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10 Better-for-You Alternatives to Thanksgiving Classics

Thanksgiving Day is a wonderful holiday that celebrates traditional foods. But many traditional Turkey Day staples are high in calories and low on nutrients.

I've got some healthy twists on holiday classics that'll leave you feeling satisfied but not guilty.

Lighter Cheese Ball

A traditional party food, everyone loves a creamy cheeseball, but you might not love how many calories are in that ball of yumminess. Make your own lightened-up version without sacrificing flavor. Mix the following ingredients together in a bowl, and then cover with plastic wrap, shape into a ball, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes: 2 8-ounce packages Neufchâtel light cream cheese, 6 green onions (minced) 2 teaspoons celery salt, 2 teaspoons onion powder, and 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard. Unwrap, roll into sliced almonds, and serve with whole-grain crackers or vegetables.

Lean Bean Casserole

You’d think a dish with green beans as the main ingredient would automatically be low in calories, right? Not so with traditional green bean casserole thanks to the heavy cream and fatty toppings such as buttered croutons, deep-fried onions, or cheese. Here’s a healthier, more delicious version.


4 cups cooked green beans, from canned (drained and rinsed) or prepared from frozen or fresh

1 can (10.5 ounce) Campbell's Healthy Request 98 percent fat-free condensed cream of mushroom soup

1/2 cup unsweetened plain almond or cashew milk (can use skim milk for nut allergies)

1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and rinsed, diced

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 bag (2.3 ounce) Dang® onion chips


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a large casserole dish, combine first five ingredients plus 1 cup of the onion chips (stir until well-incorporated).

3. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, stir, and top with the remaining onion chips.

4. Bake an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven and enjoy!

Not-So-Stuffed Stuffing

Stuffing, a time-honored Turkey Day classic, can leave you feeling like you have to stuff yourself into your jeans the next day. Try my lightened up version below.


1 Tablespoon light butter

14 ounces whole-grain bread, cut into cubes

1/2 cup diced onion

1/2 cup diced celery

1/2 cup diced mushrooms

1/2 cup diced carrots

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 1/2 cups chicken broth, reduced-sodium preferred


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray baking sheet lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange bread on nonstick baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Remove from heat and place bread into large mixing bowl.

2. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

3. In a large skillet over medium high heat, add butter, onions, mushrooms, celery, and carrots, and sauté about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and sauté a minute more. Remove from heat, let cool, and add to mixing bowl with the toasted bread.

4. Add broth to bowl and stir until everything is moist. Season with any times of herbs or spices you like.

5. Spread mixture into a sprayed casserole dish. Cover with foil, bake 20-25 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes.

A 1/2-cup serving has only 105 calories.

Gobble Gobble

For the main event—the turkey—choose to grill or oven roast your turkey rather than deep-frying it. Be sure you use an abundance of fresh herbs and spices to impart delectable flavor without the adding extra fat (and mess) that comes with frying. Stick with a 3-4 ounce portion size of white meat, sans skin, and you’ll save hundreds of calories.

Mashed Sweet Taters with Goat Cheese

The typical candied mashed sweet potato dish is usually drowning in butter and brown sugar, especially if the sweet potatoes are canned (not fresh) in heavy syrup along with a generous heaping of sugary marshmallows. Try this savory sweet potato mash instead—I guarantee you and your guests will love it!


2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, chopped

2 teaspoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup goat cheese

1 bunch chives, finely chopped

1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)

1/3 cup reduced-sodium vegetable broth

Salt and pepper to taste


1. In a large pot of water, boil the sweet potatoes until tender.

2. Drain potatoes and return to pot. Add in remaining ingredients and mash until it reaches desired texture.

A half-cup serving of this scrumptious, cheesy, sweet potato mash contains fewer than 90 calories.

BroccoLean Salad

Broccoli salad is a typical holiday dish that is easy to make but often high in calories, despite having vegetables as the main components. Gobs of fatty mayonnaise, bacon, and full-fat cheese are to blame for the high calorie count. Swap in nonfat, plain Greek yogurt for the mayonnaise, and opt for reduced-fat cheese and turkey bacon to slash fat and calories big time.

Roasted Fall Veggies with Cranberries

Traditional cranberry sauce is way too sugary, and the traditional Thanksgiving Day plate is lacking colorful, nutrient-dense veggies. I have the solution--roasted veggies with cranberries. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Fill a large bowl with sliced carrots, halved Brussels sprouts, sliced parsnips, and diced butternut squash. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, and 1 tablespoon Italian herbs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread veggies evenly on a baking sheet. Bake about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Remove from oven, stir in 1/2 cup dried cranberries, and serve immediately. Nuts could be added for extra crunch and healthy fats.

Mushroom Onion Gravy

Traditional gravy made from the turkey drippings is very high in fat and sodium. Instead, smother your fare with this vegetarian gravy.


1 large yellow onion, diced

8 ounces white button mushrooms, diced

2 Tablespoons olive oil

5 tablespoons whole-wheat flour

4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon fresh sage

Salt and pepper to taste


1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat oil and add onions. Saute until onions start to soften. Add mushrooms and herbs. Cook about 5 minutes more.

2. Add flour, cook for 1 minute.

3. Add vegetable broth and whisk. Cook about 5-10 minutes more on a simmer, until flavors have melded and gravy has thickened. If too thick, add more broth. Serve right away with all your faves.

Crustless Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving Day staple—the holiday just wouldn’t be the same without it! But the fat-laden crust and gobs of sugar can wreak havoc on your healthy eating plan even if you ate a sensible Turkey Day meal beforehand. However, you can have your pie and eat it too with this healthy twist on the Thanksgiving Day classic. A piece (1/9 of the recipe) contains a mere 65 calories and no fat!


1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin

1 12-ounce can nonfat evaporated milk

4 large egg whites, or 1/2 cup fat-free liquid egg substitute

3/4 cup sucralose, granulated (such as granulated Splenda)

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon vanilla


1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients well.

3. Spray an 8 inch x 8 inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Spread mixture into baking dish and bake for about 45 minutes, until it gets the consistency of pie filling.

4. Slice into 9 pieces and serve. Top with light whipped cream or light vanilla ice cream and enjoy! You can eat this hot or cold.

Smashed CauliPower

Rather than starchy, butter-drowned mashed potatoes, try this lighter version, which uses nutrient-rich cauliflower instead of white potatoes. There is no real “recipe” for this, you simply cook your cauliflower using whatever method you prefer—I usually roast mine in the oven with a little olive oil. Purée cooked cauliflower in a blender or food processor with a splash of almond milk or a dollop of nonfat Greek yogurt, plus salt, garlic, and your favorite seasonings until you get the flavor and consistency you like.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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