Thanksgiving is a magical day that is typically enjoyed with family and friends. Every year on Thanksgiving Day my family enjoys a leisurely game of touch football in the backyard. The winner even gets to keep a nice trophy! But all of that outdoor fun sets the stage for yet another Thanksgiving feast to remember.
Over the years just as the family trophy has changed hands, there have been a number of changes with our Thanksgiving dinners as well. For one, our family has become more health conscious.
Healthy Thanksgiving Food Alternatives
What does a healthy Thanksgiving meal look like at my house? There are some key guidelines that my family follows to keep the holiday meals delicious yet healthy:
- Local harvest: Thanksgiving is a prime opportunity to discover local farmers’ markets for fresh products. Nothing tastes better than food that has been picked earlier that week.
- The meal is clean: Your healthy Thanksgiving meal can be delicious and clean. For example, avoid processed stuffing and cranberry sauce and try making everything from scratch. Allow your Thanksgiving to be free of additives, preservatives and white sugar. Use as many organic ingredients as possible to avoid pesticide exposure.
- Give permission to stray from your normal diet: On holidays like Thanksgiving give yourself permission to consume (in moderation) some ingredients you may not usually eat, such as grains or a healthy dessert.
Healthy Meal Replacements for Your Typical Thanksgiving Dinner
Now that you have a lot of healthy ingredients, what do you do with them? Planning a Thanksgiving meal can certainly be stressful, so let me make it a little easier for you. Here are a few healthy Thanksgiving recipe ideas that are sure to be annual favorites:
1. Mashed Potatoes Replacement
Most families include starchy mashed potatoes as a side dish on the table. Although potatoes can be healthy, mashed potatoes are often loaded with butter and milk. Luckily, there is a healthier, alternative root that can replace the potato for a whole new delicious mash.
Celery Root Mash
Celery root mash is a simple recipe with plenty of flavor. It is packed full of protein, fiber, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium. Celery root can make a great addition to a bone broth, but it can also be chopped up and mashed as a healthy replacement to plain mashed potatoes.
- 1 celery root
- 1 garlic clover, smashed
- 2 teaspoons of dried sage or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
- 1/4 of a cup of filtered water or organic chicken stock
- Coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons of coconut butter
- Pepper and salt to taste
- Peel and chop the celery root into equal pieces.
- In a large skillet, brown the celery root over medium-high heat in one tablespoon of coconut oil. Gently season with thyme or sage and use salt and pepper to taste.
- Once celery root is browned, add the garlic and water or stock. Cover the skillet and steam the root on medium-low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes. Check to make sure the celery root is not too dry and add liquid if necessary.
- Add the coconut butter and mash the celery root to your desired consistency. If you want, you can add more spices for flavor.
2. Cranberry Sauce Replacement
Many people get their cranberry sauce from a can. Even if is organic canned cranberry sauce it likely contains added sugar. Instead, try making your own cranberry sauce with beets.
Roasted Beet Cranberry Sauce
Beets are the perfect ingredient to add to your cranberry sauce. They are an excellent source of folate, which can help ease the depression and insomnia that some individuals experience throughout the holiday season. Beets are also a good source of manganese, potassium, fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, and the amino acid tryptophan.
- 2 medium-sized (2 1/2 –inch) beets, unpeeled
- 1 1/4 pounds of red onions, peeled
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries (around 3 1/2 cups)
- 1/4 of a cup of honey
- 2 tablespoons of prepared horseradish
- 4 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of grey Celtic sea salt
- 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Wrap the beets in foil. Chop the onions and toss with oil in a medium bowl. Place onion wedges on a baking sheet.
- Place beets on the oven rack and roast for about one hour and 45 minutes. Roast onions until brown and tender for about one hour.
- When beets and onions are finished roasting, peel beets and cut into half-inch pieces and then chop the onions coarsely.
- Next, coarsely chop the cranberries in a food processor and then add the beets and onions. Blend the ingredients briefly.
- Transfer to a bowl and mix with honey, horseradish, vinegar, pepper, and salt.
- Cover and refrigerate for one to four days.
3. Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dish Alternative
What’s Thanksgiving without the veggies? Although there is nothing wrong with the green beans or carrots that you often see on the Thanksgiving table, there are other seasonal options you can try instead, such as Brussels sprouts.
