Thanksgiving Tweaks: How to make a healthy, but tasty meal

Thanksgiving recipe tweaks for better health

It’s impossible to separate Thanksgiving from the turkey, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. The big feast can be full of fats and calories, but celebrating the holidays doesn’t have to mean giving up your favorite dishes. Some small tweaks can make a big difference.

Let’s talk turkey

The bird is the main dish so try these healthier tips:

  • Choose a fresh bird rather than processed meat
  • Roast the turkey in its own juices. Don’t deep fry
  • Avoid butter; use cooking sprays instead
  • Apply fresh herbs for seasoning to help reduce the amount of salt
  • Eat white meat which is lower in calories and fat. Skip the dark meat in the thighs and legs
  • Don’t eat the skin

Fewer calories, more nutrients

Since fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, fill half your plate with them. That can be easier said than done, so try for example, boosting the nutrition of your stuffing by adding celery, mushrooms, apples or cranberries.

Mashed potatoes are another must-have on Thanksgiving, but typically have added butter and cream, increasing the amount of fat in an already starchy vegetable. Try using skim milk, light sour cream or Greek yogurt. Go a step further and mix some riced cauliflower with the mashed potatoes to lower the carbohydrate and sugar count. When making gravy, avoid the flour. Instead, make it with reduced-fat chicken broth or turkey stock.

Sweet potatoes are high in fiber and antioxidants. But on Thanksgiving, many of us spruce it up with butter, brown sugar, and marshmallows. For a simple substitute for sugar, try plant based zero calorie sweeteners such as Stevia or Truvia.

Green bean casserole is another popular side dish that is often topped with fried onions and made with condensed cream of mushroom soup, both of which add fats, carbohydrates and sodium to the very nutritious green bean. This year, keep it simple and just roast or steam fresh green beans.

Tasty treats

Take a break before dessert. A short walk will do you a lot of good. When whipping up your favorite baked goods or pie, you can decrease the amount of sugar in any recipe by 25 percent without compromising flavor. You can also use unsweetened applesauce in place of sugar in baking recipes. Replace the sugar with applesauce in a one-to-one ratio: For example, one cup of sugar would be replaced with one cup of applesauce.

Sugar can exact a significant toll on our health when consumed excessively. Luminis Health sees the resulting effect in our medical practices with a 1-2 percent drop in diabetic control each year in January.

When making pies, hold the crust. It’s full of fat and calories. If you must have crust, use one layer rather than on the bottom and top.

For pumpkin pie lovers, you will be happy to learn pumpkin is one of nature’s season superfoods. Pumpkin is heart healthy. It’s rich in potassium, which can help regulate your blood sugar, and rich in vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants—all of which help prevent heart disease.  In addition, pumpkin can:

  • improve your vision because it’s rich in beta carotene, an antioxidant that your body turns into vitamin A. Vitamin A helps you see more clearly in low light.
  • lower your cancer risk with its jam-packed combination of cancer-fighting nutrients and antioxidants.
  • boost your immunity with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, folate and iron, all of which help your body be more effective at fighting off germs.
  • leave you feeling full for longer because it’s high in fiber.

Other Reminders

Remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Adding extra calories with alcohol, soda or juices isn’t worth it when you have so many tasty food options to put on your plate.

Remember that Thanksgiving is only once a year, so enjoy your favorite family dishes while following portion size control and keeping leftovers to a minimum.


Diabetes educator Colleen KileyColleen Kiley, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES, is a lead diabetes educator at Luminis Health Diabetes and Endocrinology.