture.

10. Turkey Vegetable Soup

Turkey Vegetable Soup

Just in case you are wondering what to do with those leftovers, here is an idea. Make soup with any turkey and pre-cut vegetables you have. Simmer them, along with barley or wild rice, in low-sodium broth with sage and thyme. Freeze the soup and you can enjoy a healthy Thanksgiving treat for weeks to come.

Lark can help you stay on track during the holiday season. Lark's nutrition and weight loss coaching includes daily check-ins, meal logging features, and instant feedback. And if motivation is what you need during this busy season, Lark is available 24/7 to provide it. 

Healthy eating during the holidays does not mean giving up everything you love. There are ways to fit in your favorites and stay true to tradition while making healthy choices. Lark can help you make small changes that can keep you on track. 

Your health insurance might cover Lark at no cost to you. Click here to find out if you may be eligible for Lark!

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Lark helps you eat better, move more, stress less, and improve your overall wellness. Lark’s digital coach is available 24/7 on your smartphone to give you personalized tips, recommendations, and motivation to lose weight and prevent chronic conditions like diabetes.

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