Helpful health tips and healthy Thanksgiving recipes can help you feel satisfied after the main meal without feeling overly stuffed. You’ll be grateful for healthy Thanksgiving food when you aren’t in a post-meal stupor, and don’t be surprised if guests are asking for your recipes!
From healthy Thanksgiving sides to a more balanced turkey dinner, enjoy a hearty meal while keeping wellness goals in mind. Let’s dig into it!
Healthy Appetizers for Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving appetizers are essential since a traditional holiday meal can take hours to make. The best appetizers sustain you between meals but don’t make you so full that you won’t have room for the main course. They can also help keep eager kiddos and hungry houseguests alike from getting “hangry”—AKA that irritable feeling resulting from hunger.
Need appetizers on your menu but don’t know where to start? Try setting the tone for Thanksgiving with these pre-meal delights.
Festive Chip & Dip Station
Although it may not sound traditional initially, two common constituents of chips—corn and potatoes—are usually found somewhere in a Thanksgiving spread. For fun before a meal, set up a chips and dip station with easy guacamole and salsa.
If you’re preoccupied with cooking, chips and dips can also be a great item to ask guests to bring. Plus, different combinations of chips and dips can be made, allowing guests to customize to their heart's content.
Looking for a more festive feel? Ask guests to bring chips and dip that highlight seasonal ingredients. For example, many brands offer pumpkin or leaf-shaped chips around the holidays, and others pumpkin-flavored tortilla chips. You can also arrange multi-colored chips into “turkey feathers.”
For a festive dip, garnish hummus and other options—like hummus—with pepitas (pumpkin seeds).
If you like the idea of chips and dip but want a spread that’s a bit more classy, a charcuterie board is for you. Instead of chips and dip, layer meats, cheeses, olives, and nut mixes on a charcuterie board. If you don’t have a specialized board, a wooden cutting board—or any clean cutting board or cookie sheet—will work great, too.
Like the chips and dip station, for a more festive charcuterie board, you can arrange ingredients in the shape of a turkey or cornucopia, cut cheese into leaf shapes with cookie cutters, or simply select seasonal ingredients.
Here are some festive ideas to get you started:
•Cheese with cranberries
•Nuts candied with maple syrup
If you’re feeling fancy, mushroom, caramelized onion and goat cheese bruschetta is sure to impress family and friends. Despite sounding complicated, it’s simple to make and won’t take up too much stovetop or oven space. Thanks to the goat cheese, it’s packed with protein, which will help to keep diners feeling full until dinner.
Searching for an appetizer that can be assembled ahead of time? Look no further than the maple cranberry orange yogurt parfait, which will allow you to taste the cranberry sauce you’ve been craving without spoiling dinner. It’s made with maple syrup, adding natural sweetness touch without going overboard.
Parfaits are also perfect if your appetizers act as a late breakfast or brunch or if your dinner is planned for early afternoon.
Cranberry Yogurt Bark
When a house full of guests starts to feel stuffy, it’s time to break out the yogurt bark from the freezer. Festive cranberry yogurt bark highlights a seasonal favorite while providing plenty of protein to keep bellies content until the turkey comes out. This yogurt bark also keeps calories and sugar to a minimum while capitalizing on flavor.
Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes
Some people like side dishes even more than the turkey, and for a good reason! Traditional side dishes support the turkey by adding an array of flavor and helping to create a well-rounded meal. Plus, they highlight seasonal foods and favorite flavor combinations that can’t be mistaken as part of any other holiday.
Explore these delicious ideas for inspiration for a healthier twist on familiar favorites.
Mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole are Thanksgiving staples, but are also often loaded with an excess of butters and creams (which can be rich in saturated fats). Instead, enjoy cinnamon-spiced mashed sweet potatoes, which taste slightly sweet and include heart-healthy olive oil.
Searching for savory flavors? Mashed cauliflower with mushroom gravy can be an excellent substitute for standard mashed potatoes and serves as a low-carb alternative. It will give you a taste of your favorites, but it includes light creams to make it healthier.
A hearty side of roasted vegetables can help to balance out an otherwise carbohydrate-rich or fatty meal. If you’re feeling adventurous, serving roasted brussels sprouts may turn this oft-hated dish into everyone’s new favorite!
Otherwise, simple honey herb roasted carrots or easy roasted broccoli will surely be crowd-pleasers. Almost any fall vegetable—on it’s own or as a medley—can be roasted to create an appetizing side dish.
Looking for a great alternative to green bean casserole? Green Italian flat beans can replace this festive side dish at half the calories. Since the classic casserole can be full of fried or fatty ingredients, Italian flat beans are well-suited to guests looking for a heart-healthy side dish. Unlike the casserole, it’s also free of gluten and dairy allergens (although you’ll want to examine ingredients to be extra sure).
Cranberry Sauces & Salads
Although cranberry sauce contains plenty of sugar, homemade renditions may be slightly healthier than store-bought options since pre-made or canned varieties often contain high fructose corn syrup. When consuming cranberry sauce, it’s important to keep serving size in mind. Usually, just a tablespoon or two will do!
