Tips for Making Your Thanksgiving Meal Healthier

The thought of a Thanksgiving dinner table groaning under the weight of a roast turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and all those side dishes is enough to make you want to let out your belt another notch. But if you are trying to get healthier – or cooking for someone who is – a holiday meal featuring a lineup of heavy, fattening foods is not your best option.  

With a few simple swaps and additions, there are ways to make your Thanksgiving meal healthier for you and others at your table this year. Here are some tips to point your meal-planning in the right direction. 


Crackers, cheeses, dips and spreads frequently make appearances as appetizers during the holidays. But with a filling meal being served, they’re really not needed. The CDC recommends taking the edge off your appetite by filling up on something nutritious like vegetables as your first course. This could be a green salad, vegetable tray served with low-fat dip or hummus or even fresh fruit kabobs. 


There’s usually plenty of food on Thanksgiving tables that start out with a healthy base. But then they’re smothered with sauces, gravies or cream-based soups (green bean casserole, anyone?). For people trying to create a healthier Thanksgiving meal, the Mayo Clinic recommends keeping side dishes simple. Roasted vegetables have a rustic sweetness and brown rice or another whole grain can be dressed up by adding dried cherries, cranberries or pecans. That sweet potato casserole topped with a layer of tiny browned marshmallows may be a family favorite, but baked sweet potatoes drizzled with real maple syrup or sprinkled with bits of candied ginger could start a new holiday trend. 

Other tips to keep you on the right track: 

  • Don’t skip your regular breakfast or lunch before a holiday dinner. If you do, you may be tempted to eat more than you normally do.  
  • If you’re a guest at someone’s Thanksgiving dinner, bring a healthy dish to pass. That way, you know you can eat that and some lean turkey or other protein, even if you can’t control the other dishes on the table. 
  • If dinner is served buffet-style, start with small servings or a small plate. 
  • Take your time eating and socialize through dinner. Put down your fork when you’re talking to other people. 


Sometimes, a little exercise is just what everyone needs between a big meal and dessert. After the main meal has ended, invite everyone at your table to get a little fresh air by going outside for a short stroll. This not only breaks up the meal a bit, it gives everyone a way to connect and converse in a new setting, instead of just across the table. When you come back inside for dessert, you’ll find you have room for that piece of pie.  


Thanksgiving is prime season for pie and dessert lovers. If you’re looking forward to something sweet after your meal, don’t deny yourself. Just watch your portion size and make sure to sit down and savor every bite. It is a holiday, after all. 


Photo credit: Getty 

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