10 Tips for a Healthier Thanksgiving Feast (That Will Still Feel Celeberatory and Indulgent)

Some of us will eat as many as 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving day, give or take. That’s a lot of green bean casserole and apple pie, people!

Right about now, you’re probably thinking. “wow, what a buzz kill she is” or  “clearly this girl has never had my grandma’s pecan pie or my great aunt Mary’s creamed spinach. And you’d be right….about your grandma’s and aunt’s recipes anyway….

When I lived closer to family, I loved hosting Thanksgiving dinner. Not just because I love to cook, or that I’m a little bit of a control freak. Mainly I loved it because I got to make all of the dishes healthier, and no one ever knew. Pumpkin pie for my diabetic mother-in-law with high cholesterol? Yup, lighter. Creamy mashed potatoes and rich gravy for my brother-in-law, who had a massive heart attack and major heart surgery just a few years prior to my first holiday as hostess? Rich, delicious and every bit as yummy as traditional.

Wow….they sound like a fun group, huh?

For me, cooking for the people I love is a treat. Making it healthy is how I honor them. So, it’s in this spirit that I offer up 10-tips for a healthier Thanksgiving feast that will leave you feeling satisfied, without the day-after food hangover.

Tip #1Start out light: Keep the appetizers light and plant-based. Hummus or yogurt dip with fresh herbs and veggies, endive leaves with store-bought tapenade for dipping, button mushroom caps stuffed with sauteed butternut squash, sage and pine nuts….you get the picture.

Tip #2Swap-out: Substitute full fat ingredients where you can. For mashed potatoes, use light or whipped butter and 1% milk. Or try light sour cream and skim milk. Feeling really daring? Greek yogurt and olive oil make a rich and delicious mashed potato with a little tartness that pairs nicely with the turkey. For pumpkin pie, use non-fat egg substitute instead of eggs, replace granulated sugar with coconut sugar and consider making the crust homemade using vegan shortening (or purchasing an already made vegan crust). There are lots of resources online that offer great suggestions for substituting healthy ingredients–this one from the Mayo Clinic is one of my favorites.

Tip #3: Don’t just roast the bird: Rather than boiling or steaming sides like broccoli, carrots and Brussels sprouts, roast them in a little olive oil instead. They will be more rich and satisfying without having to add lots of butter. This recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Dijon Pear Balsamic Glaze is one of my go-to recipes for special occasions.

Tip #4: Imbibe Smartly: Serve wine spritzers instead of straight-up wine. This recipe from Giada De Laurentiis is a good one (though I’d go with Sauvignon Blanc instead of the Pinot Grigio). You’ll be able to have more than one glass, and maybe it’ll even keep your crazy Aunt Bea from demonstrating how to do a proper split….while wearing a dress. (Or, perhaps I’m the only one who has to worry about these things….).

Tip #5: Keep it simple: Consider limiting the number of sides and desserts you offer, and make them your absolute, must-have favorites. Having fewer options not only makes your life easier from a preparation standpoint, it also naturally limits the possibility of having 3 slices of pie for dessert because, let’s face it, although pie is a delicious part of the meal, would you really have multiple pieces of pumpkin if it’s the only one being offered?

Tip #6: B.Y.O.D (Bring Your Own Dish): Planning on being a guest instead of the host? Offer to bring an appetizer or dessert that you’ve made healthier. Or, if you choose to indulge, be really selective about where you ‘spend’ your calories. For example, I always focus on my favorite dishes that I only have access to this one day a year. For me, that’s bread stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy and pumpkin pie. You may want to have a big glass of water and take a deep breath before deciding what to put on your plate.

Tip #7: Practice meal mindfulness: Pay attention to, and, more importantly, enjoy every bite. We Americans tend to be mindless eaters, so why not practice being more mindful on the one day a year that’s all about the celebration of the food that you are fortunate enough to be enjoying with people you love? Oh, and put your fork down…often.

Tip #8: Step away from the table: Resist the urge to go back for seconds. I know this one seems a little inhumane, but, trust me, you’re not still hungry after that last bite.

Tip #9: (which might help you success with Tip #7) Walk it off:  This is a habit my husband and I got into very early on in our relationship, and one that we still continue today. While the genesis of this may have been in an attempt to escape our crazy families, it has become one of our favorite traditions. Not only will you return from your jaunt refreshed, you’ll give your digestion a boost and I can almost guarantee that you won’t dive into seconds.

Tip #10:  Regroup: OK, so you stuck to as many healthy eating tips as you could, and you still overdid it. Take a deep breath, get back on track, and greet “the day after” with a wholesome breakfast (um, yea, apple pie doesn’t count as a fruit) and a renewed commitment to healthy eating. A Thanksgiving of indulgence doesn’t have to be the gateway to a binge that lasts until January 1st.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! ?