Healthier Thanksgiving Alternatives-{Guest Post}

Guest Post By: Grace Derocha, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

The average American consumes about 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day. More than half these calories are found in the main course and the rest comes from appetizers, drinks and desserts. While the holidays should be a time to relax, it’s important to fuel our bodies properly and make dietary choices that allow us to continue making memories for years to come. Believe it or not, there are a variety of ways to make traditional Thanksgiving courses healthier, without compromising flavor.

Holiday Recipe Roundup

Preparing a healthier Thanksgiving menu doesn’t have to mean swapping turkey for tofu. Minor substitutions, additions and adjustments to the way meals are prepared make a significant difference to the nutrients they offer while helping to curb unnecessary carbs, calories and fat.

  • Thanksgiving Turkey: When cooked properly, turkey is a great source of lean protein. Roasting or smoking a turkey as opposed to frying are great ways to avoid excess fat and grease from the cooking process. Taking advantage of the many herbs and spices that pair deliciously with turkey is another way to add flavor without butter and salt. Some great turkey pairings include: bay leaves, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme. Note that pre-packaged seasonings tend to be higher in sodium, so it’s best to use fresh flavors whenever possible.
  • Apple, Spinach, Chicken Sausage and Farro Stuffed Acorn Squash: Making the most of seasonal produce is a great way to plan Thanksgiving dinner. This recipe combines sweet and savory flavors and makes a tasty alternative to stuffing. Acorn squash, in season through December, is high in antioxidants and a great source of vitamin C—an immune-booster during the holiday season. Apples and spinach offer fiber, folate and vitamins A and B6. Try eliminating the chicken sausage for a hearty, vegetarian side dish.
  • Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese: Mac and cheese is a must-have at any holiday gathering. Adding ingredients like butternut squash offers similar flavor, color and texture, only with better nutrition and fewer calories.
  • White Bean and Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes: Rather than removing mashed potatoes from the menu, consider this simple swap that’s practically unnoticeable. Combining riced cauliflower and white beans to potatoes adds nutritional value with protein and fiber while cutting carbs and calories. Potatoes can pack 127 calories in a one-cup serving where there is only 27 calories in a cup serving of cauliflower.
  • Cranberry Fruit Relish: This unique take on traditional cranberry sauce enhances flavor and eliminates the added sugars and preservatives often found in canned or store-bought versions. The walnuts offer a source of heart healthy fat with protein and apples provide fiber—both of which will leave guests feeling fuller longer.
  • Balsamic Brussels Sprouts: Replacing a heavy, cream-based green bean casserole with this roasted brussels sprouts recipe is guaranteed to satisfy guests and eliminate extra fat and calories from the Thanksgiving meal. Brussels sprouts are on the list of approved non-starchy vegetables by the American Diabetes Association and offer a variety of nutrients, including folate, manganese, vitamins B1 and B6, potassium and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Harvest Pumpkin Apple Bread: Traditional pumpkin pie is high in fat, sugar and calories—but that doesn’t mean dessert is out of the question on Thanksgiving. This recipe offers the familiar flavor of pumpkin while being packed with whole grains and healthy fats. Better yet, this dish makes a great breakfast to enjoy the morning after Thanksgiving.

Grace Derocha is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips, visit


Lindsey Jenn

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