How to Cook the Ultimate Healthy Thanksgiving Dinner
Planning a healthy Thanksgiving menu doesn't mean the food has to be bland and boring. In fact, think of Thanksgiving as the perfect excuse to pile your plate high with your favorite nutritious vegetables—Brussels sprouts, green beans, sweet potatoes, and more.
To keep your waistline in check over the holidays, we’ve created a stunning Thanksgiving feast that’s perfect for both large crowds and smaller groups. These easy and healthy recipes are inspired by all of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes—like stuffing, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie—but they're lighter, more nutritious, and (much) more delicious.
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
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How to Eat Healthy on Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving tends to evoke the “feast” mentality, and it’s far too easy to overload on your favorite comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin pie. While we urge you to avoid holiday food guilt, try to balance your plate as much as possible without depriving yourself. So help yourself to that creamy macaroni and cheese—but don’t forget about the green bean salad.
In fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends filling up your plate with salad and vegetables before heartier dishes to help you consume less calories during the meal. The organization also notes a common Thanksgiving mistake that even the healthiest eaters make: assuming that nutrient-rich foods are fair game for massive portion sizes. Even though a Thanksgiving meal is inevitably going to be higher in fat, calories, and sodium, you can minimize the damage by mixing in some healthier items.
Healthy Thanksgiving Appetizers
When planning Thanksgiving appetizers, prepare lighter foods that won’t tempt guests to overeat before the big meal. These crudité platters, bite-sized savory tarts, creamy Greek yogurt-based dips, and hummus would all be safe bets. For large groups, aim to serve at least two appetizers. For smaller groups, one or two options are plenty.
Broiled Shrimp with Buttermilk Rémoulade
Rémoulade is a tangy mayonnaise-based French sauce that’s commonly paired with fresh seafood, but it can be high in fat. Our guilt-free version matches the creaminess of the original recipe with canola mayo, Greek yogurt, and fat-free buttermilk.
Caramelized Leek and Spinach Dip
Classic spinach and cheese dip often packs unnecessary amounts of calories and saturated fat. This much healthier version relies on caramelized leeks—not cheese—for flavor and uses protein-rich Greek yogurt for a creamy texture. Serve with sliced veggies such as radishes, carrots, and endive leaves, or homemade pita chips.
Smoked Salmon Salad in Cucumber Cups
Scooped-out cucumber cups make perfect low-calorie vessels for creamy smoked salmon salad. Substitute chives for the green onions if you prefer a softer, less pungent onion flavor.
Beet Hummus with Blue Cheese and Walnuts
Beets give this ruby red hummus a satisfying earthy flavor and a load of essential nutrients. To avoid a beet bloodbath, protect your hands by wearing a pair of disposable latex gloves when handling. If blue cheese is too pungent, you can swap it for milder feta.
Healthy Thanksgiving Sides
To get the most nutrition from your feast, choose colorful and healthy Thanksgiving sides, from leafy greens to crunchy root veggies. Our healthier takes on classics pack flavor from nutritious ingredients such as fresh herbs and tangy vinegars. When deciding how many sides to prepare, take the advice of Cooking Light's Senior Food Editor Tim Cebula—lots. We recommend serving a selection of vegetables along with starchy options.
Raw and Roasted Carrots and Fennel
This provocative dish juxtaposes the flavors and textures of raw and roasted carrots and fennel. We toss the vegetables with a simple lemon vinaigrette, then top them off with feta cheese and chopped pistachios. You can substitute fresh parsley for cilantro if you prefer a more neutral-tasting herb.
Sweet Potato Casserole with Crunchy Oat Topping
While classic marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole may feel comforting and nostalgic, the overload in sugar isn’t worth the indulgence. Our healthier version lets the natural flavor of sweet potato shine by pairing it with an oat and pecan streusel.
Maple-Caraway Brussels Sprouts
Give Brussels sprouts with bacon a rest this year by making this fresh approach to a classic Thanksgiving side dish. Here, fragrant, anise-flavored caraway seeds enhance crispy sautéed Brussels sprouts. To achieve a perfect caramelization, make sure you’re using a large enough skillet to allow the Brussels sprouts to brown evenly.
Green Bean Salad
Green beans are an essential part of any Thanksgiving table, but their flavor often gets lost inside a cheesy casserole. Our elegant green bean salad showcases these delicate and crunchy-tender green beans in a tangy Dijon vinaigrette.
Healthy Stuffing Recipes
Can Thanksgiving stuffing actually be healthy? It may sound unlikely, but this essential dish can easily be made wholesome and nutritious with the right ingredients. Instead of store bought stuffing mix—which can be high in sodium and may have preservatives—our healthy recipes achieve big flavors from fresh ingredients. Stuffing is rich, so in most cases one recipe is plenty. Choose from any of the tasty options below.
Classic Herb Stuffing
Make this easy stuffing if you’re looking for something simple, classic, and delicious. Using whole-grain bread ups the fiber, while plenty of veggies like carrots, celery, onions, and garlic pack in more nutrients.
Pear, Sage, and Golden Raisin Stuffing
This sophisticated stuffing celebrates delicious fall pears by elevating them with whole-wheat sourdough bread cubes, fresh sage, tart golden raisins, and thick-cut bacon. If you’re looking for a twist on the traditional recipe, you’ll love this aromatic stuffing.
