Meal planning for Thanksgiving can be a daunting task, while you want to make a delicious meal, you don’t want to completely break your diet. We all want to avoid stubborn holiday weight. One way to balance out your Thanksgiving dinner is to incorporate healthy Thanksgiving sides.
You have come to the right place if you’re looking for some healthy alternatives to traditional turkey and stuffing or mashed potato casserole, this article on healthy Thanksgiving dishes covers it all.
While the beloved pumpkin pie has long been a family favorite, consider the variety of recipes that are low in calories, fat, sugar, and salt, but high in flavor, nutrients, and satisfaction. Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free, keto, or just want to eat more veggies, you’ll find something to suit your taste buds and dietary needs.
Let us unravel the Thanksgiving meal as we know it and dive into the recipes for easy and healthy Thanksgiving sides, tips to make Thanksgiving healthier, top 5 side dishes for Thanksgiving and much more.
What is healthy to eat on Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate with family, enjoy delicious meals, and be grateful for all that one has. It is an opportunity to gather with family, express gratitude, and celebrate the autumn harvest with a delightful meal, but that doesn’t mean you have to compromise on your healthy eating journey.
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There are several ways to make your Thanksgiving meal healthier and showcase the harvest of the season with vegetable sides, healthy desserts, low-calorie proteins, and gluten-free recipes. Check out our top tips to help you choose what to eat this Thanksgiving:
Lean protein for the win:
Lean protein sources, such as turkey breast, fish, or tofu are the easiest and most healthy alternatives. Avoid fatty cuts of meat, such as ham, bacon, or sausage. Remove the skin from poultry before eating and exercise portion control on those big ladles full of gravy (If you’re thinking, “No, not the gravy!”, we’ve got you covered, read on).
Vegetable sides are here to stay:
Half of your plate can be filled with delicious seasonal vegetable sides, such as roasted Brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots, or squash. If you’re the cook, limit dishes that are loaded with butter, cream, cheese, or sugar, such as mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, or corn pudding. Instead, season your vegetables with herbs, spices, lemon juice, or vinegar. If you’re the lucky duck who did not have to cook, indulge in the buttery dishes with small portions.
Whole grains are better than refined grains:
Whole grains will always win over refined grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat bread. Whole grains are more filling and nutritious than white rice, white bread, or stuffing made with white bread. It is a great idea to make dishes like stuffing with whole wheat bread and add more vegetables and fruits to it to bulk it up.
Get a hold of the sweet tooth:
Pies, cakes, cookies, and candy are all of our undoing, but if you exercise portion control, you can have a bit of all on the table. Desserts and sweets are usually high in calories, fat, and added sugar, and can contribute to weight gain and other health problems. You can also opt for healthy Thanksgiving dessert alternatives, which are quick and easy to make like fresh fruit salad, yogurt parfait, or dark chocolate.
Hydration is key:
Drinking plenty of water throughout the day and during the meal, is an age-old trick. Water not only helps you stay hydrated and full, it also prevents overeating. That being said, remember that sugary drinks, like soda, juice, or punch are not an alternative to water. Limiting your alcohol consumption to one or two drinks also goes a long way as alcohol has very high sugar content and impairs appetite control.
These suggestions are particularly important for those who are watching their calorie intake or are on a strict calorie deficit plan and don’t want a meal to take up precious diet space without fulfilling their appetite. Follow along for recipes to enjoy a healthy and happy Thanksgiving without feeling guilty or deprived. After all, moderation is the key to a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
What sides should I have for Thanksgiving?
If you are looking for some healthy Thanksgiving sides that are tasty and easy to make, you have come to the right place. We have a curated list of some of our favorite recipes that feature vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy products.
These low-calorie, maximum-flavour sides are set to be the talk of the town this holiday season. You’ll find some traditional family staples with a spin, including green bean casserole, roasted brussels sprouts, and mashed potatoes, as well as some new trending additions, such as Asian pear salad, cauliflower rice stuffing, and roasted delicata squash.
These healthy Thanksgiving sides will go well with your turkey and complete your holiday meal. These can also be side dishes for turkey not necessarily for Thanksgiving.
