Thanksgiving is a special time of year for many Americans. It’s the holiday where families and friends come together and indulge in a feast.
During this day, splurge-worthy meals are welcome, and reaching for an extra serving of dessert is encouraged. However, if you’re trying to maintain your weight-loss routine or you have food allergies, the holidays can be a tough time.
Thankfully, there are numerous ways you can make small tweaks to both your main dish and side dishes that will make the overall meal that much healthier.
Every little bit helps! We asked a handful of registered dietitians and chefs to share some of their healthy Thanksgiving tips so that you can incorporate them into your holiday get-together this year.
Make mashed potatoes with sweet potatoes.
Instead of mashing regular brown potatoes, try mashing sweet potatoes for a more nutrient-dense side dish. Sakiko Minagawa, MS, RDN, points out that regular mashed potatoes can be both high in calories and fat with the inclusion of ingredients such as butter, cream, and cheese.
“Additionally, when you peel off the skin of the potato, you also remove the fiber and other significant vitamins and minerals,” she adds. “A simple roasted sweet potato will have less calories, fat, and more fiber than mashed potatoes.”
Sweet potatoes are also very high in vitamin A, which promotes eye and skin health and supports your immune system.
Skip the butter and use olive oil in your mashed potatoes.
If you do go with the traditional mashed potato route as a side dish, consider replacing butter with olive oil.
“Instead of making mashed potatoes loaded with cream and butter, opt for extra virgin olive oil, vegetable broth, garlic, and fresh herbs,” says Cynthia Sass, RD, CSSD, an LA-based performance nutritionist. “They’ll still be flavorful and satisfying, but without being overly heavy and laden with unhealthy fats.”
Cook with avocado oil and ghee instead of vegetable oil.
Recipe developer and wellness writer Beth Lipton prefers to use oils that lend healthy fats, such as avocado oil and ghee, especially when cooking foods at high temperatures.
“Vegetable oils are harmful in the long term—and since they cause inflammation, they can leave you feeling sluggish and headachy even after one meal if you’re sensitive to them,” she says. “For high-heat cooking, grab avocado oil or ghee.”
She mentions that extra virgin olive oil is better utilized in dressings, sauces, and anything that you’re cooking at a lower heat.
Swap out mayo for Greek yogurt for deviled eggs.
Minagawa has a great tip for making deviled eggs more nutritious, and that’s by eliminating mayo from the traditional recipe and instead using Greek yogurt. One-quarter cup of mayo contains roughly 360 calories, 6 grams of saturated fat, and less than 1 gram of protein.
“On the other hand, 1/4 cup of nonfat plain Greek yogurt has approximately 30 calories, 0 grams saturated fat, and 6 grams of protein,” she says. “Additionally, Greek yogurt is higher in protein, [which] plays an important role in body function and repair.”
Jazz up your dishes with more herbs rather than salt.
Salt, without a doubt, adds flavor to any dish, but too much of it can leave you feeling dehydrated and bloated. There are plenty of other ways you can spruce up the main meal or side dish, and that can be achieved by simply experimenting with herbs and spices.
“Fresh herbs and dried spices are like a gift from nature—they make your food taste amazing, and they’re loaded with health benefits,” says Lipton. “If a recipe calls for herbs or spices already, add a touch more.”
You can garnish just about any dish, whether it be the turkey or roasted vegetables, with chopped fresh herbs such as cilantro and dill. Lipton likes to toss whole parsley leaves in her salads and basil and thyme atop of her fruit-based desserts.
Make your roux for gravy with corn starch.
Sebastien Rondier, the executive chef of Brabo Brasserie and Brabo Tasting Room, offers a great solution to making gravy gluten-free for those who may have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
Roux, which is a mixture of butter and flour, is used as a thickening agent in various soups and sauces, including gravy. But instead of flour, there’s another ingredient you can use to produce the same thick texture.