Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday since I was just a girl. All that delicious food, everyone in a good mood (usually!), no school for two days … when I think of Thanksgiving, I think of contentment. With that in mind, I have 43 healthy Thanksgiving recipes that are both delicious and nourishing. What’s contentment without delicious, after all?
What makes these healthy Thanksgiving recipes?
Messages about “good health” are all around us these days, and for every person, there seems to be a different idea of what healthy means. Eat Local. Eat Organic. Eat a Rainbow. Be a Vegetarian. Three Squares a Day. Intermittent Fasting. Vegan. Paleo. Keto. Weston A. Price. Atkins.
My head is spinning! (And I don’t know what some of those even mean…!)
That’s all fine and good, and I’m sure all of those diets have their benefits. But I think it just adds confusion and conflict. Which is actually best? Which one should you choose? What if you pick the wrong one or can’t stick with it?
Personally, I choose and suggest a more traditional diet that includes food in as close to its natural state as possible. I like to look back at how our ancestors ate before the introduction of packaged and processed foods, while also making the most of our easy access to fresh produce year-round.
Thanksgiving makes it pretty easy to eat healthy.
Unlike Christmas cookies and candy or greasy summer barbecues, healthy Thanksgiving recipes are probably part of your meal planning already. For most families, the star of the show is a roasted turkey and the sides include lots of vegetables. It’s hard to get much healthier than that.
With a few tweaks, some of the unhealthy choices can be modified to be more nourishing and still super delicious.
43 Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes
Unless you’re serving your whole neighborhood, you won’t need to cook all 43 of these recipes! Pick and choose the ones that sound the best to you. Try to pick at least a few from the non-dessert categories… 😀
Start with a Green Salad
Salad tends to get overlooked during holiday meals – at least it does in my family. I’m determined to make a change this year, though! We’ll be starting the meal with a tossed salad made with:
- Green Leaf Lettuce
- Shredded Carrots
- Shredded Red Cabbage
- Sliced Radishes
According to herbalist Dr. John R. Christopher, eating a fresh salad before a meal helps the body to better digest the cooked foods that follow. That’s especially important during Thanksgiving when many of us tend to overeat!
Adding a little olive oil will help your body fully absorb all the fat-soluble vitamins in the vegetables. Just skip the cheese and heavy salad dressings. There will be plenty of that to follow…
Roasted turkey holds two places in my heart: It’s my favorite meat, and it’s the best dish I cook (according to my family). In our house, no holiday meal is complete without roasted turkey.
If you already have a fool-proof way of getting a juicy, flavorful result, run with it!
If you’ve suffered with a dry, tasteless bird in the past, I have a few tips that should help.
- Place your thawed turkey breast-side up in a deep roaster pan.* Moderately salt the outside of the turkey. (We use Himalayan pink salt for everything now.)
- Add a little pepper or herbs if you’d like. I’m planning to sprinkle some sage on the outside this year.
- Trick #1: Cut butter into pats and place in and on the turkey. I like to put a bigger chunk inside, tuck a pat under the neck skin, and lay pats on the breast and legs. For a 15-pound bird, I use a whole stick of butter. This will melt during roasting and add flavor to the meat.
- Trick #2: Add ½ – ¾ cup pure water to the bottom of the pan. This will give you some liquid to begin basting before the juices start to run out.
- Roast at 325ºF. Calculate about 15-20 minutes per pound.
- Trick #3: Baste the turkey all over every 30 minutes during roasting. This part is essential if you want a juicy result. No basting = dry meat.
- When the breast starts to brown, place a “tent” of foil over it to keep it from getting too dark. We’ve stopped using aluminum foil for everything except this purpose. I don’t know how else to keep it from browning too much. If you have an idea, let me know!
- The turkey is done when a meat thermometer shows 185ºF in the thigh and 170ºF in the deepest part of the breast. (The thermometer should not touch bone.)
- Let your turkey sit for about 15 minutes after you take it out of the oven. This allows the juices to fully come out and makes carving easier.
- Trick #4: Carve your turkey with an electric knife! It works soooo much better than a regular knife and will give you those lovely photo-worthy slices. We’ve been using the same Black & Decker model for almost 20 years!
*Some people suggest putting the turkey on a rack in the roasting pan. I did this once and didn’t like the way the bottom of the turkey turned out. So I went back to placing my turkey directly on the bottom of the roasting pan.
The other traditional meat at Thanksgiving is ham – something I’ve never eaten in my life! Yet I fully recognize that many other people enjoy ham, particularly at holiday meals.