Some of the healthy Thanksgiving side dishes you can try are:
- Gingered Green Beans: This quick and easy recipe adds a zesty twist to the classic green beans with fresh ginger, garlic, and a squeeze of lemon juice. (9)
- Roasted Carrots with Cumin-Spiced Yogurt: Roast tender sweet carrots with honey and cumin, and served with a tangy yogurt sauce that’s spiced with more cumin, coriander, red chili powder, and mint. (10)
- Asian Pear Salad with Arugula and Blue Cheese: This refreshing salad number combines fresh seasonal Asian pears, peppery arugula, creamy blue cheese and crunchy walnuts, tossed with a homemade dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar, and mustard. (7)
- Cauliflower Rice Stuffing: Cauliflower rice is already trending with the health-conscious, it’s time to spice up this low-carb and gluten-free stuffing. It is made with cauliflower rice, mushrooms, celery, onion, cranberries and pecans or walnuts, seasoned with sage, thyme, and rosemary.
- Vegan Green Bean Casserole: This vegan version of the classic casserole is just as creamy and comforting but without the calories of any dairy or canned soup. It’s made with fresh green beans, mushrooms, almond milk, nutritional yeast, and crispy fried onions. (4)
- Roasted Delicata Squash: This winter squash is widely available during the holiday season. It is easy to prepare and has a mild and sweet flavor. It’s roasted with a spice rub made up of olive oil, salt, cumin, chili flakes, and pepper, and sprinkled with fresh parsley. (5)
- Honey Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts: Bored of the usual roasted brussel sprouts? Spice things up with these roasted Brussels sprouts caramelized and glazed with a mixture of honey, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, and garlic. (5)
- Roasted Parsnips: Amp up these root vegetables to draw out the nutty and earthy taste of this favorite Thanksgiving side. They’re roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme until golden and tender. (8)
- Quinoa Stuffing: This is a gluten-free and vegan stuffing, some might call it a Christmas miracle. It is made with quinoa, onion, celery, mushroom, garlic, vegetable broth, parsley, sage, thyme, and rosemary. Quinoa is a complete protein that is also high in fiber and minerals4. Onion, celery, mushroom, and garlic add flavor and texture, while vegetable broth keeps the stuffing moist. Parsley, sage, thyme, and rosemary add to the classic Thanksgiving aromas.
How can I make Thanksgiving more healthy?
Thanksgiving is a celebration with family and friends, and sharing a delicious hearty feast. But if you want to make your Thanksgiving more healthy, you don’t have to sacrifice taste or tradition. There are many ways to make your Thanksgiving meal healthier and still satiating.
Follow along for our top tips on being healthy this Thanksgiving:
- Embrace meal planning: Note down a list of the dishes you want to prepare and plan ahead for the ingredients you need. This will help you avoid impulse buying and food wastage. (2)
- Celebrate seasonal produce: Grocery stores are packed with seasonal autumn harvests perfect for innovative new Thanksgiving sides. Keep your eyes peeled for recipes that use seasonal, local, and organic ingredients, which are better for the environment and may be cheaper. (6)
- Adopt healthier cooking methods: Cooking methods such as roasting, baking, steaming, or grilling, instead of frying or deep-frying are healthier alternatives. This will reduce the amount of fat and calories in the food. Also using herbs, spices, lemon juice, or vinegar can add an additional dimension of flavor, instead of butter, cream, cheese, or sugar. (11)
- Smart substitutions in your recipes: You’ll thank us for recommending some healthy swaps in your traditional recipe. For example, you can use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, applesauce instead of oil, mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes, or almond flour instead of wheat flour. These swaps can lower the calories, fat, sugar, and carbs in your dishes while increasing the protein and fiber. (3)
- Small portions: Portion control is key to preventing overeating. One way to achieve smaller portions is to use smaller plates and utensils. This will help you avoid overeating and feeling stuffed. You can also fill up on water, salad, and vegetables before moving on to the main course and dessert. You don’t have to deprive yourself of your favorite foods, but you can enjoy them in moderation. (9)
- Mindful eating: This might sound like something you hear about at the Dentist’s, but savor every bite like it is your last. Thanksgiving is not only about the food, but also about the company and the gratitude. Take time to appreciate the flavors, textures, and aromas of your food, and the people you share it with. Chew slowly and put down your fork between bites. This will help you eat less and digest better. (1)
For more details about easy and healthy sides, take a look at our prior publication. Thanksgiving does not have to sabotage your weight. With a little know-how, you can satisfy your desire for traditional favorites and still enjoy a guilt-free Thanksgiving feast. After all, being stuffed is a good idea only if you are a turkey!
