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Natural Awakenings South Jersey

Swaps That Can Make Thanksgiving Dinner Healthier

Oct 29, 2021 10:36AM ● By Nancy Seigle

by Jaycee Miller 

 Making a Thanksgiving meal that is healthy and delicious can be tricky. However, with a few swaps, this conundrum can be solved, food experts say. 

The November feast is “always a balance of how one can make this [food] more heart-healthy without sacrificing taste,” says Sharon Collison, a registered dietitian and instructor of clinical nutrition at the University of Delaware. 

She shares the following tips:  

  • Replace baked potatoes with Yukon Gold potatoes when preparing mashed potatoes. 
  • Sprinkle plant-based sweeteners instead of brown sugar on yams and sweet potatoes. 
  • Switch white bread (or white breadcrumbs) with whole-wheat alternatives when making stuffing. 
  • Use evaporated skim milk instead of cream when preparing green bean casserole or pumpkin pie.  
  • Forgo a pie crust when making pumpkin pie.

Collison offers additional healthy side dish options.  

“I love [taking] roasted beets, Yukon Gold potatoes, carrots, parsnips, just about any type of root vegetable and then coating it with a mixture of olive oil and a little bit of maple syrup, salt and pepper,” Collison says. She then roasts it in an approximate 400° F oven and when it starts to caramelize, the side dish is done.  

“I also like making a rice pilaf with a wild rice blend,” Collison says. “I add celery, dried cranberries and even a little bit of orange juice to give it a different flavor.”  

Another way to make Thanksgiving meals healthier is to invite people from different cultural backgrounds to your dinner, say Joanne Slavin, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota.  

Slavin also suggests extending Thanksgiving dinner invitations to “Indian friends or Asian friends” and encouraging them to bring a dish native to their culture. “Since consumption of fruits and vegetables, particularly green vegetables, are much more likely,” in those cultures, guests are more likely to bring them, Slavin continues.  

Admittedly, some Thanksgiving foods that are “really high in calories” and contain “a ton of butter and sugar” are likely going to still appear on dinner tables for the November feast. She says in such instances, moderation is key. 

“A little bit is fine, but a big slice and a big serving for most people is not a good idea,” Collison says.  


Jaycee Miller is a freelance researcher, blogger and writer living in New Jersey.