Thanksgiving Meal Makeover: Ingredient Swaps to Make Your Holiday Healthier

Homemade healthy Thanksgiving turkey dinner with roasted vegetables

Thanksgiving is one of the most special times of the year. Bringing family and friends around the table for a meal is a powerful way to connect with one another. While this is usually a joyful time, it can also bring up feelings of guilt and discomfort when it comes to your relationship with food.

With so many delicious options, it’s easy to overeat during a Thanksgiving feast. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that people experience significant weight gain during Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States. While some participants in the study lost up to half the weight shortly thereafter, the rest of the weight stuck around until summertime or longer.

Even with weight gain aside, many people often leave the Thanksgiving table feeling bloated and fatigued. Instead of sending your guests into an uncomfortable food coma riddled with guilt, treat them (and yourself) to a new kind of Thanksgiving experience this year.

Thanksgiving Makeover

So, how can you enjoy your holiday festivities without the consequences this year? By giving your Thanksgiving dinner a much-needed makeover. This year, you have the opportunity to upgrade the quality of ingredients in your traditional Thanksgiving recipes. By making these simple ingredient swaps, you can provide your family and friends with a healthier Thanksgiving meal they’ll be talking about for years to come.

Roasted Turkey

Upgrade the quality of your bird this year by looking for an organic turkey. Choosing organic animal protein reduces your exposure to antibiotics, pesticides, and GMOs. Additionally, you may also want to opt for a “free-range” or “pasture-raised” turkey to help support humane animal conditions.

Gravy

No Thanksgiving is complete without delicious gravy to accompany your turkey. This year, consider swapping out the flour in your gravy for a gluten-free flour blend or adding Arrowroot powder to thickened it. White flour and whole wheat flour use processed ingredients that do not contain much fiber or high-quality nutrients. Not only will you be making a healthier version of this Thanksgiving tradition, but it’s an easy way to accommodate your guests who can’t or won’t eat gluten.

Stuffing

Using high-quality bread will help upgrade the overall quality of your traditional stuffing. Choose sprouted bread that’s lower in sugar and higher in protein or a sourdough or gluten-free loaf of bread. You can also swap out stuffing for a roasted potato or sweet potato dish with similar herbs to a traditional stuffing (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme). Plus, this is an easy way to avoid consuming traditional sweet potato recipes that call for loads of butter, brown sugar, and marshmallows.

Cranberry Sauce

Many commercial brands of cranberry sauce use high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener, so check the label and serve one that uses natural ingredients. If you’re making it from scratch, many traditional Thanksgiving recipes call for up to one cup of sugar. (That’s a whole lot of sugar in one place!) Be mindful of what type of sweetener you use and how much you put into your cranberry sauce this year. It should be sweet, but don’t go overboard.

Desserts

It’s probably not realistic to forego desserts during Thanksgiving, but consider using healthier sweetener options when baking. By choosing healthier sweeteners, you will reduce the addicting and inflammatory effects sugar can have on the body. Look for a low-glycemic or natural sweetener option like:

  • Coconut palm sugar
  • Xylitol
  • Stevia
  • Raw honey
  • Grade B maple syrup

For healthier dessert options, check out these holiday recipes:

Cooking Oils

By focusing on high-quality oils and paying attention to the “smoke point” of each oil, you will prevent the oxidation effects from the fat content in the oils.

For high-heat cooking, use:

  • Coconut oil
  • Ghee

For medium- to low-heat cooking, try:

  • Olive oil
  • Organic grass-fed butter

Limit cooking with oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can contribute to inflammation in the body when consumed in excess.

Avoid using:

  • Canola oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil

Green Vegetables

Many traditional Thanksgiving recipes don’t include colorful vegetables. As part of your Thanksgiving spread this year, be sure to include a nice green salad or some cooked green vegetables. Not only will they make your table more colorful, your guests will thank you for their added digestive benefits.

Citrus Pomegranate and Kale Salad

Try this Citrus Pomegranate and Kale Salad as a nice complement to other holiday flavors.

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches dinosaur kale, de-stemmed
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 oranges, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 green onions, chopped

Dressing:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper

Directions

Chop kale into 2-inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add a pinch of sea salt and massage kale until wilted.

Mix the dressing in a separate bowl. Pour dressing over kale and toss until evenly dressed. (You don’t want your kale to be swimming in dressing, so add slowly.)

Plate kale in a serving dish or salad bowl. Top with oranges, pomegranate seeds, and green onions.

Serves 4


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About the Author
Amy Krasner

Amy Krasner

Holistic Nutritionist and Natural Chef
Amy Krasner is the founder of a San Diego-based nutrition practice Nourished Balance . She works one-on-one with clients to improve their health through science-based nutrition and holistic health coaching. Amy supports her clients with customized nutrition plans for health concerns including: thyroid imbalances, high cholesterol, weight loss, impaired digestion, and auto-immune conditions. Amy also works with several local companies to provide nutrition education and services as part of the employee wellness programs.Read more