Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to gather with family and friends while enjoying delicious meals. However, if you are on a health kick and trying to eat better, the traditional Thanksgiving menu may not fit into your diet plan. The good news is that you don’t have to skip the Thanksgiving feast, rather, there are ways to make healthy Thanksgiving recipes that taste delicious without compromising your health journey. Here are 8 dietitian-approved tips for a healthy Thanksgiving meal.
Make Plants the Center of Your Plate
Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are highly nutritious and health-promoting foods. By making them the center of your plate, you will be consuming more nutrients and fiber with fewer calories, saturated fats, and sodium as compared to animal-based foods. These foods are also high in fiber, so they are more satiating and can help prevent overeating. One way to do this is to add healthy Thanksgiving sides such as roasted Brussels sprouts, sauteed greens, glazed carrots, and green beans to your plate so that they make up the majority of your meal, while still leaving some room for foods such as turkey and stuffing.
Swap Dairy for Dairy-free Alternatives
Recipes that call for whole milk and dairy products can be made healthier by using non-dairy alternatives. That’s because whole milk, heavy cream, cheese, and cream cheese are often high in calories and saturated fat while providing no fiber. They can also cause gastrointestinal discomfort such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea, and can promote inflammation. Non-dairy alternatives such as plant milk, plant-based cheeses, yogurts, and cream cheese are often lower in saturated fat, provide fewer calories, and contain no cholesterol. Plus, they won’t compromise your recipe and your guests won’t even notice the difference!
Make Homemade Cranberry Sauce to Cut the Sugar Content
Fresh cranberries are high in antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin C while being low in calories and fat. However, cranberry sauce packs tons of sugar, offsetting the benefits of cranberries. In fact, one serving of canned cranberry sauce contains 22 grams of added sugars, which is the equivalent of two glazed donuts! A healthier option is to make your own cranberry sauce – there are many low-sugar recipes you can make to still enjoy this tasty dish without getting a sugar high.
Swap Butter for Olive Oil
When making recipes that call for butter such as sauteed vegetables, casseroles, and mashed potatoes, try using olive oil or avocado oil instead. Butter is a calorie-dense food and high in saturated fat, which raises cholesterol levels and increases your risk of heart disease. Oils such as olive oil and avocado oil are high in unsaturated fats (also known as “healthy fats”) which promote heart health and lower inflammation.
Skip the Bread
Dinner rolls are a popular item on the Thanksgiving menu, but they don’t contribute much flavor and have poor nutritional value. Because they are made with refined flour, they lack fiber and therefore are not satiating. White bread can also more easily spike your blood sugar levels, which can promote fat storage and increase hunger levels. Instead of using up your calories on a plain dinner roll, save your appetite for the many delicious dishes on the table such as casseroles, roasted vegetables, stuffing, and mashed potatoes.
Use the “Healthy Plate” Guide
Instead of taking a little bit of everything and going back for seconds, thirds, and fourths, use the healthy plate guide to build a more balanced and portion-controlled meal. The healthy plate guide includes all the food groups in the right proportions, helping you eat a nutrient-dense meal that will keep you satiated, without going overboard on the calories. Fill half of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables such as roasted brussels sprouts, green beans, and carrots, one-fourth of your plate with protein such as lean turkey, and one-fourth of your plate with grains or starchy vegetables such as stuffing and sweet potatoes.
Try Sampling Desserts
Who doesn’t love pumpkin pie? Desserts are in fact delicious but are also very easy to overeat because they lack fiber and nutrients while packing a lot of calories, fat, and added sugars – things your body loves to indulge in. This year, you can choose to enjoy desserts more mindfully. One tip is to take “sample sizes” of a few different desserts rather than eating full-size portions of each dessert, that way you can eat a little bit of each without overeating. If you’re making a dessert dish at home, you can look for healthier recipes that use less sugar and substitute refined flour with whole grain flour such as when making pie crust.
Don’t Try to “Save Your Appetite”
Many people have the habit of “saving their appetite” for the Thanksgiving dinner by skipping meals or eating very few calories leading up to it. If you do this, you are much more likely to overeat at dinner to the point of feeling uncomfortably full. Instead, try eating normally throughout the day and consume both breakfast and lunch before Thanksgiving dinner. That way, you won’t be “famished” before dinner, and you will be able to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues so that you can eat a normal-sized portion and avoid the famous “food coma.”
Putting Your Health First
Thanksgiving is more than indulging in delicious foods. It is also about gathering with friends and family to spend quality time together and be thankful for the good things in life. However, it’s easy to fall into the “Thanksgiving feast” trap and over-indulge in traditional holiday foods. By following these simple tips, you will be able to make your recipes more nutritious so that you can enjoy Thanksgiving foods more mindfully while prioritizing your health and well-being.
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