You can’t have Thanksgiving without turkey, but you can forgo some of those traditional dishes that are supremely bad for your health with healthy swaps that taste just as delicious. Here, some of our favorite nutritionists share their favorite healthy hacks for Thanksgiving.
IN: Grains Salad
Let’s just call out the obvious–the bread. There’s so much of it, not to mention the sodium and butter. Swap it out with a dish that has as much texture, but less of the bad stuff while also packing in the nutrients. Make a grains salad, suggests Sara Haas, RDN, LDN, dietician and chef who is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Choose your favorite healthy grain, or make a trio of quinoa, wild or brown rice and bulgar, then toss in seasonal favorites such as roasted butternut squash and Brussels sprouts, chewy craisins and sunflower seeds for crunch. For an extra flavor punch, toss it with a champagne vinaigrette.
OUT: Green Bean Casserole
Sounds so healthy, we know, and it’s easy to convince ourselves it’s healthy (I mean, the words “green bean” are in the title, right?) But not so fast. Most versions of this recipe rely heavily on condensed soup, such as a cream of mushroom. And creamy soup doesn’t exactly top the list of healthiest foods, what with its heavy, fatty cream and loads of sodium. What’s more, those crunchy onion things you put on top? Yep, fried empty calories, with no remarkable nutritional benefit to mention. Instead, suggests Haas, get a truly healthy green bean dish (that does not disappoint in the flavour department) by starting with fresh beans (or frozen, which retain a nice texture and all of their nutrients). Roast those babies in the oven to bring out their naturally delicious flavors (way blurred out when you steam or boil green beans) with extra-virgin olive oil, then top with caramelized shallots and sliced toasted almonds before serving. Toasting brings out the veggie’s hidden sweetness and shallots are a sweeter versions of onions.
Tip: Caramelizing does sound fancy, doesn’t it? But it’s simple, swears Haas: Simply slice and add shallots to heated extra-virgin olive oil in a nonstick skillet on the oven. The trick is to start at medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, then turn the heat down, cover, and have a little patience. Want extra health benefits? Add a bit of garlic.
OUT: Mashed Potatoes with Gravy
IN: Spaghetti Squash Mash
This hidden treasure trove of a seasonal vegetable deserves a spot on your holiday table. It’s a favorite of Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RD, CDN, also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It can either be steamed, or cut up, boiled like potatoes, mixed with some dairy, and mashed. Be sure to add extra health-promoting herbs, like rosemary, to the mix.
OUT: Pumpkin Pie
We all love the rich, seasonal flavour of pumpkin and all it brings to a Thanksgiving Day dessert. What we don’t love is the salty crust full of flour and the extra large portions we end up having. Instead, says Haas, serve a pumpkin spice pudding. It’s easy, she says: Just combine pumpkin puree, toasted chia seeds, and half a tablespoon of sugar, then fold in egg whites (all the protein for a light and airy dessert, not one that’s heavy and dense) and bake. Top with festive, autumnal, and benefits-packed pumpkin seeds, which add a nice crunch. No whipped cream required.
OUT: Sweet Potato Casserole
IN: Roasted Sweet Potato Mash
Hmm, yes, we’ll give you points for the beta-carotene-packed sweet potato, but the stick of butter and the bag of marshmallows on top equal mega deductions (hello sugar and fat). Keep the overall health (and taste) score high by washing, peeling, cubing and roasting your sweet potatoes, then gently mashing and placing in a baking dish. Return to a 400 degree oven for a few more minutes, with a little butter, brown sugar and generous portions of chopped walnuts and sliced ginger on top. Voila–a delicious mash that’s good for you, too. Crispy edges mixed in rich mash? We give thanks indeed.
OUT: Beets In a Can
So, let’s say this, beets from a can on the table are better than no beets on the table. They offer serious nutrition in every bite. But why not make them taste better, so your family and loved ones will actually eat more of them? Score big by making roasted beets, says Haas, because roasting really brings out their earthy, sweet flavor. Add fresh sage and thyme, salt, pepper, extra-virgin olive oil and a bit of goat cheese to the roasting pan before you bake. Mmmm, can we come over too?
I thought I was the only one who ever saw sauerkraut on the Thanksgiving table, but Haas has also seen it (we thank our German grandmas). More than a cultural tradition, sauerkraut is a powerful dish to add to the table. It offers mega anti-cancer benefits and is also very low in calories. Have fun poking around on Pinterest for appealing recipes to use. Those that have healthy seeds in them bring even more nutrition. If sauerkraut is just not your thing, or you know your family just won’t bend quite that far for the sake of health on Turkey Day, serve up a crunchy kale salad (after all, kale is a veritable celebrity of the superfood world, so who would say no?) Look for the variety called Lacinato, says Haas, which is sweeter in taste and a bit softer in texture. Add dried cherries, red onion and walnuts and toss it with a balsamic vinaigrette. Easy-peasy nutrition in a tasty, multi-textured bite. Just let the salad sit in the dressing a bit before serving to soften the kale leaves even more.