There probably aren’t too many people who want to think of Thanksgiving as a “healthy” holiday. It is a day for giving thanks, relaxing, eating, being with family and friends, and watching football.
But at the same time, food has a fairly dominant role. You may not want a complete Thanksgiving meal makeover, turning every dish into a low-fat, low-calorie, or low-carb offering, but perhaps you want to tweak a few classics to make them slightly better for you and your guests. Small changes in trimming calories from a dish or using recipes that reduce cholesterol, sugar, or salt may be the steps you want to take for your dinner table this Thanksgiving.
In honor of every little detail counting, here are five easy ways to keep five of your homegrown recipes traditional but with a slightly healthier twist.
1. Sweet potato casserole
Sweet potatoes are, well, sweet. One of the easiest ways to make this dish better for you is to cut back on the added sugar. This recipe on Food.com for sweet potato casserole has 2 cups of brown sugar, 1 cup granulated. It calls for canned yams, evaporated milk, and 4 eggs. Even without the marshmallow topping, each serving has more than 300 calories, 13.1 grams of fat, and 65.2 milligrams of cholesterol.
Taking out the evaporated milk and eggs, lessening the sugar to three-fourths a cup of brown sugar, and using fresh sweet potatoes, like in this recipe from Cooking Light, lets you keep the marshmallow topping without compromising on taste. Per serving counts for this recipe are 186 calories, 5.5 grams of fat, and 8 milligrams of cholesterol.
A complete overhaul for sweet potato recipes is available, too. You can skip the casserole and serve them up roasted with maple syrup.
There are countless ways to make changes and substitutes to this dish. Starting with a look at bare-bones, traditional stuffing, a serving has about 250 calories, 15.5 grams of fat, and 1.5 grams of fiber. One easy swap for this recipe is to use whole-grain bread instead of white bread. Bigger changes are possible, too. This cranberry-pear wild rice stuffing recipe makes a whole-grain substitute and relies on naturally sweet ingredients. It decreases the calories to 178 per serving, fat is brought down to 5.8 grams, and fiber is increased to 4.3 grams.
A traditional Southern version of stuffing uses cornbread, and a few changes can also make this better for you — even gluten-free, if anyone has an allergy. The run-of-the-mill recipe can have about 325 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 1,687 milligrams of sodium in a serving. This gluten-free version has far less sodium at 427 milligrams, only 4.9 grams of fat, and 189 calories.
It’s pretty hard to beat this bird when it comes to nutritional benefits. A three-ounce serving of white meat without the skin has 25 grams of protein, 3 grams of fat, and 1 gram of saturated fat. A Harvard Medical School newsletter says that eating dark meat will increase your intake of saturated fat, as will eating the skin. Stick with skinless white meat servings of turkey if you want to cut back on fats.
The gravy you use can get an upgrade worthy of the healthiness of turkey. A recipe by the Mayo Clinic uses fresh ingredients, milk, and cornstarch, unlike this recipe, which calls for flour and pre-made turkey stock. The Mayo Clinic version’s sodium per serving is drastically lower — 13 milligrams versus 148 milligrams. It has fewer calories, 26 instead of 79, and less than 1 gram of fat compared to 6.5 grams of fat.
4. Pumpkin pie
Simply making this classic dessert at home instead of buying a pre-made version can save about 100 calories per slice. A recipe by Cooking Light for classic pumpkin pie has 222 calories, 7.4 grams of fat, and 241 milligrams of sodium. The store-bought version averages 323 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 450 milligrams of sodium.
You can also choose to skip the crust entirely on pumpkin pie, which is what this Libby’s recipe does. It will only marginally bring down the sodium level from the homemade pie, to 210 milligrams, but it does cut the calories back to 170 per serving and brings the fat down to 4.5 grams.
Another option is pumpkin pie pudding, especially if you want to have a nearly fat-free dessert. One example is from another recipe by Libby’s, in which there is only 1 gram of fat, though the sodium content edges back up toward the store-bought pie, to 350 milligrams.
5. Apple pie
Apple pie’s nutritional content can vary wildly depending on how you make it. A pie by Taste of Home has 414 calories, 16 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 227 milligrams of sodium, and 67 grams of carbohydrates. It is on par with one by King Arthur Flour, which has 420 calories, 18 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 270 milligrams of sodium, and 63 grams of carbohydrates.
Going back to the basics can help, such as in a recipe provided by Pillsbury. Calories are scaled back to 230 and there are only 6 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, and 43 grams of carbohydrates. The sodium content stays roughly the same, at 200 milligrams.
A more involved option that does actually bring down sodium levels is a deep dish apple pie from Eating Well that uses whole-wheat pastry flour for the crust. With a slice of that recipe, you’ll still have less calories than the first two mentioned, at 344, only 10 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, and 143 milligrams of sodium. The carbohydrate intake won’t drop though, with 62 grams per serving.