To make sure your ham is a healthy choice, pick one that has been traditionally cured, such as a smoked ham. I suggest staying away from sugar-cured since refined sugars depress the immune system and feed cancer cells. (Save the sweetness for your dessert.)
Though it’s talking more about pork chops than ham, here’s an interesting article about why traditionally-prepared pork is healthier: How Does Pork Prepared in Various Ways Affect the Blood.
Stuffing or Dressing
Here’s another traditional Thanksgiving dish that I just don’t eat. Why? I have no idea, but I’ve never even tried it. For those who love it, though – no matter what you call it – I found a few stuffing / dressing recipes full of healthy goodness:
- Herbed Bread Stuffing with Mushrooms and Sausage
- Celery Stuffing (no meat)
- Classic Herb Stuffing (no meat)
- Cauliflower Stuffing (low carb, no meat)
- Pear, Sage, and Golden Raisin Stuffing
I suggest just two changes to any of these recipes:
Use whole grain bread (not white!), preferably homemade. Cut your bread into cubes and set on the counter overnight before using it in stuffing.
Do not use a low fat broth! Natural fats are actually very healthy and an important part of body function. Did you know that the brain is up to 60 percent fat?
Thanksgiving dinner and cranberry sauce go hand in hand. It’s possibly my dad’s favorite part of the meal. Instead of buying a can this year, I found this recipe that uses honey instead of sugar:
Eggs are an excellent source of vitamin D, so deviled eggs are a good choice during the winter months. My mom always serves deviled eggs at Thanksgiving and other family get-togethers. I found a couple recipes that trade out the packaged mayonnaise for healthier options:
- Creamy Olive Pimento Deviled Eggs (uses Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise)
- Avocado Deviled Eggs (as the name suggests, uses avocado instead of mayonnaise)
Vegetable Side Dishes
This is where Thanksgiving really gets to shine. Before I started to change my eating habits, Thanksgiving was the only day all year that I ate vegetables other than green beans.
Here are several vegetable sides to include to make your holiday meal healthy & delicious:
Please, please, please don’t smother your sweet potatoes in marshmallows and brown sugar. I truly don’t know how people eat them that way! Sweet potatoes are deliciously sweet on their own.
Just cut a bit off each end and bake them in a 425ºF oven for about an hour, depending on size. Let each person have their own sweet potato or cut them open and scoop the flesh into a serving bowl. Add a little pat of butter if you want – but we love them plain.
Since the turkey might be occupying the oven all day, you can bake the sweet potatoes the day before and then reheat them before dinner.
Low in calories, full of vitamins and minerals, and loaded with flavor, broccoli deserves a place on your holiday table. This vegetable comes from the cruciferous family, known to be full of cancer-fighting compounds. If it can fight cancer, just imagine how powerfully it’s boosting your health in other ways!
Steaming broccoli will preserve the most nutrients. I loved the Oster steamer that I used to have, and it frees up the stove top for cooking other things. Alas, I don’t have it anymore so I use the steamer basket in my two-quart pot.
If plain broccoli isn’t your thing, try this Garlic Parmesan Broccoli recipe.
This recipe has become one of my family’s favorites. The light garlic flavor blends so well with the sweetness of whole carrots. I’m sure your guests will enjoy it too!
To kids and many adults, Brussels sprouts conjure up feelings of disgust without ever giving them a try. I have to admit that I’m in that number.
Now that I know about their health-boosting benefits – Brussels sprouts are in the cruciferous family, like broccoli and kale – I’m determined to add them to my routine. This recipe looks like a winner:
Green Bean Casserole
If you enjoy a green bean casserole, skip the typical recipe made with canned soups and try this one made with fresh ingredients like mushrooms and herbs.
I suggest switching out the white flour for whole wheat and using full-fat sour cream and milk.
While they’re not the healthiest vegetable dish, mashed potatoes will probably be seen on most tables this Thanksgiving … and mine is no exception. If you’re eating all these other nutritious foods, a small helping a mashed potatoes isn’t going to hurt anything.
The key to deliciousness, in my opinion, is to use real butter and evaporated milk.
(In fact, I advise using real butter for all your dishes. Stay away from fake, lab-created margarine. Learn more here.)
Deep purple eggplant is a good source of calcium and also contains numerous other vitamins and minerals, including C, K, B6, potassium, magnesium, and much more.
Made with tomato sauce, natural cheeses, and herbs, a pan of eggplant parmesan can even serve as a main dish for any vegetarians on your guest list.
