A dietitian’s guide for enjoying Thanksgiving without the guilt
If you want to avoid overdoing it with belly-buster dishes this Thanksgiving, you can make simple, healthy substitutions that don’t forfeit taste.
We asked Jessica VanCleave, a dietitian with Nutrition Services for The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, for some ideas on how to enjoy the meal without throwing healthy eating out the window.
She shares with us two healthy recipes below. She made one of them for the photo above. Did you guess mashed potatoes? Nope. Garlicky mashed cauliflower for a delicious, lower-carb option. Give it a try!
A dietitian’s friendly reminder: Portion size is key. Any food in reasonable amounts can be part of a healthy diet.
"Remember that Thanksgiving is only one day,” VanCleave says. “Enjoy the foods you’ve been waiting for all year, but in moderation."
Naturally healthy foods found at Thanksgiving dinner:
Go for these if you’re reaching for seconds – or thirds!
- Green beans
Often the only non-starchy vegetables on a traditional Thanksgiving table. We can rely on them for antioxidants, vitamin C, fiber and many more health benefits.
In cream-based casseroles, use low-fat milk and whole-wheat breadcrumbs.
Seek out other greens that might make an appearance on your table: roasted brussels sprouts, asparagus, kale and salads.
- Sweet potatoes
Instead of a candied version, try roasting them. Or replace your traditional mashed potatoes with mashed sweet potatoes. They’re packed with good stuff for your body.
Nutrition note: Beta carotene, which gives sweet potatoes their color, helps keep hair and skin healthy and fights cell damage that can cause heart disease and cancer.
Fewer calories and fat than ham, naturally low in sodium and a good source of lean protein. Top it off with low-sugar cranberry relish (see recipe below) for added flavor!
More smart substitutions:
Choose white turkey meat over dark meat and remove the skin.
Don’t forget drinks have calories too. Consider skipping alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Pumpkin pie is lower in calories and sugar than pecan pie. Home-make the crust for additional benefits!
Swap full-fat cream cheese in recipes and dips for low-fat cottage cheese (pureed until smooth).
Whole wheat rolls have more fiber than instant, ready-to-eat breads.
How does a dietitian cook and eat on Thanksgiving?
VanCleave’s personal plan:
Add a fun, healthy salad for additional non-starchy veggies for your guests to choose from.
Eat slowly to keep from overeating. It takes 20 minutes for our brains to recognize we are full.
Make as much from scratch as you can. For example, homemade gravy likely will be lower in sodium than store-bought.
Don’t skip meals the day of! Eat a small breakfast and lunch to help prevent overeating later.
RECIPE: Fresh cranberry relish
Try this in place of a traditional, sugar-packed cranberry sauce.
- 1 12-ounce package of cranberries
- 1 peeled, deseeded navel orange
- 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
RECIPE: Garlicky mashed cauliflower
- 8 cups cauliflower florets
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup nonfat buttermilk
- 4 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Pepper to taste
- Fresh chives
Place the cauliflower and garlic in a steamer basket over boiling water, cover and steam until tender. Place cooked cauliflower and garlic in food processor.
Add buttermilk, 2 teaspoons olive oil, butter, salt and pepper. Pulse until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle with remaining olive oil and garnish with chives.