If you’ve been trying to live a healthier lifestyle, you may already feel a pang of guilt thinking about the indulgent Thanksgiving food spread that’s soon to be arranged on your dining room table! The truth is, even though we all know those dishes taste amazing, unfortunately the way they’re traditionally prepared isn’t healthy or nutritious.
Plus, the sad part is that creating a healthy Thanksgiving menu is entirely possible, but most people don’t simply because they aren’t sure how to pull it off. If you’re one of those people interested in “healthifying” your Thanksgiving celebration, read on… we’re here to help!
Follow along to get ideas for healthy Thanksgiving recipes that are so good, you’ll never miss the old ones! Now you can whip up all the flavor of this beloved holiday without the sugar, unhealthy fats, and unnecessary additives that typically come with it…
Healthy Thanksgiving Menu 101
In order to show you what a healthy Thanksgiving table should look like, we’ll address all the major players, starting with the turkey. Here’s what we suggest for each portion of your meal….
Thanksgiving Food: Bring On The Turkey
Let’s start with the main dish in most celebrations… Where you get your turkey can make a big difference when it comes to the healthiness of it. If you typically get your turkey (or chicken) at a grocery store, choosing one with an organic label is the healthiest route.
This is because the label assures that growers cannot use unapproved synthetic chemicals, unsightly fertilizer (like sewage sludge), or GMOs in the production process. Some research also shows that when it comes to nutrition, organic may be healthier – with one study showing there was 38% more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in organic chicken.
Though going organic is a great option, an even better option is getting your turkey fresh from a farm – if you live in certain parts of the US where this is an option. Getting your turkey from a responsible farmer with quality standards will yield the healthiest (and most delicious) turkey; Plus, it’s easy to find these farmers at local farmers markets and order directly from them.
As for which type of meat you should reach for when it’s on the table, most of us go for the white meat of the turkey, thinking it’s the healthiest part. But in reality, the darker meat is actually preferable if you’re on a low-carb or keto diet! This is because the darker meat actually has more nutrients, being higher in healthy fats.
Healthy Thanksgiving Sides
Next, while the turkey is the cornerstone of many Thanksgiving meals, the array of side dishes is typically where people get into the most trouble when it comes to eating clean and healthy. From green bean casserole (using canned and processed ingredients), to cranberry sauce (typically jam-packed with sugar), to carb-heavy stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and more, no wonder so many people take naps after eating their Thanksgiving dinner!
Here are our suggestions for how to switch it up from unhealthy to totally healthy Thanksgiving sides…
When it comes to carb-heavy stuffing, who needs all that white bread?! Since it’s highly processed, with very little fiber, it will simply act like sugar in your body – eventually causing a blood sugar crash accompanied by a drop in energy. You also get a ton of calories for very little nutrition-wise.
Switch it up by keeping out the bread, like in this Root Vegetable Grain Free Stuffing recipe. In general, look for recipes that focus on healthier carbs that provide fiber, vitamins and minerals, like sweet potatoes and turnips, or even a healthier grain like quinoa.
Green Bean Casserole
While traditional green bean casserole recipes use canned ingredients full of preservatives, unhealthy fats and more, (like cream of mushroom soup and packaged fried onions), you can make a much cleaner version using real, whole food ingredients. And the best part is, this dish will taste just as good, if not better than the original!
First, skip the canned green beans and go with fresh, then make your own cream sauce using full-fat milk, cream or coconut milk. Finally, pan-fry your own onions using coconut or olive oil as a topper for the dish. There are tons of great recipes out there, but you may like this lighter version from EatingWell, especially if your current goal is weight loss.
If your Thanksgiving meal wouldn’t be the same without cranberry sauce, give it a healthy makeover with natural, yet totally scrumptious ingredients. While canned cranberry sauces are full of sugar, (including one of the worst for your health - high fructose corn syrup), traditional homemade versions call for a ton of white sugar to balance out the tart cranberries.
In alternative healthy Thanksgiving side recipes, you can fulfill your sweet tooth and get your cranberry sauce fix, without feeling guilty about it. This healthy Thanksgiving recipe includes fresh cranberries, honey or maple syrup and orange juice… which all provide your body with nutrients while satisfying your taste buds.
Do you feel like it simply wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes? We hear you! But you'll feel just as satisfied with a healthier version using mashed cauliflower instead!
Trust us, recipes for this popular healthy Thanksgiving side abound, and they all typically include decadent ingredients like cream cheese and butter, so you won’t even miss the potatoes. Yet, miraculously, you’ll still feel lighter after eating, and likely less tired.
Another major plus? This low-carb recipe will work on a low-carb or keto diet… just check out the mashed cauliflower recipe in this Keto Thanksgiving Recipes post.
Finally, onto the gravy… which many people like to lovingly pour on top of their entire Thanksgiving feast. You can lighten yours up by leaving out the flour and butter... just use the pan drippings from the turkey and some other simple ingredients (like spices), and it will still taste amazing (promise)!
Or, you can leave in the butter and go with a keto version like the gravy we recommend in this Keto Thanksgiving post.
And that’s it! See, that wasn’t hard, right?! We hope you enjoyed this guide on how to create a healthy Thanksgiving for your entire family!
Let us know what healthy Thanksgiving sides you plan to make in the comments, below!