Here’s a dish most people probably don’t have on their Thanksgiving tables. Make your meal unique by adding healthy mushrooms to the line-up.
There are so many anti-carb and anti-gluten messages these days, but I tend to ignore them all. Like I said earlier, I like to look at how our ancestors ate prior to the introduction of processed/packaged foods … and breads were certainly a large part of their diets.
Soft Whole Wheat Rolls
What is Thanksgiving without rolls? They’re almost as important as the turkey. For the most delicious whole wheat rolls, use my Whole Wheat Bread Recipe but shape the dough into rolls instead of loaves.
You can use your stand mixer to knead the dough, which makes this recipe easy peasy.
Bake the rolls for 18-20 minutes and serve hot.
Garlic French Bread
It’s no secret that my family is crazy about garlic. My oldest son and I, in particular, can’t get enough. Garlic has so many health benefits that it should be a regular part of every diet.
Cranberry Rosemary Bread
Serve this unique and healthy bread to your guests, and they’re sure to be raving for weeks. You’ll need to start a day ahead of time – the dough raises 12-18 hours (overnight) and is baked in a Dutch oven.
Grain & Gluten-Free Breads
Though I have no experience with them, I wanted to include some recipes if you need to serve grain- or gluten-free bread this year. These were recommended by my gluten-free friends.
What usually fills the glasses on your Thanksgiving table? The last few years, my whole family has been drinking nothing but pure water … and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
I’ll admit, though, that for many years, we drank various sodas at our holiday meals, and on every other day too. I’m so glad we were all able to give up those sugar-laden, calcium-leaching drinks.
If plain water isn’t your “cup of tea,” here are a few ideas that are also good for you:
- Red Wine is good for the cardiovascular system. For the adults only, of course.
- Mulled Cider is a warm, spiced apple cider that is as delicious as it is healthy. Try either of these recipes:
- Herbal Tea is always a good choice, whether you serve it hot or chilled. Some flavors that will nicely compliment the Thanksgiving meal:
- Warm Turmeric Cinnamon Milk is nutritious, comforting, and may even promote a good night’s sleep.
Healthy Thanksgiving Desserts
Wait, can healthy and dessert really go in the same sentence? Well, sort of. For each of these desserts, I sought out a recipe that does not use corn syrup and preferably uses a natural sweetener like honey.
While desserts don’t make a good addition to anyone’s daily meal plan, I fully recognize that most people are going to eat dessert after Thanksgiving dinner. If there’s any chocolate cheesecake around, I’ll be having some too!
- This Pumpkin Pie recipe includes directions for making the pie crust and the filling using all-natural ingredients.
- My oldest son is thoroughly enamored with Sweet Potato Pie. I’ve bought 26 pounds of sweet potatoes to make sure we have enough to bake and for him to make pie. (No, I don’t plan to use them all on Thanksgiving…) Just swap out the pumpkin for baked sweet potato in the above recipe or try this sweet potato pie recipe.
- This Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie recipe uses brown sugar instead of corn syrup.
Top your pie with Homemade Whipped Cream. It’s easy to make and avoids all the unpronounceable ingredients in commercial whipped cream. This recipe does use a small amount of white sugar, but you’re making such good choices that a little sugar won’t hurt you.
Other Thanksgiving Dessert Recipes
- Cinnamon Roasted Chickpeas are different enough to be a novelty, but so delicious no one will be able to resist them!
- Make your own homemade pudding with this Old Fashioned Chocolate Pudding recipe.
- My sister introduced me to Chocolate Cheesecake several years ago. Oh my, it’s good! Now I know why the Golden Girls were always eating it. This recipe does include white sugar, but since I eat it only once a year, I don’t worry about it.
Sister’s Chocolate Cheesecake
- 2 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese, room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- 2-3 eggs
- 4 ounces dark chocolate
- chocolate or plain graham cracker crust, preferably homemade
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
In mixing bowl, beat softened cream cheese at medium speed. Add sugar and beat until creamy. Add in eggs (use 3 eggs for a 9-inch or deep-dish pie) and beat well.
Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler and then add to the cream cheese mixture. Beat until thick. Pour filling into prepared crust.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until firm in the center.
Try making your own Graham Cracker Crust. You could even make your own Homemade Graham Crackers or Chocolate Graham Crackers so you’ll be 100% sure of all the ingredients in your chocolate cheesecake.
Many of these healthy Thanksgiving recipes will be gracing my table this year … probably again on Christmas too! I hope that you’ve found a few to add to your menu as well. Have a blessed holiday!
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