What are the top 5 side dishes for Thanksgiving?
If you are considering including a few healthy Thanksgiving recipes to your holiday menu this year, the side dishes are a great place to start! You can make many vegetable Thanksgiving sides, fall salads, healthy pulled pork recipes and even some healthier versions of your favorite classics.
That means exciting new Thanksgiving sides like different kinds of mac and cheese, cozy Thanksgiving casseroles, and sweet potato recipes. You will find all those healthy Thanksgiving side dishes and more in this list. Surely, your family will appreciate having some good-for-you dishes on the table to balance out all those delicious rich Thanksgiving pies!
Most of these healthy and creative Thanksgiving recipes are easy Thanksgiving sides to include in your traditional holiday meal, like the air fryer Thanksgiving recipes and fall vegetables. They are ideal for a vegetarian Thanksgiving menu. Of course, they would also go well with your big roasted turkey centerpiece. Make your dinner spread lighter by adding veggie-based dishes, fresh salads, or warm soups.
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With the list below, you will have plenty of recipe ideas:
- Air fryer Brussels sprouts
This trending recipe is made with maple mustard mayo. This dish is made with fresh Brussels sprouts that are tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted in the air fryer until crispy and tender. Then they are drizzled with a homemade maple-mustard mayo that is made by whisking together mayonnaise, maple syrup, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, and salt. (4)
- Slow-cooked BBQ Pulled Pork
Use a lean pork loin for this recipe, a homemade BBQ sauce with low-sugar ketchup, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, honey, and spices, and a slow cooker to cook the pork until tender and juicy. The result is a flavorful and satiating pulled pork that is low in fat, calories, and carbs, but high in protein and taste. You can serve this pulled pork on whole wheat buns, lettuce wraps, or salads, or as a main dish with your favorite sides. Our previous post goes into great detail about Healthy Pulled Pork. (12)
- Turkey Meatballs with Cranberry Sauce
These are tender and juicy meatballs made with lean ground turkey, breadcrumbs, egg, onion, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. They are baked in the oven and served with a homemade cranberry sauce that is made with fresh or frozen cranberries, water, orange juice, honey or maple syrup, orange zest, cinnamon, and nutmeg. This dish is high in protein, low in fat, and has a sweet and tangy flavor that goes well with the turkey. (6)
- Root Vegetable Medley
This is a colorful and hearty dish made entirely with a variety of root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, and sweet potatoes, that are roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness and richness of the vegetables while adding a crispy texture1. (12)
- Kale and Apple Salad
This refreshing number is fresh and crunchy. It is made with kale, apple, feta cheese, walnuts, and cranberries, tossed with a homemade dressing of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, mustard, and salt. Kale is a superfood that is high in fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin K. Apple adds a sweet and tart flavor, while feta cheese, walnuts, and cranberries add creaminess, crunchiness, and tanginess (12)
What is the unhealthiest Thanksgiving food?
Thanksgiving is widely associated with scrumptious feasts and delicious meals. That said, some of them are far from healthy. In fact, some of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes are loaded with calories, fat, sugar, and salt, which can contribute to weight gain and health problems, although one meal is not going to make or break your diet or your health. So what is the unhealthiest Thanksgiving food? Well, it depends on how you prepare and serve it, but here are some of the common culprits:
- Mashed potatoes: This crowd favorite side dish is often loaded with butter and cream, not to mention salt. A cup of mashed potatoes can have about 237 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 666 milligrams of sodium. (13) To make a healthier version of this table classic, use low-fat milk or chicken broth instead of cream, and reduce the amount of butter and salt.
