Healthy Alternatives for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be an unhealthy holiday. Turkey is a lean meat and the favorite side dishes are vegetables. After a moderate dinner of lean meat and vegetables, the whole family can play touch football or go ice skating before enjoying a healthy sandwich and an evening of lively games.

No? Maybe your tradition involves turkey with gravy, macaroni and cheese, vegetables that are creamed and dressed with cheese, bacon, and marshmallows, biscuits with butter, three kinds of pie, and a traditional nap followed by more pie and an evening on the couch with a football game on TV.

Unfortunately, this kind of Thanksgiving tradition can be the kick-off to six weeks of overindulgence followed by New Year’s resolutions to get back in shape.

Consider some easy trade-offs this year! Keep the most important parts of the tradition and trade out some things people won’t notice as much.

  • Instead of greeting guests with boxes of chocolate or chips and dips, set out sliced fruits and veggies as an appetizer.
  • Serve apple juice spritzed with club soda instead of sugary sodas.
  • Put a gravy boat on the table instead of passing gravy or serving plates already swimming in gravy.
  • Fix your traditional vegetable casseroles, but also offer simple steamed green beans or roasted carrots.
  • Make your special rolls or biscuits smaller this year — most people won’t even notice!
  • If you serve two kinds of bread, go with whole grains for one of the choices.
  • Start the meal with a green salad, or serve it between the main course and dessert.
  • Ask around among guests and find out which dessert is the real family favorite. Let the second choice be fresh fruit salad.
  • Plan something active after the meal. Everyone can enjoy a walk.
  • Pack up leftovers to send home with guests.

Many of your guests will be relieved to enjoy a lighter meal with more of the focus on enjoying time with friends and family. If you cut out something really important (who knew your sister cared that much about whipped cream for the pecan pie?), you can make sure to serve it for Christmas.

The Washington Post has a fun holiday calorie calculator  (requires Flash) if you want to see how much difference it can make to skip the second piece of pie and take a walk instead.