Brussels sprouts With Coconut Oil
I absolutely love Brussels sprouts. It’s a food that gets a bad name because of its perceived taste. Try the following recipe and I assure you that Brussels sprouts will accompany your holiday meals well into the future. Brussels sprouts are packed full of nutrients, including vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. They are great for digestion, skin health, and they contain anticancer qualities.
(Note: Double or triple the recipe if you are cooking for over six people)
- 2 cups of Brussels sprouts
- 2 tablespoons of coconut oil
- 2 to 3 teaspoons of hot chili flakes
- 1/2 a teaspoon of grey Celtic sea salt
- Fresh ground pepper to taste
- Steam Brussels sprouts in a medium pot until tender for about five minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a large skillet melt the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the cooked Brussels sprouts and stir for about five minutes. Add the salt, pepper and chili flakes.
- Place Brussels sprouts in an oven-safe dish and roast uncovered for about 10 minutes. Let rest for about five minutes and serve.
4. Thanksgiving Stuffing Alternatives
Although stuffing with breadcrumbs is delicious, it might not be an appropriate side dish for everyone (especially for those who are sensitive to gluten or wheat). A protein-rich quinoa salad in a delicate squash bowl can make a good alternative to stuffing, although it won’t actually be put into the turkey.
Roasted Delicata Squash With Quinoa
A delicata squash is a type of winter squash that is cylindrical and cream-colored with green stripes. It is also known as sweet potato squash, peanut squash or Bohemian squash. It is a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Delicata squash with protein-packed quinoa makes a perfect boat-shaped side dish.
- 2 delicata squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup of quinoa
- 2 tablespoons of golden raisins
- 2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of honey
- 1 apple, finely diced
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons of chopped mint
- 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
- 2 cups of arugula
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush the cut sides of squash with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the squash cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast in the oven for about 45 minutes.
- In a medium-sized saucepan, bring two cups of water to a boil, add the quinoa and reduce to low heat. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir in the raisins and simmer covered until the water is absorbed, for about five minutes. Next, transfer the quinoa to a bowl and let it cool.
- In a small bowl, whisk the honey and vinegar with two tablespoons of olive oil and season with pepper and salt. Add the dressing to the quinoa along with garlic, shallot, apple, and parsley, and mix well. Lastly, add the arugula.
- Set the squash halves on a plate and fill with the quinoa salad. Serve alongside your Thanksgiving meal.
Cauliflower is another great vegetable you can add to your Thanksgiving feast. It is a highly nutritious vegetable that should be steamed for optimal health benefits. It is loaded with vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, folate, omega-3, and B vitamins. Here is a delicious spin on preparing cauliflower:
- 1 medium head of cauliflower
- Choice of herbs and spices
- Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
- Trim the cauliflower leaves and remove the core of the head.
- Cut the cauliflower into florets and place into a blender or food processor. Pulse until the cauliflower pieces look like grains or rice. Don’t over pulse into a puree.
- Steam the cauliflower for about two to three minutes until it is tender.
- Place in a large bowl and add your favorite herbs or spices. I like chives, basil, pepper, and salt.
5. Thanksgiving Main Course Replacements
The main course is everyone’s favorite part of the Thanksgiving dinner! Some years a turkey takes center stage and other years it is a glazed ham. When it comes to turkey, preparation is key. Let’s take a look at a healthy turkey option as well as a vegan option.
Turkey may be the main course of your Thanksgiving meal, but the goal is to purchase a turkey without any antibiotics, hormones, or added chemicals. It is also best if the turkey is organic, free-range, and grass-fed. You may have to visit your local farmers’ market or look online to find one. How you cook your turkey matter too. A deep-fried turkey should be off the table. A roasted turkey, however, will bring out the best flavor in your organic bird.
- Local turkey
- 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Base the outside of the turkey with three tablespoons of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Lift the skin and rub the seasoning on the flesh of the turkey.
- Place the turkey breast side down in a roasting pan and roast unstuffed for 15 minutes per pound of turkey.
- The turkey is finished cooking when the turkey’s mid-thigh reaches between 165 degrees to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Remove and place the turkey on a platter and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes before carving.
