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5 Tips for a Healthier Thanksgiving

November 21, 2018

During our annual Thanksgiving feasts, we gather around the table with those we love, and indulge in rich and delicious tradition. Health isn’t always the priority during the holidays, so here are a few simple tips and cookbook suggestions to make your Thanksgiving Day a little healthier.

1. Incorporate More Vegetables

Adding more vegetables to the Thanksgiving meal will increase vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber, which is good for gut and heart health. Add chopped vegetables to your dressing or stuffing, use a variety of root vegetables instead of traditional mashed potatoes, and add more vegetable sides in place of bread, like caramelized brussels sprouts, roasted butternut squash, or a fall-inspired kale salad.

2. Cook from Scratch

You can lower the amount of added sugar, sodium, and artificial ingredients in the meal by cooking more dishes from scratch. This will allow you to choose how much of each ingredient you want to use and give your dishes more flavor from fresh ingredients, like herbs. Yes, it may take more time, but this could be a great opportunity to create family recipes you can pass on to your kids. To avoid a stressful Thanksgiving morning, find recipes you can prep ahead of time and keep things simple.

3. Swap Out High-Fat & Sugar-Filled Ingredients

Get the same flavors you love from your favorite holiday recipes without the added saturated fat and sugar by making a few simple swaps.

  • Replace cream with greek yogurt or coconut milk, butter with olive or coconut oil, and sugar with stevia or fresh fruit.
  • Instead of candied yams or sweet potato casserole, make roasted sweet potatoes with a touch of brown sugar and cinnamon.
  • Instead of gravy made with turkey fat, use low-sodium turkey broth.
  • Instead of cranberry sauce from a can, either make a cranberry sauce from scratch with less sugar or a cranberry relish.
  • Reduce saturated fat from ham or dark meat turkey by choosing white meat turkey or plant proteins, like lentils, peas, and nuts.

4. Limit Calories from Drinks

Drinks can be full of hidden calories from sugar that can lead to an energy crash on Thanksgiving Day, and poor health over time. Make a few simple swaps to limit the amount of caloric beverages you consume.

  • Instead of soda, choose seltzer water, club soda, or fruit-infused water.
  • Instead of mixed drinks made with sugar, add a small amount of lime juice and seltzer water to your favorite liquor.
  • Instead of beer, choose one 4 ounce glass of red or white wine.
  • Instead of eggnog, choose a homemade apple cider.
  • Don’t forget to drink as much water as possible during the day to avoid dehydration and help with digestion.

5. Be Active

From the morning Thanksgiving Day Parade to the meal to the post-meal football game, most of us spend our Thanksgiving sitting down. Commit to staying active this year by participating in a Turkey Trot run in your community, going on a walk or hike with your family to talk about what you’re grateful for, playing a game of football in the backyard after the meal, or having a pushup challenge with the family as you watch the football game. When you stay active you are reducing risk of heart disease long-term.

Thanksgiving Day is meant for celebration and enjoying a feast with those you love, but that doesn’t mean health can’t be a focus. This year, try out these tips for a healthier holiday!


Erin Judge


Erin is a nutrition educator with Be Well at NPL, working to bring easy-to-digest nutrition information in the hands of all Nashvillians. If she's not in the kitchen or reading up on the latest nutrition research, you can find her running the local trails with her dog.