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Healthy Thanksgiving Tips and Swaps for Hosts

Yes, you can easily pile your plate with 5,000 calories worth of food on November 24. But, whether you’re the host or a guest, you can make some smart swaps that are healthier—and just as delicious.


Compromise on fat and calories, not taste. Remember that modifying a recipe doesn’t just mean leaving high-calorie, high-fat ingredients out. Ask yourself: What can I do to make the dish more flavorful and nutritious. (See “Serve the Classics, Cut the Calories,” below, for ideas.)

Don’t try to be too politically correct. A study by Duke University found that when you prepare food for others, your desire to whip up healthy riffs on traditional dishes is often trumped by your fear of offending any guests at the table. Instead, shift your mindset and think, “By cooking a healthier meal, I’m not only giving myself more options, I’m helping others eat more healthfully as well–without even knowing it.”

Spend greenbacks on greens. The idea is to have as many dark green veggies on the table as possible. When shopping for T-Day, toss Brussels sprouts, kale and swiss chard into your shopping cart as well as cauliflower, which is high in Vitamin C. Consider serving vegetable soup or salad as an appetizer. Doing so will give you an advantage heading into the main course, since fiber-rich produce will lessen your appetite for main dishes and desserts.

Serve dinner early. Moving up your Thanksgiving feast from 5 or 6pm to 2 or 3pm will mean your largest meal falls earlier in the day, so you can bookend it with a small breakfast (such as a soft-boiled egg and whole-grain toast and some fresh berries) and dinner (garden salad with leftover turkey breast). An added bonus of moving up mealtime: You’ll be less likely to consume too many glasses of mulled wine before you sit to eat.

Avoid duplication. In other words, if you’re serving stuffing, you don’t need to have dinner rolls on the table, and if sweet potatoes are on the menu, consider omitting mashed potatoes. Exception to the rule: Veggies. When it comes to these low-calorie, nutrient-dense sides, the more, the merrier.


Remember: A lot of your holiday favorites start out healthy, so go ahead and let the flavors–and the healthy attributes–steal the show.

Cranberry sauce Cranberries are a good source of vitamin C, antioxidants Sugar *Avg. recipe uses 1 cup of sugar = 773 calories 1/2 cup reduced-calorie sugar, low-calorie orange juice; cinnamon stick, ground cloves and nutmeg for only 55 calories in total = 72 calories saved per serving.
Green bean casserole Green beans are rich in vitamin A French-fried onions *Avg. recipe uses 1 1/3 cups = 473 calories 1/2 cup fresh chopped onions and 1/4 cup whole-wheat panko crumbs for only 70 calories = 50 calorie savings per serving
Sweet potato casserole Sweet potatoes are high in potassium, vitamins A and C Butter, marshmallows *Avg. recipe uses 1/4 cup butter and 2 cups mini marshmallows = 727 calories 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp of maple syrup for only 17 calories = 90 calorie savings per serving
Turkey Turkey breast is high in protein, low in calories (25g and 160 calories/3.5 ounce serving) Butter for basting *Avg. recipe uses 3/4 cup butter = 1,221 calories For 16-lb turkey: 1/2 lemon and herbs (2 Tbsp each chopped fresh thyme, sage and rosemary), 1 Tbsp olive oil and two ounces kosher salt for only 135 calories = 109 calorie savings per serving
Wild rice stuffing Wild rice is high in fiber, B vitamins, potassium, magnesium and zinc White bread *Avg. recipe is about 178 calories per half cup stuffing 1/2 cups (dry) wild rice for 8-10 people for only 83 calories per half cup serving = 95 calorie savings per serving
Pumpkin pie Pumpkin is high in Vitamin A, beta-carotene, potassium, vitamin C Homemade crust Store-bought crust rolled extra thin (final crust should weigh 5 ounces) = 30 – 40 calorie savings per serving

About the Author

A licensed dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, Amy has been teaching clients about healthy eating for nearly 20 years. Her goal is to help people find realistic ways to improve their overall health, while also providing intensive nutritional counseling for those who want to lose weight. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Wisconsin. She makes a mean jambalaya, and dreams of one day playing for the women's Olympic soccer team. She is currently training for her 10th marathon.

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