Herbed Bread Stuffing with Mushrooms and Sausage
This addictive stuffing is lower in calories, fat, and sodium, thanks to fresh ingredients and aromatics. A meaty duo of cremini mushrooms and sweet turkey sausage makes magic with sourdough bread cubes and delicate herbs.
Southern Corn Bread Dressing Squares
This savory corn bread dressing uses a clever trick that saves on fat while enhancing the flavor—instead of using all of the butter in the batter, we brush part of it over top during baking to create a golden brown crust. Pre-portioning squares before serving eliminates the worry of guests fighting over who gets the best piece.
Healthy Thanksgiving Breads
Homemade bread—like muffins, yeast rolls, or corn bread—adds a special touch to any Thanksgiving table. Our healthy bread recipes use whole-grain flours (such as whole-wheat flour and spelt flour) that are packed with fiber and protein. If you have time, make a flavored butter from scratch, such as our fall-inspired Sherry-Pear Butter, to serve alongside the bread.
Whole-Grain Spelt and Cornmeal Biscuit
Sweet and nutty spelt flour is the star ingredient in these simple, no-rise biscuits. If you don’t own a biscuit cutter, don’t fret—we cut the dough into squares to ensure no stray scraps.
Herbed Whole-Grain Yeast Rolls
Thanksgiving guests of all ages will flock to these buttery herbed yeast rolls. With only 109 calories per roll, you won’t have to feel too guilty about reaching for a second helping.
Make this spiced pumpkin bread if you’re hosting out-of-town guests for Thanksgiving—it makes a perfect grab-and-go breakfast or sweet snack. You can also use this recipe to make perfectly portioned pumpkin muffins instead.
Healthy Turkey Recipes
Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without the turkey. These healthy Thanksgiving turkey recipes showcase simple flavor-boosting tricks such as brining, curing, and spatchcocking that prevent it from drying out. Once you’ve feasted on the succulent meat, spin your turkey leftovers into a multitude of tasty weeknight dishes. Choose from any of these four fabulous birds, and don’t forget the accoutrements—gravy and cranberry sauce.
Honey-Bourbon Spatchcocked Turkey
Brining turkey before roasting it is a foolproof way to ensure juicy, flavorful meat. After the bird gets a boost from a bourbon-honey brine, we spatchcock it, or remove the backbone. The turkey roasts flat in the oven, allowing it to cook evenly and develop a flawlessly crisp skin.
If you’re looking for a different way to cook spatchcocked bird, try this recipe courtesy of Cooking Light Editor-in-Chief Hunter Lewis. First, he cures the turkey overnight in a spice mixture of cumin and fresh sage, then he cooks it on a charcoal grill to impart a smoky flavor.
Slow-roasting garlic softens its normally pungent kick and coaxes out a gentle sweetness. Here, we use this garlic to make a luscious herbed butter that’s rubbed underneath the turkey skin before roasting.
Cider-Glazed Turkey with Roasted Apples
After a brine of apple cider and other aromatics, we elevate the turkey’s flavor further by rubbing thyme butter underneath the skin. Then, we roast the bird with caramelized apples and vegetables to mouthwatering perfection.
Classic Turkey Gravy
While turkey parts like the heart, neck, and gizzards may sound obscure, they’re crucial ingredients that can easily take a gravy sauce from bland to extraordinary. This go-to basic recipe can easily be riffed into tasty variations using a splash of red wine or generous pinch of black pepper.
White Balsamic and Rosemary Cranberry Sauce
Canned cranberry sauce has a special place at Thanksgiving tables, but it’s often loaded with artificial ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup. Minimize sugar by making your own from scratch with fresh cranberries. Our recipe elevates the traditional recipe with fragrant rosemary and white balsamic.
Healthy Thanksgiving Desserts
These healthy Thanksgiving desserts are guaranteed to end your turkey day gathering on a sweet note. You won’t find the typical pie spread here—we’ve tried to mix it up with easy tarts and delicious cookies. These decadent recipes don’t rely on added sugar for flavor and focus on the natural sweetness of favorite ingredients like cranberries, pumpkin, and apples.
Here, we combine the very best of pumpkin pie and pecan pie for a healthy Thanksgiving dessert that's sure to send guests raving. The spiced pumpkin filling gets a brown sugar-pecan streusel that packs the perfect crunch without a load of added sugar.
White Chocolate-Raspberry Tart
Guests will love this refreshing tart, which comes together quickly thanks to clever ingredients. The shortcake-like crust, which uses ground-up freeze-dried raspberries and saltine crackers, is a delicious match to the creamy white chocolate and yogurt topping.
Baked Apples with Amlou
Baked apples are a classic fall dessert. Here, they get a flavor boost from a nutty almond spread called amlou. If you can’t find argan oil, you can substitute walnut oil.
Matcha Chocolate Crackle Cookies
You won't have to feel too guilty about indulging in these healthy and decadent chocolate cookies, which get an extra nutrition boost from antioxidant-rich matcha powder. Bake up a batch for guests to enjoy in the days leading up to your Thanksgiving feast.
Now that you’ve feasted, what are you going to do with the leftovers? Don’t toss them—you can easily re-purpose extra turkey, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole into plenty of delicious meals. Our Thanksgiving Leftovers guide tells you exactly what to make.