Vegetable Lentil Nut Loaf
Last year I was wondering what main course I could prepare for my vegetarian cousin. Luckily, I discovered this recipe for a tasty vegetable lentil nut loaf. It was so good that even my non-vegetarian guests were eating it!
- 1 cup of dried green or brown lentils
- 2 1/2 cups of vegetable broth or filtered water
- 3 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed
- 1/3 of a cup of filtered water
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil or 1/4 cup of water
- 3/4 of a cup of toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 small red pepper, finely diced
- 1 celery stalk, finely diced
- 1 carrot, grated
- 3/4 of a cup of gluten-free oats
- 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder (optional)
- Pepper and salt to taste
Optional glaze ingredients:
- 3 tablespoons of organic ketchup
- 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup
- Rinse the lentils and add to a large pot. Add two and a half cups of water. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat, cover and simmer for around 40 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a small bowl combine flaxseed and 1/3 cup of water; set it aside for 10 minutes in the refrigerator to thicken.
- Chop the vegetables and sauté in oil or water for about five minutes. Mix in the spices and set aside for cooling.
- Toast walnuts at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for six minutes and set aside.
- In a food processor blend the lentils. As an alternative, mash the lentils with a fork.
- Combine and mix the vegetables, lentils, oat flour, walnuts, and flax mixture. Add the salt and pepper (or other herbs) as needed. Place the mixture in a loaf pan lined with parchment paper and let it overlap so you can easily remove it later.
- Mix the glaze in a small bowl. Spread it on top of the loaf, bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes and let it cool before serving.
6. Delicious Thanksgiving Dessert Replacement
Every year your family is likely used to a pumpkin pie or apple crumble loaded with sugar. Sometimes you might not even have time to make dessert, so you purchase dessert from the local grocery store! This year, try making a delicious, healthy dessert. Your friends and family will surely appreciate the hard work.
Sweet Potato Nut Crumble
Sweet potatoes are very nutritious and contain vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and manganese. Here is a sweet potato recipe that will have you hoping there are leftovers:
- 4 to 5 large sweet potatoes
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of ghee
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of virgin coconut oil
- 2 1/2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon of pure organic vanilla extract
- 3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon of grey Celtic sea salt
Ingredients for the crumble:
- 1 cup of gluten-free rolled oats
- 1/3 of a cup of almond flour
- 1 1/3 of a cup of halved pecans
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1/4 of a teaspoon of grey Celtic sea salt
- 2 tablespoons of melted virgin coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons of melted ghee
- 2 1/2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup
- Peel and chop the sweet potatoes into big chunks and place into a large pot. Cover with water, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-high. Boil for 10 to 20 more minutes until tender and then drain.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and then lightly grease a casserole dish.
- Prepare the crumble by pulsing the oats in a food processor. In a medium bowl, stir and combine the pecans, almond flour, oats, salt, cinnamon, coconut oil, ghee, and maple syrup.
- Place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl once cooked and drain. Mash the potatoes with ghee and coconut oil until smooth. Next, stir in the vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and maple syrup. Spoon the mixture into a casserole dish and make smooth.
- Evenly sprinkle the crumble on top of the sweet potato mixture.
- Bake in the oven uncovered for 16 to 23 minutes until dish is hot. Serve immediately.
How to Avoid Overeating This Thanksgiving
- It is one thing to eat a healthy Thanksgiving meal, but it is a whole other issue when you eat too much of it. Here are some final tips to help you avoid overeating on Thanksgiving Day:
- Drink lots of filtered water before your meal and add some lemon or lime to help with digestion.
- Eat mostly veggies and meat protein. This eating technique will help you stabilize your blood sugar levels and curb your cravings for carbohydrates.
- Practice mindful eating. Eat slowly and take the time to enjoy your meal.
Read More :
Sources for Today’s Article:
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Mateljan, G., The World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the healthiest way of eating (Seattle: George Mateljan Foundation), 176, 196, 244, 280.
“Roasted Beet, Red Onion and Cranberry Relish,” Epicurious web site, http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/roasted-beet-red-onion-and-cranberry-relish-15655, last accessed November 19, 2015.
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