Ultimate Guide to a Healthy Thanksgiving

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Planning a healthy Thanksgiving isn't as hard as it sounds. You can still enjoy the day with all your favorite dishes and desserts while finding places to make healthier choices and swaps.

This guide will cover absolutely everything you need to know to plan a healthy thanksgiving for your entire family, from desserts to appetizers.

When an entire holiday is centered around eating a huge meal, it can be nerve-wracking trying to figure out how to keep it all as healthy as possible. I'm here to help!

In this guide, I'll share tips that will help you plan healthy dishes and make healthy choices. Then, I'll share all of my favorite healthy Thanksgiving recipes. Feel free to use this list as your holiday menu!

It's time to stress less and spend more energy enjoying this time with your family. This guide has you covered.

Healthier Thanksgiving cornbread and sausage stuffing with cranberries and fresh thyme.

The Best Tips For Hosting A Healthy Thanksgiving

Before we get into all the delicious and healthy recipes, let's look at a few hacks that will help you plan an entire menu that is filling and healthy.

With just a few swaps and tricks, you can plan a menu that will nourish your family's body as well as fill them up. These hacks are easy to follow and some of them you might already be doing!

1. Don't Fill Up Your Plate

Did you know that the average American will eat a whopping 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving? This includes drinks, appetizers, sides, and desserts.

One way that you can avoid eating two day's worth of calories at once is to only add a small amount of each thing to your plate. The trouble with Thanksgiving is that there are just too many different foods, and you want to eat them all.

Portion control is one of the best ways to allow yourself to taste all the different varieties that are on the table without overindulging.

2. Serve Healthy Side Dishes

If you are the host, then this tip is really easy!

As you create your menu, make healthy swaps. Instead of serving lots of carbs, use high-fiber vegetables. For example, make some mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes.

Fill up the table with some healthy salads too, like a strawberry spinach salad. Balance out the number of carbs on the table with options that include nutrient-dense vegetables.

If you are traveling to someone else's home for the big meal, call up the host and ask what they are serving so you can bring something that is a healthy option.

3. Split The Day Into 3 Meals

Another way to prevent yourself from consuming too many calories is to treat this holiday like a normal three-meal day. When you don't eat until the big meal, your body feels hungrier and you actually eat more calories than you would if you ate like normal.

Instead, wake up and eat a protein-filled breakfast like an egg-white omelet. Then for lunch, enjoy a soup and salad. Now you are ready to enjoy a few appetizers and your dinner.

You will feel so full and satisfied that you won't eat too much food.

Roasted green beans on a plate with garlic and a gold leaf spoon.

4. Make Smart Swaps

Next, look at your recipes and swap out some of the empty calories and carbs for high-fiber options. Here are a few of the healthier swaps you can make with your side dishes or desserts:

  • Choose fruit based desserts instead of recipes that require lots of sugar, cream, or butter
  • Roasted vegetables instead of gravy-covered veggies
  • Sauteed or roasted sweet potatoes instead of marshmallow yams
  • Wild rice instead of bread stuffing

5. Make Dishes Taste Better Without Salt

One of the most unhealthy parts of Thanksgiving isn't just the carbs from the rolls, pies, and potatoes. It's the salt.

Whenever people cook with canned foods (since that's an easy shortcut) they are increasing how much sodium is in their recipes, too. Too much sodium can cause you to retain water and will make you feel even more sluggish.

When you make your side dishes, try to use fresh vegetables instead of canned! Season your recipes with fresh herbs instead of pre-made salts and seasonings that often have more salt.

You will be surprised at how much better your recipes taste when you opt to use fresh ingredients too! It's an easy change that makes a really big difference.

6. Get Moving

One of the best ways to create some balance on a Thanksgiving day filled with food is to also work in some movement and exercise. Start the day off with a long walk outside, a favorite exercise routine or video, or just get some outside time with your family. 

Burn some extra calories by helping to set up for the big day, moving tables and chairs, setting up the Thanksgiving table, and helping with prep work in the kitchen. Believe it or not, all that extra working peeling potatoes, chopping veggies, and prepping the bird can amount to some serious exercise.  In fact, according to one source, you can burn up to 700 calories cooking Thanksgiving dinner. And that doesn't take into account cleaning. 

After dinner instead of taking a nap, spend some more time outdoors take a long walk to catch up with family members or playing outside. Thanksgiving traditions like family football games and turkey trots are a great way to sneak in some movement. 

Lastly, don't be afraid to help clean up. Not only will your host appreciate it, all that washing and wiping counts as movement!

Healthy green bean casserole with crispy onions and almonds in a baking dish with a wooden spoon.

Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes To Make For Your Holiday Dinner

Now that you have all the tips and hacks for a healthy Thanksgiving, let's look at all of the healthiest recipes for each part of the meal. Use this as your menu-it has everything you need on it!

Main Dish - The Turkey

For the turkey, you just have to roast the entire bird with your favorite herbs and spices. Turkey is naturally lighter meat and it's really good for you (in moderation of course). This recipe from Feel Good Foodie is detailed and has an irresistible basting recipe that creates a juicy bird.

