Thanksgiving is heading this way fast, but that doesn't mean healthy eating endeavors must take a back seat to celebrations — quite the contrary. With just a few simple changes, Thanksgiving can easily be one of the most nutritious meals you make all year, and nobody will know the difference.
I'm cookbook author Tiffany McCauley from The Gracious Pantry and I'm going to share five tips for making this year’s Thanksgiving meal the healthiest you've ever eaten.
Sweet Potato Casserole
People love to pile the sugar on top of and inside their sweet potato casserole, from the brown sugar blended with the sweet potatoes to the entire bag of marshmallows poured on top. It's a sugar catastrophe at most Thanksgiving tables, and it doesn't have to be.
Avoid the brown sugar altogether and use just a small amount of natural honey or maple syrup. A little honey will go a long way toward sweetening the sweet potatoes. As for toppings, some crushed pecans are all that is needed. Make a sweet crumble topping with pecans, whole wheat flour, and a little honey if it really needs to be sweet. Using all-natural sweeteners and using less of them is critical here. The casserole will still be sweet but not too sweet or filled with processed sugars and chemicals.
Green Bean Casserole
Many people make green bean casserole with canned mushroom soup. But this soup has many undesirable ingredients, chemicals, and preservatives. Instead, make some homemade mushroom soup ahead of time. It's easy to make, and you'll feel good knowing exactly what's in it. Then, when it’s time to top the casserole, add whole-grain bread blended with nuts and onion powder.
For families that typically enjoy cornbread with their Thanksgiving meal, don't use a box mix to make it. Make it from scratch and use a natural sweetener. Cooks can also use whole grains, such as whole wheat pastry flour, instead of white flour, which won't alter the taste. Avoiding the chemicals, preservatives, and processed sugars in boxed mixes will make things more nutritious without anyone noticing the difference.
Macaroni and Cheese
Mac and cheese is a Thanksgiving staple for many. But the boxed versions are filled with preservatives and chemicals that most of us would never want to eat. Making mac and cheese from scratch is easy and lets you enjoy all that creamy, cheesy goodness without all the powdered, processed chemicals.
Use a sharp cheddar, whole milk, a pat of butter, and a dollop of prepared yellow mustard. These are all natural food ingredients we usually eat and have much more flavor than the boxed stuff.
People typically fall into two camps for cranberry sauce. They’re either die-hard fresh cranberry sauce fanatics or canned, jelly-like cranberry sauce enthusiasts. Both groups are accustomed to cranberry sauce filled with processed sugar.
Cranberry sauce is easy to make on the stovetop, and using a natural sweetener like honey will allow you to use less overall. It even works in the slow cooker, so it doesn’t have to be watched while it bubbles.
While people have very traditional foods they expect every Thanksgiving, it's okay to get creative with extra side dishes. Add a platter of roasted vegetables or roasted squash to the table. These are foods everyone will usually try, and they don't look out of place on the table. Adding high-fiber vegetables to the menu will help everyone fill up faster without overindulging or feeling sick after eating.
Although many people prefer to throw caution to the winds and their diets out the window during the holidays, they can still enjoy satisfying desserts without the processed sugar or high calorie counts. Focus on fruit-based desserts to get a bit more fiber in the dish. Fiber helps the body process the sugars better.
Registered Dietitian Alex Caspero at Delish Knowledge says, “Fruits contain sugar, but it's naturally occurring and not added. There is no reason to fear the sugar found in fruit, and epidemiological research has consistently shown that most types of fruit have anti-obesity effects. Even though fruit contains sugar, people who consume a lot of fruit tend to have lower body mass indexes; this is known as the ‘fruit obesity paradox.' This is likely for several reasons, including the fact that fruit and all plant foods contain fiber. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is not broken down and can slow digestion, reducing blood sugar spikes and helping in satiety.”
Apple-based desserts are popular for Thanksgiving, such as an apple crisp made with natural sweeteners, which is much healthier than many other desserts.
Thanksgiving dinner lends itself naturally to healthier eating. No one will think twice about subtle changes in recipes if their favorites are still on the table. While a few die-hards might raise an eyebrow, most people will be happier at the end of the meal if they’re comfortably full instead of crammed with food. Making small changes helps everyone feel better.