- Biscuits and dinner rolls: Bread is not your friend when dealing with sugar fluctuations or following calorie deficit plans. Bread is high in refined carbs and low in fiber, it can spike your blood sugar and leave you hungry again soon. A single biscuit can have about 212 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 443 milligrams of sodium. To make it healthier, you can use whole wheat flour instead of white flour, and limit the amount of butter or margarine you spread on them. (14)
- Gravy: As delicious as it is, Gravy is almost purely fat from the turkey drippings or other meat, which are high in fat and sodium. A quarter cup of gravy can have about 61 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 324 milligrams of sodium. To make it healthier, you can skim off the fat from the drippings before making the gravy, and use low-sodium broth or water instead of salt. (14)
- Pumpkin pie: Who doesn’t love a big slice of Pumpkin pie? But did you know that while this dessert is high in fiber and vitamin A, it also contains a lot of cream, eggs, sugar, and butter, which are high in calories and fat. A slice of pumpkin pie can have about 323 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 25 grams of sugar. To make it healthier, you can use low-fat milk or evaporated milk instead of cream, egg whites, or egg substitutes instead of whole eggs, and reduce the amount of sugar and butter in the crust and filling.
What should I eat on Thanksgiving to lose weight?
Food items that are high in protein, fiber, and water, but low in calories, fat, sugar, and salt can aid weight loss during Thanksgiving. Dishes like these help fill you up while reducing your calorie intake. Some examples are turkey breast without skin, roasted vegetables, salad with light dressing, and fresh fruit. You can also limit your portions and avoid overeating. That said, one meal is not going to ruin your diet or make you gain weight. So cut yourself some slack and enjoy your holiday.
What is healthier than turkey for Thanksgiving?
Turkey in itself is a healthy choice for Thanksgiving, as it is a lean protein. It is also enriched with B vitamins, and minerals, and low in fat if you remove the skin. However, if you want to try something different, you can opt for other lean meats, such as chicken, fish, or pork loin. You can also choose vegetarian or vegan alternatives, such as mushroom steaks, quiche, or stuffed squash.
How can I eat less calories on Thanksgiving?
Managing calorie count during Thanksgiving can be quite simple by just following these tips:
- Start your day with a healthy breakfast to prevent cravings later
- Eat a small snack before the feast to avoid overindulging
- Choose a smaller plate and take a small portion of each dish
- Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits, and the other half with lean protein and whole grains
- Drink plenty of water and limit your alcohol and sugary drinks11.
- Enjoy dessert in moderation and choose healthier options, if available
Is turkey OK for weight loss?
Turkey without skin is generally okay for weight loss, as it is a lean meat that provides high-quality protein, which can help you build muscle and burn fat. Turkey also contains tryptophan, an amino acid that may help regulate your appetite and mood. However, it’s better to cook the turkey in a healthy way, such as roasting or baking, rather than frying or smothering it with gravy.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 5 Ways To Have a Healthier Thanksgiving ( 2022, verywellfit.com)
- 7 Tips for making Thanksgiving more sustainable this year ( 2021, optimistdaily.com)
- 9 Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving (medicalwesthospital.org)
- 25 Essential Thanksgiving Recipes to Make in Your Air Fryer (2022, thekitchn.com)
- 27 Heart-Healthy Thanksgiving Sides That Will Steal the Show ( 2020, eatingwell.com)
- 30 Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes That’ll Help You Save Room For Dessert (2023, delish.com)
- 38 Healthy Thanksgiving Sides ( thishealthytable.com)
- 40 Best Thanksgiving Side Dishes ( themodernproper.com)
- 40 Vibrant Vegetable Sides to Serve at Thanksgiving (2023, foodandwine.com)
- 50 Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes (2021, ifoodreal.com)
- 58 Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes So You Don’t Fall Asleep at the Table (2021, bonappetit.com)
- Healthy Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork (2020, cookingmadehealthy.com)
- The Best (and Worst) Thanksgiving Foods for Your Health (healthline.com)
- The Unhealthiest Thanksgiving Side Dishes (2021, eatthis.com)