If you don't want to (or don't have to) make an entire bird, pick up a packet of just turkey breasts. This recipe for roasted turkey breast is flavorful and only takes 30 minutes. This Traegar Turkey is also a delicious way to make a tasty turkey that's full of flavor without the need for tons of extra ingredients. 

Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

For the side dishes, plant out as many vegetable-focused recipes as you can. I'll share some of my favorites here with you.

  • Lightened Up Green Bean Casserole - Remake this classic side dish with all whole ingredients. It has lots more nutrients and less sodium and empty calories.
  • Garlic Mashed Cauliflower - Trade your mashed potatoes for this high-fiber and low-carb option.
  • Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes - These come out amazingly crispy and taste even better than canned yams.
  • Sauteed Carrots - These carrots are naturally sweet and when you saute them, they turn out crispy and soft at the same time.
  • Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing - Believe it or not, it's possible to make a healthier stuffing even if you want the sausage variety. This version with cranberries is always a huge hit. 
  • Wild Mushroom Gravy - You can still enjoy a salty gravy, just make it with healthier ingredients. This recipe uses just a few tablespoons of flour and mushrooms in a rich broth.

Want more? Take a look at this ultimate guide I put together about all of the best Thanksgiving vegetable side dishes! (LINK)

Thanksgiving salad with wild rice, acorn squash, cranberries, and arugula on two plates.

Healthy Thanksgiving Salads

Salads are an easy way to make your meal healthier too! The best thing about most salads is that you can make them a few minutes before dinner and they taste delicious - no exhausting prep time required.

Provide a choice of at least two or three different salads. If you want, offer all five of these delicious choices.

  • Wild Rice and Acorn Squash Salad - This can serve as a salad, main dish for vegetarians, and even makes a healthier swap for stuffing.
  • Kale Ceasar Salad - Kale leaves tossed in a Greek yogurt Ceasar dressing - it's scrumptious!
  • Plum Salad with Goat Cheese - If you want to save room for the turkey, start the meal with this lighted up salad that can be made with any stone fruit you like.
  • Blueberry and Corn Salad - Not the most traditional side but delicious and refreshing. A great way to break up the heavier dishes.
  • Pomegranate and Arugula Salad - Celebrate beautiful fall fruit with this easy arugula salad with fresh pomegranate arils.

Healthy Thanksgiving Appetizers

When it comes to Thanksgiving appetizers, skip the crackers and serve fresh fruits and vegetables instead. Keep the appetizers light since the entire meal is going to be so big!

Here are some of my favorite healthy appetizers:

  • Easy Tzatziki - This is a cucumber and dill dip that tastes fresh and light.
  • Garlic Parmesan Shrimp - Shrimp is a really light snack that won't fill anyone up and this recipe is packed with flavor.
  • Pumpkin Cream Cheese Dip - For a sweeter appetizer option, serve this delicious dip with lots of fresh fruit for dipping. 
  • Fruit & Veggie Trays - Create a tray of your favorite raw fruits and veggies! This is a very easy idea that takes almost no thought.
  • Artichoke Hummus - If you set out a veggie tray, use this hummus as the dip.

Slow cooker apple crisp for a healthy Thanksgiving dessert on a plate with apples in the background.

Healthy Thanksgiving Desserts

Desserts are the one area that you will enjoy indulging a little. It's still possible to use whole ingredients and make healthier desserts that will give your body the vitamins, fiber, and nutrients it needs.

Here are some of my favorite healthy dessert recipes:

  • Healthy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread - This recipe uses pumpkin puree and tastes even better than pumpkin pie!
  • Apricot Crumble - For anyone who is in the mood for pie, this apricot crumble is really sweet and still good for you!
  • Mini Pumpkin Pies - If you still want to serve something pie-related, make these adorable pumpkin pies. There are only 30 calories in each one!
  • Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars - If you really want something that's rich and tastes like fudge, then you will love these dessert bars. You won't believe that they are healthy for you.
  • Slow Cooker Apple Crisp - This recipe is made with whole grains, less sugar than standard apple crip, and since it is made in the slow cooker, it frees up some much need room in the stove. 
  • Thanksgiving Punch: Looking for a fun cocktail to serve with your meal or dessert? This one made with pomegranate, ginger, and cinnamon is delicious.

Healthy Thanksgiving: Final Thoughts

When it comes to Thanksgiving, it's possible to serve a feast and still keep it healthy. Just follow the tips I shared and you are well on your way.

Make healthy swaps that you know your family will enjoy. Some of them won't even notice unless you tell them!

Then, when it comes to preparing the menu for the entire day, choose recipes that use whole foods. Keep the sodium counts low by using fresh herbs and whole veggies.

With that said, the most important thing to do is enjoy the day! Part of the fun of Thanksgiving is the food so make sure to enjoy the day, make it special, and enjoy your favorite dishes. 

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