How to Eat a Healthier Thanksgiving Meal
Looking for ways to make your Thanksgiving feast more nutritious? Here are some suggestions for preparing dishes:
Focus on plants first.
Healthy up traditional Thanksgiving dishes by adding portions of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and herbs. “Cut back on boxed and premade processed foods by making more dishes from scratch,” says Mindy Athas, RDN, CSO, LDN, outpatient dietitian nutritionist at Carroll Hospital. Seasonal vegetables like pumpkin, sweet potatoes, yams, leafy greens and tomatoes, as well as classics like green beans, Brussels sprouts and carrots, are all good choices for ingredients.
If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, offer a larger variety of vegetables and fruits in an array of colors and textures. “Serve a rainbow using fall colors such as orange, red, yellow and brown by adding baby tomatoes, bell or sweet peppers, and chopped almonds, dates or figs,” Athas says. She adds: “Your brain will encourage eating more of a larger selection, so make it healthy items.”
It’s also a good idea to encourage guests to bring healthy or plant-based dishes such as:
- Salads made with fresh or fermented veggies, fresh or dried fruits, nuts, seeds and herbs
- Soups made with veggies, beans, pumpkin, or squash that can be served in mini gourds
- Skewers or kebobs, with or without protein like chicken or fish (use bright colors and consider grilled items like mushrooms, pineapple and peaches)
- Platters of sliced fruits and vegetables garnished with nuts, fresh herbs and lemon juice
- Dips such as hummus, guacamole, black bean dip and tzatziki, a Greek cucumber yogurt dip (use these in place of traditional French onion or other creamy dips for the added benefit of plants, and drizzle savory items with olive oil)
Remember: Dried fruits like apricots, prunes, dates, figs and raisins are usually sold without added sugars. Check ingredient labels as many other dried fruits may contain added sugar.
Try whole grain or multigrain instead.
Choose whole grain or multigrain crackers over white flour crackers. Look for grains with 3 to 5 grams per serving of fiber. Also, consider substituting regular or Greek yogurt for sour cream, zucchini noodles (zoodles) or spaghetti squash for pasta, and riced cauliflower for white rice.
“Once you add seasonings and spices, most people won’t know the difference,” Athas says.
Speaking of seasoning and spices…
Enhance the flavor.
Consider adding fresh herbs, dried herbs and spices as well as vinegars and spicy flavors like hot sauces “which improve taste quality as well as satiety, leaving you feeling satisfied while eating less,” Athas says. Garnish food with nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and sprigs of fresh herbs to
bring the beauty of the harvest season indoors. “Spices and herbs help reduce the need for added salt,” Athas says.
Consider alternate sources of protein.
You may want to serve other sources of protein besides turkey, such as seafood or lean cuts of meat. “Lean protein as well as fibrous plant food helps control intake of fatty, greasy items,” Athas says.
And consider a sustainable turkey, such as a free-range, pasture-raised, cage-free, organic or heritage one.
Use healthy fats.
Olive oil and other plant- or nut-based cooking oils increase intake of unsaturated fats. Omega-3-enriched or free-range eggs, fatty fish like salmon, and walnuts are heart-healthier than saturated fats like butter and cream, Athas says.