Craving cranberries but want a side dish on the healthier side? Make cranberry and feta farro salad instead. One perk of this recipe is that it includes ingredients you are likely to have on hand and uses dried cranberries—instead of frozen ones that may take up freezer space.
To dress up a grain-based side dish, quinoa and pumpkin seed stuffed squash can be a fanciful and seasonal way to add nutritious options to your table. With warm spices like cardamom, nutmeg, and turmeric, it makes a natural companion to many Thanksgiving dishes. Additionally, it shares ingredients with many other dishes you may be making, including carrots, celery, apples, and cranberries.
Keep in mind that, because of the quinoa, this dish is incredibly filling. It’s a great choice for dinners where you have small plates and can use the acorn squash as a “bowl.” Alternatively, you can make this one side dish instead of many since it contains a lot of popular Thanksgiving flavors.
Kid-Friendly Turkey Mac
Picky eaters? Kids may be inclined to go for less traditional sides, like King Ranch mac and cheese. You can always replace the rotisserie chicken in the recipe with pre-cooked, sliced, or shredded turkey breast to make it more festive!
Mains for Your Healthy Thanksgiving Menu
And now, for the main event! Whether you’re planning a traditional Thanksgiving dinner or trying something new with the turkey this year, there are plenty of options.
Turkey may be the most tempting part of the Thanksgiving meal, and you can make several mouth-watering recipes from the comfort of your home. For turkey aficionados, roasted turkey with cider gravy creates the main meat and gravy with just a handful of ingredients.
For turkey first-timers, roasted turkey breast with cranberry chutney may be more beginner-friendly. Complete with a zesty, citrusy, cranberry-based chutney, this recipe is sure to impress in-laws (or other guests), even if you’re new to the kitchen.
Stuffed Turkey Breast
Try a different style of stuffed turkey this Thanksgiving with a stuffed turkey breast. As a note, most stuffed chicken recipes will work well when you substitute turkey, though you’ll always want to ensure your meat reaches the proper temperature (165℉).
For a sneaky, extra serving of whole grains, serve turkey stuffed with wild rice. For more traditional fall flavors, cook up cranberry apple stuffed turkey breast, which contains sweetness (due to the maple syrup).
Ground Turkey Alternatives
Short on time or kitchen space? Ground turkey dishes may make more sense for you and your family. For example, easy 30-minute turkey chili can be served instead of a traditional turkey dinner. This can work well for more adventurous travels, such as camping or RV trips over the holidays.
Blending cultures this Thanksgiving? Another type of turkey dish that may help make guests feel more at home is turkey chipotle chili. Inspired by classic Mexican cuisine, it can go a long way in making guests visiting from neighboring countries feel welcome during an American Thanksgiving.
For visitors from overseas, an Italian turkey bolognese may be a better fit.
Healthy Thanksgiving Desserts
No holiday menu would be complete without dessert! The following sweet treats and dessert recipes contain the essence of fall flavors without going overboard on sugars or fats.
Apple-picking season ends around Halloween, so Thanksgiving is the perfect time to use your leftover apples. Apple crisp is quintessentially autumn and can be made with nearly any variety. An apple walnut crisp contains less sugar than most recipes, plus a boost of protein thanks to old-fashioned oats and walnuts.
Cranberry & Cinnamon Spiced Apples
Can’t get enough cranberries? Serve them up with dessert!
Perfectly spiced and baked cinnamon apples contain dried cranberries and only about 100 calories per serving. Surprisingly, there’s no added sugar, and cinnamon adds all the sweetness you need.
Allergen-Free Pie Alternatives
Although nothing can replace the traditional pecan pie, it’s likely at least one of your guests will have dietary preferences or limitations. Why not serve a dessert everyone can enjoy?
Vegan guests will love perfectly spiced vegan pumpkin pie, which can be made with a mix of homemade and store-bought ingredients. It can also be made with vegan coconut whipped cream, although you’ll still want to add just a couple of tablespoons to control calories.
Since many pies, mini pies, and tartlets contain gluten-filled crusts or puff pastry, finding gluten-free pie alternatives can be tricky. Fortunately, gluten-free pumpkin pie tartlets provide a taste of favorite flavors without the wheat allergen.
Another option for gluten-free eaters is gluten-free pumpkin bread pudding, which can be served in a fancy-looking pudding dish or glass.
For some, Christmas starts as soon as Thanksgiving dinner ends. Begin the yuletide early with a batch of healthy holiday gingerbread cookies under 100 calories with or without icing.
The recipe can create up to 48 cookies, making it perfect for serving a crowd. It can even provide a fun after-dinner frosting activity to keep guests or kids busy during clean-up.
Final Thoughts Healthy Thanksgiving Food
Luckily, you don’t have to abandon traditional flavors for holiday dishes to be both delicious and nutritious. By swapping out a few ingredients for slightly healthier ones, it’s easy to create nutrient-rich Thanksgiving dishes.
A healthier spread can also be better suited to guests with eating concerns, such as those counting calories, hoping to eat in a heart-healthy way, or avoiding allergens.
How we reviewed this article
Brown M. Cornucopia Cheese Board. Thebakermama.com. Published November 2018.