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How to Make Healthy Thanksgiving Dishes

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and for many San Diegans, this comes with a struggle to maintain a healthy diet during the holidays. This Thanksgiving, take charge of your health! With a little creative cooking, healthy eating doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice all of the flavor in your favorite holiday dishes. There are small changes you can make to your classic holiday favorites to make them healthier. You can also mix a little creativity into your menu with new healthy Thanksgiving dishes and sides.

“We’ve got a few healthy Thanksgiving dish ideas that your friends and family will love, along with a few healthy twists to the old classics they won’t even notice.”

Healthy Thanksgiving Dish Ideas:

Give the breads, creams, and sugar a break this Thanksgiving and try something on the lighter side. Mix these fruit, vegetable, and grain-based dishes into your usual menu to give guests healthy options to fill up on.

  • Quinoa Stuffed Delicata Squash: This healthy side dish is an excellent alternative to baked or stuffed potatoes. Delicata squash is high in Vitamin A, low in carbohydrates, and high in fiber. Stuff it with quinoa, which is high in protein and is one of the few grains that contains all nine of the essential amino acids, and you’ve got a healthy holiday dish slam dunk.
  • Wild Rice and Cranberry Dressing: Cut down on carbohydrates and sugar from traditional dressing and substitute with fruit and fiber. This recipe uses cranberries to give a boost of antioxidants and wild rice for a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber.
  • Cauliflower Biscuits: We’ll admit, the use of the word “biscuits” is a bit of a stretch for this one, but the comforting flavor these nuggets bring to the table is not. Switch cauliflower biscuits out for your traditional high-fat, high-carbohydrate biscuits and fight cancer in the process. That’s right, this cruciferous superfood contains sulforaphane, a sulfur compound that has also been shown to kill cancer stem cells, thereby slowing tumor growth.
  • Apple Nachos: While most probably don’t associate nachos with apples, this is a healthy holiday dessert that won’t disappoint. Although it’s not the lowest calorie holiday dish on this list, the health benefits of apples will still shine through the gooey sugar glaze. Healthier than a traditional pie, the phytonutrients and antioxidants in apples may help reduce the risk of developing cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease while you indulge.


Healthy Twists on Classic Thanksgiving Dishes:

The key to keeping it healthy when making Thanksgiving dishes is to limit the amount of fat, starches, and sugar in your recipes. Use vegetables and fruit where possible to keep the carbohydrates and sugar levels down. Substitute healthier oils like olive oil and sunflower oil to reduce fats. Here are a few healthy twists on our Thanksgiving favorites:

  • Herb Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey: Stay away from the fryer this year and roast or smoke your turkey to reduce extra fat. You can also stick to cooking just a turkey breast, which is leaner and lower in calories than the dark meat of the turkey. If you do roast a whole turkey, avoid “self-basting” turkeys, which contain added fat. Instead, rub the turkey with olive oil and stuff with onions, lemons, apples, and herbs to bring out the flavor and keep it moist.
  • Gravy: There’s no doubt, gravy is delicious. It is also one of the least healthy items on the Thanksgiving table. We’re not saying give up your gravy completely, but cut down the fat by using vegetable oil instead of turkey drippings. Take it a step further and use low-fat broth or vegetable broth as your base instead. Your heart will thank you for this cholesterol-reducing alternative!
  • Mashed Potatoes: Potatoes have a long list of health benefits associated with them. They are an excellent source of vitamin B6, potassium, copper, vitamin C, manganese, phosphorus, niacin, dietary fiber, and pantothenic acid. The problem is that most people make potatoes unhealthy by loading them with butter, gravy, and cream. This Thanksgiving, try adding turkey or chicken broth, evaporated skim milk or fat-free sour cream to reduce fat and still accomplish that creamy texture in mashed potatoes. Add herbs, garlic, salt and pepper for extra flavor rather than butter. You can even sneak in some pureed cooked turnips or cauliflower if you’re feeling adventurous, and nobody will be the wiser.
  • Maple Cinnamon Cranberry Sauce: Cranberries are full of antioxidants that benefit your health. Try to avoid loading them up with sugar by using alternatives such as maple syrup or honey, as described in this deliciously tart recipe. Also make sure to use fresh cranberries rather than canned to maximize their nutritional benefits.
  • Pumpkin Pie: The grand finale to Thanksgiving is pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie brings all the health benefits of pumpkin to the table, so there isn’t too much work to do to make this classic Thanksgiving dish a healthy one. The easiest way to do this is by cutting down on the crust. This is where most of the fat comes from in the dish. Substitute traditional crust with a reduced-fat graham cracker crust and make the pie filling the star of the dish. Try cutting out the crust completely and make the most of your pumpkin pie filling with this Pumpkin Pie Dip recipe. It’s so light and wonderful, your guests will wonder why they ever ate the crust at all!


The team of doctors at Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups wishes you a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with health and happiness! Schedule an appointment today with our highly rated doctors to discuss specific dietary concerns you may have about the upcoming holiday season.

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