Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be unhealthy; here are some recipes


It’s hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is just two days away.

A tradition like no other likely includes time spent with loved ones, a parade on television, football and aren’t we forgetting something?

Food. A lot of food.

Americans on average consume an estimated 3,000 calories for Thanksgiving, according to the Calories Control Council, an international association representing the low- and reduced-calorie food and beverage industry. That’s more than the recommended 2,000 calorie daily diet the Food and Drug Administration recommends.

But you may want to take a healthier route to the Thanksgiving table, where only the bird gets stuffed.

There are plenty of things to consider, said Molly Marshall, health and human sciences educator with Purdue Extension Jackson County.

It’s not that every food is unhealthy. It’s simply the portions and the way they’re prepared.

“There are a lot of healthy foods featured on Thanksgiving, so it doesn’t have to be so unhealthy,” she said. “It’s the additions that make it unhealthy.”

For example, sweet potatoes are a healthy dish, but with the addition of sugar and other toppings, one can add many avoidable calories.

“You can make them in a way that keeps the nutrition,” Marshall said.

A simple substitution of a few ingredients also can make a difference, she said.

Many baked recipes call for oil, but Marshall said you can substitute half the amount of oil with applesauce.

Puree prunes also could be used.

“Applesauce is obviously a little easier,” she said.

Marshall said many don’t realize that nonfat Greek yogurt can be used instead of cream cheese or sour cream for dips.

Pumpkin also is a food that garners a lot of attention on Thanksgiving and the season.

Pumpkin is highly nutritious, as the squash is a great source of fiber and Vitamin A, but make sure to strictly use the pumpkin when you buy a can.

“When you’re buying pumpkin, be sure you’re buying the canned pumpkin, not the canned pumpkin pie,” Marshall said.

Pumpkin dip is one dish many may not be familiar with but can be served as a healthy appetizer this Thanksgiving.

Cranberry sauce is another tradition that can be prepared in a healthier way by using fresh fruit. It just takes a little more preparation.

“It’s a little more nutritious because it uses fresh berry than the canned sauce,” Marshall said. “There’s a great way to use a bag of cranberries.”

Leftovers are a big part of Thanksgiving, too, Marshall said.

If you have half the can of pumpkin leftover, you can throw together a quick pumpkin smoothie, she said.

“There’s pumpkin, low-fat evaporated milk and other things most of us have on hand,” she said.

Leftover turkey can be used for soups, salads, stir fry, sandwiches, wraps and other dishes.

“I like the soup idea because you probably have leftover carrots or celery you can use,” Marshall said. “It could be like chicken noodle, only substituting with turkey.”

At the end of the day, the holiday, after all, is about the tradition of coming together to celebrate with family, Marshall said. So maybe you’ve worked hard enough to eat healthy throughout the year.

It also could be the only time grandma makes a famous dish, she said.

“You can look at it a couple different ways,” she said. “It’s Thanksgiving and maybe it’s the only time of year when you get grandma’s sweet potato pie, then you should probably partake. But you could also think about having a smaller piece so you’re not depriving yourself. It is a holiday, after all.”

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Here are some healthier recipes for Thanksgiving:

Pumpkin dip (appetizer)


¾ cup (6 ounces) of ⅓ less-fat cream cheese

½ cup of packed brown sugar

½ cup canned pumpkin

2 teaspoons of maple syrup

24 apple slices


1. Place the first three ingredients in a medium bowl and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well-blended.

2. Add syrup and cinnamon and beat until smooth.

3. Cover and chill 30 minutes. Serve with apples.

Roasted sweet potatoes (side item)


4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling potatoes after cooked

¼ cup of honey

2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Lay sweet potatoes out in a single layer on a roasting tray. Drizzle oil, honey, cinnamon, salt and pepper over the potatoes.

3. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes until tender.

4. Transfer sweet potatoes to a serving platter and drizzle with more oil.

Apple cranberry pie (dessert)

1 egg

½ cup sugar

½ cup whole wheat flour (regular or pastry)

1 teaspoon of baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

¼ teaspoon vanilla

3 small or 2 large apples, cored and chopped but not peeled

½ cup dried cranberries

1 chopped walnuts or pecans


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray 10-inch pie pan with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, beat egg thoroughly with a fork, until it forms a ribbon.

3. Add everything else except apples and nuts and mix thoroughly with a large spoon.

4. Add apples and nuts and mix as well as you can with a large spoon. You’ll wonder if you’ve done something wrong because it’s a lumpy mix, not even qualifying as batter, but mix as best you can.

5. Toss it all in the pie plate and bake for 30 minutes.

6. Serve warm or cool, either plain or a dollop of ice cream or vanilla yogurt.

Maple glazed walnuts (appetizer)


2 cups of walnut halves

1/3 cup maple syrup

1/8 teaspoon salt


  1. Preheat a dry skillet over a medium-high heat.
  2. Add walnuts, maple syrup and salt.
  3. Cook, stirring frequently until syrup is caramelized and nuts are toasted.

Pear honey cranberry sauce (side item)


½ cup of water

¼ Sugar

2 or 3 pears, peeled, cored and diced

12 ounce package of fresh or frozen cranberries

¾ cup of honey

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 teaspoon grated orange zest


  1. In a medium saucepan, stir together the water and sugar over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil.
  2. Stir in pears and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring frequently for three minutes.
  3. Stir in cranberries and honey. Continue to cook until berries pop and mixture thickens slightly.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the orange juice and zest.
  5. Cool to room temperature, cover and store in refrigerator.

Arugula and apple salad (side item)


1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar

6 cups of arugula green

1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon olive oil


  1. Whisk mustard, honey and oil.
  2. Add arugula and apple slices to bowl and toss to coat with dressing.

Sweet potato-pecan casserole (side item)


Cooking spray

3 ½ pounds of sweet potatoes (about 5 medium), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

¹⁄³ cup of honey

1 large egg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Kosher salt

1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar

¹⁄³ cup finely chopped pecans


  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees. Mist an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Bring a few inches of water to a boil in a pot with a large steamer basket in place. Put the sweet potatoes in the basket, cover and steam until tender (20-25 minutes).
  3. Transfer potatoes to a bowl and let cool slightly.
  4. Add honey, egg, 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and 1/2 teaspoon salt; whip with an electric mixer until smooth.
  5. Spread mixture in prepared baking dish.
  6. Mix brown sugar, pecans and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon in a bowl, sprinkle over potatoes.
  7. Bake 40 to 45 minutes until hot and beginning to brown around edges.


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