Healthier Thanksgiving Cooking Hacks

person preparing holiday roast turkey

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love gathering all our family together and of course eating all the traditional dishes we have each year. Over the years, our family has tweaked the foods we serve to be a little healthier while still being just as delicious and something I look forward to every year. Here are some simple ideas to give your traditional recipes a healthier makeover. 

The Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. These are nutrients that many traditional Thanksgiving foods have in abundance – that’s why we like them so much! The good news is, we can make small changes to reduce them without sacrificing flavor. 

  • Reduce sugar by ¼ in most recipes (even baking!). You can also substitute ¼ of a recipe’s sugar with nonfat dry milk to reduce calories and increase nutrition without affecting flavor or texture.
  • Use sweet seasonings like vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves to add sweet flavors without sugar. This would be a good strategy for fruit desserts or sweet potatoes.
  • Substitute healthy cooking oils for butter, which are low in saturated fat, for many recipes. 
  • When baking, you can substitute fruit purees (applesauce or prune puree work great) for fat in recipes. Or go half and half – replace half the amount of fat with fruit purees. You can also replace butter with plain lowfat yogurt, too. This will reduce fat and calories but keep your baked goods moist and tender. 
  • Switch to skim or low-fat milk instead of whole milk. For extra richness when replacing heavy cream in recipes, try evaporated skim milk.
  • Cut back the amount of cheese and consider using one with a stronger flavor. Cheese is high in calories and saturated fat. A strong cheese will still give you the flavor you expect in a smaller amount.
  • Instead of basting food like turkey or ham in oil or pan drippings, use a small amount of fruit juice, wine, vinegar, or a low sodium vegetable broth instead. It will still be moist and flavorful. Roasting on a rack can help drain away fat while your meat cooks, too.
  • Use a cornstarch slurry instead of a flour and fat roux to thicken sauces and gravy. Whisk together 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of cold water for each cup of liquid to thicken. Pour into your sauce or gravy and slowly bring to a boil.
  • Use herbs, spices, lemon juice, vinegar, and other salt-free seasonings to add flavor without sodium.

thanksgiving meal with turkey, ham, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, carrots, cranberry sauce, and pie

Cook More Like MyPlate

  • Try cobbler instead of a traditional pie. The cobbler topping is much lower in fat and can be made with whole grain oats! If you prefer pie, graham cracker crusts are an easier and better option than white flour pie dough.
  • Sub 50-100% of all purpose flour with whole wheat flour. For small amounts, you can use 100% whole wheat flour, such as in a roux. For baked goods, try a 50/50 mix of whole wheat and all purpose flours to keep the final product light and not so dense. A 50/50 mix counts as half your grains as whole grains!
  • Balance proportions of different food groups in your favorite recipes. Add more fruits, vegetables, plant-based proteins or whole grains, and scale back meat or refined grains. 
  • Add crunch with whole grain bran cereal for casserole toppings instead of french fried onions, potato chips, etc.

Try these tips to lighten up your Thanksgiving recipes. If you have specific questions, feel free to share them in the comments and we’ll be sure to help you find healthier options that still taste great. Happy Thanksgiving!

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