When you’re committed to a healthy diet for you and your family, facing a holiday that’s centered around food can produce a lot of anxiety. Don’t let the Thanksgiving holiday derail your healthy efforts. The traditional Thanksgiving meal is a celebration of the bounty of fall’s harvest. Embrace the best cooking methods to celebrate the natural goodness of these foods, creating a satisfying, healthy Thanksgiving dinner that doesn’t sacrifice on flavor.
Here are the best ways to prepare your favorite foods for a healthy Thanksgiving this year.
Turkey and stuffing:
When did it become necessary to add tons of fat, or worse yet, deep fry this naturally delicious protein source? If you’re afraid of serving up a dry bird, brine it ahead of time to lock in moisture. Brining involves soaking your Thanksgiving turkey in a mixture of salt, herbs, and other flavors. While you’ll up the sodium a bit, you’ll get even better flavor and moisture than you will by basting with fat. My favorite brine is based on kosher salt, sugar (or brown sugar), fresh garlic, and bay leaves.
You can also get fancy by adding fruit and other spices. Pro-tip: use a cooler to hold your bird while it brines. Add ice if needed to keep it at a safe temperature, or store it outside if the weather is cold. Finally, when it comes to stuffing, wild rice, or even cauliflower based dishes are more nutritious options. Stick to baking these outside of the turkey for more control over fat content and temperature.
Sweet Potatoes and squash are yet another healthy thanksgiving food that is treated poorly by covering it in tons of fat and sugar. It’s easy to do better. Sweet potatoes and squash fit in well with roasted vegetables, as in this Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Squash. Dried cranberries and a Dijon vinaigrette add a natural sweetness that isn’t overwhelming. Butternut squash soup or this gorgeous Autumn Carrot, and Sweet Potato soup are other healthy ways to showcase this natural sweetness at the table. Prepare them ahead of time to free up your healthy Thanksgiving prep!
From crisp arugula to frost sweetened kale, fall’s greens are naturally satisfying and nutritious. Showcase them on your healthy Thanksgiving table by dressing them with traditional flavors. This simple cranberry salad dressing would be amazing over spinach. Spicy arugula is a natural complement to apples, pears, or cranberries as in this Apple Pecan Arugula Salad. Combine kale with cranberries, feta, and walnuts for a beautiful and healthy Thanksgiving starter. While kale is sweeter in the fall, you can improve its flavor and texture even more by chopping it finely and even massaging the leaves before prepping.
Potatoes and Gravy:
Is there really anything more comforting than Thanksgiving potatoes and gravy? Roasted potatoes are one healthier alternative. Mashed potatoes can also be made healthier by mashing your potatoes with water from cooking the potatoes. The starch will add body while reducing the fat and calories of milk or cream.
If you’re feeling adventurous, substitutions for mashed potatoes using boiled cauliflower are really, ridiculously easy and good. Give this one a try for a weeknight meal before the big day if you need convincing. You can also free up stove space by using your crockpot for this half potatoes half cauliflower combo. When it comes to gravy, implement damage control by using a fat separator and low sodium vegetable or chicken broth. You can also offer a vegetarian option, such as this delicious wild mushroom gravy.
Thanksgiving’s traditional pumpkin pie isn’t a terrible treat apart from the fat in the pie crust. Crustless pies and custards, or even graham cracker crusts will bring the fat content of this favorite under control. Apple based desserts are another traditional favorite. I love this homey Bloomin’ Apples recipe. Prep the apples ahead of time and pop them in the oven to bake while you enjoy your healthy Thanksgiving meal!
Remember that the Thanksgiving celebration is really limited to one meal. These recipes and cooking tips will give you options to balance your celebration. When facing your leftovers, healthy soups and salads are easy ways to put your turkey surplus to use. Enjoy the celebration and know that you’ll be back on track with your next meal.