Thanksgiving 2012: Healthy Alternatives to Traditional Thanksgiving Foods


Eating light on Thanksgiving may seem like a punishment to most — yet a debilitating food coma never feels good. Eating healthy isn’t meant to make people feel left out. It's meant to make us feel good about our choices and not ignore all the important health knowledge simply because it’s a holiday. There are many alternatives, including healthy substitutes and health conscious tips, that will help you enjoy holiday dishes while avoiding the feelings of frustration or over-saturation post-feast.

1) Start your turkey day off right.

Most people feel like starving yourself before the big meal allows them to make up the calories later. However, feeling deprived often leads people to binge and eat more than they would otherwise. Don’t skip meals: Go for a salad or soup and skip the carbs instead. You'll feel satiated but you’re still saving room.

And stay active! Pushing yourself to exercise on a holiday can be tough, especially with all the preparations and family involved. But staying active will help you feel less lethargic and reduce over-eating, not to mention it's great for your health. You can even involve your family members in walks, both pre-and post-dinner. 

2) Make over your appetizers.

Instead of piling on pastry doughs, fried foods or unnecessary salts and other unhealthy options, start off by offering guests a light start to the meal (or go for the light options if you’re at someone else’s feast). Vegetable crudités with hummus (or Crudité with Roasted Garlic Aioli) rather than mayo-sauces are healthy alternatives. Also, for nut-lovers, try taking raw, plain almonds and toasting them for about 5 minutes (or bake) — they are addictive! Add with some dried cranberries or apricots and you have a healthy trail mix.


3) Eliminate the sugar from your cranberries.

Cranberry sauce is often looked at as a “healthy” part of the meal, yet it is often packed with such high volumes of sugar that it is adding little benefit in comparison to the negatives. Avoid excess sugars and go for a healthy recipe that still allows you to enjoy the sauce. Check out this example here for “Fresh Cranberry Relish” or Cranberry-Pear Sauce and enjoy!


4) Mash more than potatoes.


Try a healthy alternative of mashed sweet potatoes, or mix it up with a Creamy White Bean and Vegetable Mash. Or serve chunks of baked potatoes and root vegetables, like squash and carrots, mixed together, cooked with just olive oil, rosemary and sea salt drizzled on top.


5) Go green.

Make sure to have enough vegetables. Start your meal eating the veggies first — it is not only more filling but it helps provide important nutritional value before digging in to the rest. If you’re worried about over-indulging on the less healthy options, try filling your plate ½ with veggies, ¼ with turkey and ¼ with the other sides.

Here are a few great side dishes if you’re looking to add some veggies to your meal. Generally, any veggies tossed with olive oil and sea salt are great baked or sautéed. Add some truffle oil to mix it up, or go with lemon for a zestier taste.

Honey-Glazed Carrots with Ginger

Green Beans with Lemon Oil


6) Skip sweetening your sweet potatoes.

My favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal! Sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients and are satiating. There are many ways to involve sweet potatoes — from baked sides to desserts. Rather than adding extras that only make a naturally good food unhealthy, avoid excess sugars or butter. Instead, try a sweetener like agave or honey.  Or bake without adding anything and sprinkle with some cinnamon.

For a sweet potato dessert, try: Baked Sweet Potato with Maple Oat Crumble


7) Don't overstuff on stuffing.

Stuffing is often filled with much more than we are aware of, so go light on the portions. If you’re cooking, try some healthy alternatives here, and remember our substitutions from before and try to use whole wheat if your recipe calls for breads.

Wild Mushroom Stuffing

Healthy Harvest Stuffing

8) Reduce the fat in your turkey and gravy.

De-fat the broth you use to reduce general fat content, and avoid turkey skin—it’s another heavy fat source. And if you’re cooking turkey, look for healthy recipes like this one: Herb Roasted Turkey by WholeLiving.


9) Hydrate right.

We hear this a lot, but drink lots of water throughout the day. It will help prevent over-eating and feelings of lethargy. If you are flying anywhere for the holidays, this especially pertains to you. For holiday spirits (spiked optional), try a light apple cider, delicious and more nutritional than alternatives, or boost your immunity with a Spiced Pomegranate Sparkler.

10) Be choosy about your breads.

Thanksgiving often involves rolls or sweet breads like pumpkin. Instead of filling up with processed white starches, go for whole wheat. If you’re baking, substitute whole-wheat flower for white, and olive oil for butter.

Check out the following for ideas:

Maple Pumpkin Spice Bread

Gluten-Free Sage Corn Bread

Sweet Potato-Ginger Spoon Bread

11) End the meal right.

Use natural sweeteners like agave and honey when cooking instead of sugar. Rather than sugar, this Pumpkin Pie uses maple syrup.


Or go for baked apples (great with cinnamon and honey), or a fruit crisp like this Apple, Date, and Ginger Crisp by WholeLiving.

For an alternative to pie, try Martha Rose Shulman’s alternative to crust—serving individual glasses of Pumpkin Caramel Mousse that both looks and (I’m assuming) tastes great.


Holidays are meant to be enjoyed — and a large part of the merriment and family traditions involve treats and meals. Stay tuned for more tips on how to participate in the fun without over-indulging as we enter the season of sweets.