Healthy Alternatives For Thanksgiving Side Dishes

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While we’d love to think Thanksgiving is all about spending time with loved ones and feeling grateful, let’s be real. It’s mostly about the food. Yet, as the years go on and our bodies change, it can be challenging to consume so many calories. So, CircleAround sourced healthier alternatives and ingredient swaps for some of the most common Thanksgiving dishes. 

An easy start to a healthy holiday is to rethink appetizers. “You’re likely to over-snack on appetizers, then consume a large dinner on top of it,” says Kristian Morey, RD, LDN, a clinical dietitian. “Swap the veggie, processed meat, and cheese board before the meal for a fresh salad during the meal. You’ll likely consume less cheese and dressing, especially if they’re offered on the side.”

Know the Turkey Isn’t Your Enemy 

For the main event, you could try a Tofurky for a vegan twist on the tradition, but luckily for meat eaters, the turkey is one of the healthiest parts of the meal. 

According to EatingWell, “Three ounces of white meat is a lean 115 calories. While dark meat has a few more calories, it also delivers a nice dose of iron (11% of your daily value). Both light meat and dark meat are great sources of protein, offering 26 and 24 grams per serving, respectively.”

Try Vegetarian Stuffing 

Stuffing can easily be made with all-vegetarian ingredients or gluten-free bread. Carla Lanz, blogger at Midwestern Home Life, created a chicken stuffing casserole that “brings all the cozy, warm fall flavors to the table with wild rice, kale, cranberries, stuffing, and almonds, but there's no condensed soup,” which lowers the sodium and calories.

Make a Healthier Mashed Potato Option

Many home cooks have begun swapping in mashed cauliflower as the perfect low-carb alternative to traditional mashed potatoes. Sherri Hagyman, a recipe creator at To Simply Inspire, lives for her recipe for garlic mashed cauliflower. She swears it tastes like real mashed potatoes, as it’s “flavored with garlic and a little Parmesan and cream cheese.”

But if the mashed potatoes are a nonnegotiable side dish, Errika Horner of The Home Intent has the perfect solution. “I created this dairy-free mashed potato recipe because both my husband and I don't do well with dairy. I used light coconut milk, softened garlic, and olive oil to achieve that rich, creamy taste and texture that everyone loves. They honestly taste buttery, but without the butter!”

Lighten the Cranberry Sauce

Michelle Morey, blogger from Barefoot in the Pines, adapted Gordon Ramsay's recipe for spiced cranberry apple sauce to make it naturally sweetened without white sugar. “I made it healthier and easier by swapping out the caramelized sugar for pure maple syrup, and I also swapped the port wine for apple cider,” she tells CircleAround.

Use Low-Calorie Ingredients for Your Green Bean Casserole  

For green bean casserole lovers, there are ways to reduce the amount of cream and processed ingredients that typically go into it. “My family and friends love this healthy version of Vegan Green Bean Casserole,” says Lyn Croyle, of CookEatLiveLive. “It’s made without any dairy or animal products, and it’s topped with a crunchy baked onion topping.”

Saute the green beans in garlic and a tablespoon of butter, or toss in some chopped almonds, fresh cranberries, chili flakes, or even sliced oranges to add nutrition and spice things up.

Focus on the Veggies 

When all else fails, supplement the rest of your meal with an abundance of veggies. Kelsey Riley, a registered nurse and founder of the plant-based food blog Planted in the Kitchen, serves her fall harvest salad every year, complete with apples, pecans, and an apple cider vinaigrette.

“Any type of roasted squash makes for a perfect easy-to-prepare and very fall-festive side dish,” says Michelle Cehn, founder of World of Vegan, author of The Friendly Vegan Cookbook, and co-host of a podcast called The Plant-Powered People Podcast. “I love adding a tahini drizzle, a sprinkling of juicy red pomegranate seeds, and some fresh parsley or rosemary.” 

Scale Back on Desserts 

Choose to serve one or two desserts instead of a larger, more tempting selection. Make the pumpkin pie the star of the show, and use a lighter recipe like this one suggested by Holly Klamer, MS, RDN, a Michigan-based registered dietitian nutritionist and writer with MyCrohn'sandColitisTeam. 

“Pumpkin pie already is based around a healthy ingredient, pumpkin,” she explains, “That is a good source of vitamin A, antioxidants and fiber. … Swap maple syrup for sugar, and use milk (any type) instead of heavy cream.”

The Bottom Line 

It’s possible to enjoy Thanksgiving without compromising health, flavor, and the comfort that comes with dishes served on this holiday. By cutting down your menu, using some creative spins on traditional recipes, and loading up on veggies and fresh fruit, you’ll be grateful for the opportunity to create a healthier, happier holiday meal.


Tags: Healthy Eating, Healthy Recipes, Thanksgiving

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

CircleAround will make financial distributions to benefit current Girl Scouts: the next generation of trailblazers who will CircleAround after us. So CircleAround for inspiration, and CircleAround the leaders of tomorrow. CircleAround is owned by One GS Media, a subsidiary of Girl Scouts of the USA.

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