It happens every year: with the holidays fast approaching, articles pop up all over the internet warning you of the nutritional downfalls of a typical Thanksgiving meal. They say the average turkey day dinner has 2,000, 3,000, or even 4,500 calories.
While you absolutely can make your Thanksgiving dinner a food-coma-inducing calorie binge, you can enjoy the much-anticipated meal without going overboard.
How can you enjoy a savory Thanksgiving dinner without the guilt of overindulging?
Focus on building your plate with these healthy, delicious Thanksgiving staples that are relatively low in carbs and fat, and high in protein and fiber. While you wouldn’t want them to become everyday staples, these 6 dishes are your best options for enjoying Thanksgiving on a nutritional budget.
1.White Meat Turkey
Who are we kidding: you’re not going to skip the turkey on turkey day. Why should you? Despite the fact that it’s the highest calorie dish on our list, it’s filling and full of protein, so it should hold a significant place on your plate.
Some people prefer the taste of dark meat, and who doesn’t love taking a big bite out of a turkey leg? But if you have the choice, you should always go for white meat instead. White turkey meat is significantly healthier, boasting more protein and fewer calories per serving.
A large seven-ounce serving of white turkey meat (about the size of two decks of cards) with skin has:
- 350 calories
- 12g of fat
- 60g of protein
The same amount of dark meat has:
- 400 calories
- 12g of fat
- 54g of protein
So although both options are quite healthy, you can get more protein and fewer calories if you go with white meat. Get rid of the skin to cut down the calories and fat even more.
2. Green Beans
When we think of Thanksgiving and green beans, our minds go straight to the crunchy fried onion topper and the savory cream of mushroom soup of a green bean casserole. However, thanks to those onions and the preservative-heavy soup, green bean casserole is packed with sodium, fat, and carbs.
You can still get a rich flavor with garlic sauteed green beans, helping you turn one of Thanksgiving’s unhealthiest staples––green bean casserole––into one of its healthiest.
1 cup of sauteed green beans has:
- 44 calories
- 14g of sugar
- .5g of fat
- 60g of carbs
- 5g of protein
3. Turkey Gravy
People are often surprised at how unhealthy green bean casserole is. They’re even more surprised when they find out that turkey gravy doesn’t deserve its bad reputation. Other types of gravy may have higher fat content, but turkey gravy is actually quite lean and delicious.
The biggest downside is the high sodium count, at 1370mg per cup. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2300 mg of sodium per day, so you would be getting about half of that in a cup of gravy. That said, we don’t typically eat a cup of gravy in one sitting. As long as you don’t go overboard, you can make it work.
In moderation, turkey gravy is shockingly one of the healthiest Thanksgiving dinner staples:
1 cup of turkey gravy has:
- 120 calories
- .5g of sugar
- 5g of fat
- 12g of carbs
- 6g of protein
- 1370mg of sodium
4. Sweet Potatoes
With loads of antioxidants and a healthy mix of vitamins, sweet potatoes add a serious nutritional kick to your Thanksgiving plate. Not to mention the high fiber content will promote healthy digestion and keep you regular, which is especially helpful on a high-calorie day like Thanksgiving.
One medium sweet potato has:
- 103 calories
- 0g of fat
- 2.3g of protein
- 7g of sugar
- 25% of your daily vitamin C (which is excellent for eye health)
- 100% of your daily vitamin A (a deficiency in which can cloud your vision)
- 25% of your vitamin B6 (which can improve your mood)
Our only recommendation is to keep your sweet potatoes natural and “uncandied” without added sugars. If you do that, you’ll have one of the healthiest Thanksgiving dishes.
5. Cranberry Sauce
Nothing says Thanksgiving like cracking open a can of cranberry sauce and watching it wiggle out in exactly the same size and shape as the can. And you can’t beat the sweet, tangy flavor.
But the classic canned version of cranberry sauce is full of preservatives and processed sugars. Instead of going for the premade version, try making cranberry sauce from scratch using real cranberries and natural sugars.
Try this simple paleo cranberry sauce recipe:
12 ounces of fresh cranberries
¾ cup fresh orange juice
½ cup honey
- Combine ingredients in pan.
- Simmer on medium heat for 10-15 minutes.
- Cool for 20 minutes.
This recipe yields 8 servings, and each one has:
- 25g of carbs
- 21g sugar
Those may not look like healthy numbers, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, the sugar in this cranberry sauce recipe is quality, natural sugar, rather than preserve-laden cranberry sauce from a can.
Although the carb count is relatively high, you get to satisfy your sweet cravings in a much healthier way than eating a post-dinner pie. And finally, cranberries are high in fiber and help boost your immune system, meaning you can play with your grandkids without worrying about getting them (or yourself) sick.
6. Dinner Roll
You may be surprised to see this on the list, but dinner rolls are simple, satisfying, and can fill you up without eating more of the high calorie, higher fat alternatives. Our only advice: just take it easy on the butter.
A single dinner roll has:
- 75 calories
- 2g of fat
- 13g of carbs
- 2.5g of protein
A large portion of a dinner roll’s calories come from carbs (about two thirds), but it’s still a nutritionally cheap way to fill yourself up without consuming a bunch of fat.
Enjoy The Holidays Without The Guilt
You don’t need to overindulge to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. You could put together a full meal with the six dishes in this article and get all the best flavors of the holidays without the excess calories. With a few nutritional concessions, you can end Thanksgiving day happy, full, and free of guilt.
At The Resurge Clinic, we know how important it is to live a balanced life full of healthy and happy choices. Nobody sticks to a nutritional routine if it inhibits your ability to enjoy other aspects of your life, such as holidays. That’s why we offer nutritional guidance all year round to help you reach long term success.
Set up a free consultation and we’d be happy to set you up for success this holiday season and beyond.