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Healthy Happy Thanksgiving

Updated on October 14, 2014

Have a Healthier Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to gather for a feast and to be reminded of all the things they have to be thankful for. In some families, the hostess prepares the entire meal for the army of family and friends that will gather. In others, the hostess prepares the main entree and guests bring their own family specialties, often making the gathering a time to experience cultural differences as well as giving thanks.

In the past decade or two, Americans have been turning more and more to a healthier way to celebrate this national holiday, and many have forsaken their favorite turkey, dressing and giblet gravy for something more healthy. You don't have to go to extremes to eat healthier. I hope to give you some ideas for healthier traditional Thanksgiving dishes as well as explore other possibilities.

The Turkey

The main entree for many who celebrate Thanksgiving

The turkey is the main focus of many Thanksgiving feasts. Nutritionist have long discouraged stuffing the turkey with dressing for various reasons. Turkey meat is purportedly low-fat, but a whole turkey is roasted with the skin on. The layer of fat under the skin cooks out and saturated the dressing, making it a higher fat dish than if it's cooked separately.

Try this method of roasting your turkey for a moist, flavorful entree.

Place an oven rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven and set it to 475 degrees.

Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey and place it in a roasting pan with a rack in the bottom to drain off the juices and fat.

Pat the turkey dry and rub it generously with olive oil. Mix salt, pepper, and a blend of your favorite herbs such as sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano.

Rub this mixture all over the turkey breast and legs.

Cut lemons, apples, and onion into 2 inch pieces and mix them with the same mixture of herbs you spread on the outside. Stuff the turkey with these ingredients. Fold the wings under and tie the legs in the usual fashion.

Add 3 cups of water to the roasting pan and place it in the oven for about 45 minutes or until the skin is golden brown.

Remove the turkey from the oven and cover it completely with foil. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and cook the turkey for another hour and 30 or 45 minutes or until it reaches 165 degrees when a meat thermometer is inserted in the largest part of the thigh, or until the pop up indicator pops out. Check every 30 minutes or so and add water if needed.

Remove the turkey from the oven, transfer it to a serving platter.and cover it with foil. Allow the turkey to stand 20 minutes before carving.

For more ideas for roasting a turkey see Eating Well's Best ThanksgivingTurkey Recipes.

Tips for giblet gravy and dressing

If you use the turkey drippings to make dressing or gravy, allow it to set a few minutes in a gravy separator. This will allow the fat to rise to the top and you can pour the liquid off the bottom, eliminating the fat.

For moist dressing, many older recipes call for butter and cream. Use turkey drippings or canned, low fat chicken broth instead. Chop an apple into small pieces and saute it with the celery and onions to make a moist dressing.

Thanksgiving Cooking - Must haves for cooking your Thanksgiving meal

All-Clad E752C264 Stainless Steel Dishwasher Safe Large 13-Inch x 16-Inch Roaster with Nonstick Rack Cookware, 16-Inch, Silver
All-Clad E752C264 Stainless Steel Dishwasher Safe Large 13-Inch x 16-Inch Roaster with Nonstick Rack Cookware, 16-Inch, Silver

Roomy roaster has nonstick rack to allow fat and juices to drain and lifting forks for transferring your savory turkey, ham or roast to the serving platter


Traditional or Non-Traditional

While many people in American still serve the traditional Thanksgiving meal native to their region, others prefer to go with easier to cook or more healthy meals

Are you a traditional Thanksgiving meal person or do you prefer something else?

See results
 Img source="images/image.jpg" alt="candied yams"
Img source="images/image.jpg" alt="candied yams"

The Side Dishes

Each family has its own traditional side dishes. The most popular in my region are candied yams and green bean casserole. Delicious, but not so healthy. Try the healthier versions of these classics from Eating Well.

Prepare your candied sweet potatoes with some real maple syrup and a dash of nutmeg instead of the traditional sugar. Be sure to use real maple syrup, not the maple flavored pancake syrup.

Skip the high fat and sodium of canned soups and try this non traditional Green Bean casserole.

Try this recipe for Garlic Mashed Potatoes for a tasty lower fat and calorie substitute for an everyday favorite.

 img source="images/image.jpg" alt="apple pie"
img source="images/image.jpg" alt="apple pie"


What would Thanksgiving dinner be without desserts, especially apple and pumpkin pies. Eating Well has a lot of dessert recipes that have been altered to reduce the fat and calorie count. They've all been tested and have a lot of positive feed back from Eating Well members.

Try this Deep Dish Apple Pie instead of your regular recipe. If you find you don't like the 100% whole wheat flour for the crust, use half unbleached flour and half whole wheat.

Or try some of the lower calorie recipes found on the Eating Well website.

Thanksgiving Dinner Tips

Here are a few tips from my many years of family gatherings:

Don't plan to do everything yourself. Ask other family members and friends to bring their own specialties to add to the festivities.

Don't spring a new recipe on the family at Thanksgiving. If you want to do something different this year, test it on your family before Thanksgiving.

Prepare as much as possible ahead of time. Choose recipes that hold well in the refrigerator for a day or two. You can even make some dishes several weeks ahead and freeze them. You really don't want to spend all your time in the kitchen when company comes.

Remember that Thanksgiving is about family and friends getting together and giving thanks. Everything doesn't have to be perfect, just prepared with lots of love.


To sum it all up

  • Healthy Thanksgiving doesn't have to mean going to extremes
  • Cook your turkey using only its own juices and plenty of different seasonings. Leave out the butter basting and cook the dressing in a separate dish
  • Use natural sweeteners like maple syrup or honey instead of sugar
  • Plan ahead and prepare as much as you can before the day of the feast
  • Don't try to do everything yourself. Delegate, delegate, delegate
  • Don't prepare something for a special dinner if you haven't tested it before hand
  • For a healthier, happy Thanksgiving forget perfection and cook with lots of love
  • Enjoy a day of family fun and healthy food

Leave your Thanksgiving comments here

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    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      7 years ago

      Very nicely done.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      7 years ago from New Zealand

      Nice lens, with great ideas. Thanks for sharing.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 

      7 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Great options for those folks wanting to limit their salt and sweet intake.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I love that apple and lemon stuffing idea! Sounds wonderful! I love this lens.

    • Joanna14 profile image

      Christine Hulme 

      7 years ago from SE Kent, England

      In UK we don't have a thanksgiving meal, but I would love to think of some way of celebrating all that we have to be thankful for. Thanks for sharing!

    • ElizabethSheppard profile image

      Elizabeth Sheppard 

      7 years ago from Bowling Green, Kentucky

      That's good advice about not trying something new on Thanksgiving. A family member of mine did that one year and all I could think about was what we USED to have. Because it was better. (haha)

    • profile image


      7 years ago



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