5 Healthier Versions of Traditional Thanksgiving Recipes

Being on a diet on Thanksgiving doesn't mean you have to say no to all your favorite dishes. Really!

Ahh, Thanksgiving! The food lover’s dream holiday and the dieter’s downfall.

Nothing says Thanksgiving like creamy mashed potatoes and green beans slathered in some blend of Campbell’s soup. While the idea of veering from this sacred menu is unacceptable to some, for many of us, we really don’t have a choice if we don’t want to completely abandon our goals.

But just because you’re on a diet, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the foodie aspect of the day too! Thanks to the whole healthy-eating movement, there are tons of recipes out there that let you stay relatively close to your diet while enjoying all of the deliciousness associated with traditional Turkey Day treats.

The point is, you can have your cake (or turkey and beans and sweet potatoes) and eat it too! Thanksgiving can still be the food fest it has been in the past, with just a few alterations to your menu. I’m not talking about eliminating pumpkin pie, I’m just saying you can re-vamp that glorious gourd into something more diet-friendly and less waist-expanding.

And while the idea of preparing two of every dish (one for you and one for the non-calorie challenged) is daunting, the recipes below will ensure that you only need to whip up one version of each delectable dish—because your family and friends will be waiting in line to heap their plates full of this loveliness!

1. Caulitatoes

I love mashed potatoes so much that each year, I insist on being the one to make them for the family Eat-Off, aka Thanksgiving. But those taters pack a powerful carb punch, right? Especially when blended with all that butter and cream cheese and whole milk (cream cheese has long been my secret ingredient). This recipe swaps potatoes for cauliflower, allowing you to transform this Thanksgiving staple into a lighter, less rich dish—while maintaining all that satisfying, creamy goodness. My advice? Make sure the cauliflower is carefully drained from the water – like, totally water-free. In other words, squeeze that excess water out! 

2. Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I first made this recipe over the summer when I needed an extra veg to go with dinner. There were no leftovers. Not even a bite’s worth. The boys stuffed their faces with this sweet side and, after the first taste, a voice in my head whispered I’m making this for Thanksgiving. My standard recipe for sweet potatoes usually involves a few cans of yams, dripping with a tar like syrup, which get mashed up with a few additional cups of brown sugar and topped with sweet marshmallows. Just thinking about it now throws me in a sugar coma! This recipe delivers the same sweet potato taste with the added benefit of being a little more (alright, a lot more) healthy. You won’t feel bad when you go back for seconds!  

3. The Green Bean Dilemma

There’s a part of me that says it’s not Thanksgiving without a creamy side helping of green beans floating in some sort of deliciousness. Other recipes just don’t have the same sparkle and aren’t special enough…until I came across this recipe. The addition of almonds add substance (plus lots of good-for-you nutrients!), crunch, and flavor, while the cranberries make it feel fitting for the occasion. Of course, the traditional green beans casserole is still a crucial Thanksgiving tradition for a lot of us—which is why I was happy to find this health-ified version. I’ll let you make your own judgement call here, but both taste lovely and will be a great addition to any Thanksgiving meal.  

4. Get Stuffed

The backbone of any good stuffing recipe is bread. And for most of the dieting world, bread is something we eliminate. So with this restriction, how is it possible to create a stuffing side dish full of moist flavor that pairs well with your turkey? Honestly, I didn’t think a good, bread-free stuffing was possible until I found this recipe. Bonus points for this being gluten-free and still rich on flavor. I eliminated the mushrooms and used venison sausage instead.  

5. The Pumpkin in the Room

No Thanksgiving is complete without a slice of pumpkin pie. And done right, it doesn’t have to put your diet plan over the edge. Now, as a gluten-free person, I’ve been familiar with the crust-less pumpkin pie concept for some time. When I first encountered it, I was surprised to find that I didn’t miss a flaky crust as much as I thought I would, and that the pie does retain its shape and texture, so you don’t have to worry about needing a bowl instead of a plate. You’re still rewarded with a pleasing pie shape while successfully avoiding carbs—and, best of all, your Thanksgiving meal will feel complete! 

I don’t think any reasonable person can expect perfection on a day reserved for the glutton in all of us. However, if you plan accordingly and are willing to step out of your cooking comfort zone, you’ll be able to end the day without fearing the scale in the morning. Remember, our dieting isn’t just about a smaller waistline, it’s about a healthier way of living, and that includes a shift in even our holiday celebrations.

Besides, Thanksgiving isn’t really about the food, is it? It’s about family and gratitude, celebrating tradition in a changing world, and snuggling on the couch to watch the parade. Don’t let the meal and guilt ruin your day—let your food enhance the holiday, just as healthy food choices will improve your life.

Make it WayBetter

It’s okay to let yourself indulge a bit on Thanksgiving—but be smart about it! Limit your “cheat” treats to those super special dishes that you look forward to all year, not a calorie-filled dish that you could take or leave.