The arrival of fall brings one of America’s most beloved holidays – Thanksgiving. This annual celebration of gathering with friends and family to reflect on all we have to be grateful for is one meal many look forward to all year.
And the numbers show we tend to go big. The average American consumes more than 4,500 calories during a Thanksgiving meal. There are typically several appetizers, drinks, dishes, and desserts from which we graze, or simply devour. And often, these dishes are calorie-loaded and heavy on carbs and fats.
Given all one has endured in the past couple of years with the global pandemic, there is no doubt we deserve a chance to celebrate safely with friends and family. It is also no secret many have gained weight throughout lockdowns, closed gyms, and working from home. So while we gather to celebrate, it may not hurt to substitute in a couple of healthier options at the Thanksgiving table.
And whether or not your celebrating big or small with friends or family, the following side dishes and appetizers can offer some healthier options for Thanksgiving dinner:
Grape and Cheese Kabobs
Need an easy appetizer that is appealing and kid-friendly? Nothing pairs better than grapes and cheese. These simple kabobs can be made on short skewers and offer your guests a tasty but light holdover while they wait for the big meal to be served. It’s also a great way to get the kids to eat some fruit and protein, and for the adults on hand, this pairs well with a pre-dinner glass of wine.
Ingredients: Red and green grapes. Cubed yellow cheddar cheese, cubed white cheddar cheese, cubed Swiss cheese.
Instructions: This is an easy appetizer and a great task for any younger sous chef in the house: Wash and dry grapes. Using four-inch skewers, gently slide on a grape followed by a cube of cheese. Alternate the grape colors and cheese cube types. Place on a serving tray and let your guests enjoy.
Let’s face it, vegetables are the underdog of a Thanksgiving meal. Often the plates are loaded with turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and gravy. And if there is a vegetable side, it’s often covered in cheese or some sauce. So what’s a host to do when they want their guests to eat a balanced meal? Try setting out a hummus platter before the meal as guests arrive, mingle, and enjoy a glass of wine. The key here is to create a colorful kaleidoscope of veggies along with an array of hummus. This eye-catching platter is sure to catch guests’ attention and offers a crunchy treat for small talk and catching up.
Ingredients: Offer a variety of hummus – regular, roasted red pepper, or even a smoky-sweet potato. Offer a rainbow of veggies: red peppers, green peppers, yellow peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot sticks, and cucumber slices.
- Place hummus in small bowls in the center of a tray along with serving spoons.
- Provide toothpicks or tongs for guests to select the veggies.
- Consider slicing your vegetables in bite-sized pieces and arranging the plate along the color spectrum from yellows to oranges, reds, blues, purples, and greens.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Yes, this is a Thanksgiving dinner staple, but often is done with added sugars. Sweet potato is that – naturally sweet. There are some simple ways to amply the flavor of this dish without creating a sugar bomb to go alongside the turkey.
- 2 pounds 4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into 2 inch chunks
- 2 tablespoons butter (or plant-based substitute)
- 1/2 cup low-fat milk (or plant-based milk)
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme for garnish
- Wash and peel sweet potatoes.
- Place in a large saucepan over high heat and cover with water.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook uncovered until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
- Drain the sweet potatoes, and return to the saucepan.
- Add the milk, butter, salt, pepper, and cinnamon; mash to desired consistency.
- Serve warm and garnish with thyme leaves.
Cranberry Maple Cornbread
Why not take a staple dish and elevate it with the tanginess of cranberries and a touch of sweet maple syrup?
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cups medium ground cornmeal
- 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
- 2 teaspoons regular salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- dash cinnamon
- 1 ½ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- ½ cup maple syrup
- 1 ½ cups fresh cranberries
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack in the middle of the oven. Place the stick of butter in a 9-inch square baking dish and place it in the oven to melt for 5 minutes.
- Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, and syrup until smooth. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until moistened through.
- When the butter is melted and golden brown but not burnt, carefully remove the dish from the oven and swirl to coat with butter.
- Pour the remaining melted butter into the batter and fold in the cranberries.
- Pour the batter into the baking pan and place back into the oven to bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the bread is brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool then slice into squares or wedges and serve.
Roasted Carrot Soup
Carrots are in season in the fall, and this hearty and vibrant vegetable can make for a bright and delicious soup to pair with your Thanksgiving meal, or even serve as an appetizer before the meal.
- 2 pounds carrots
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt, to taste
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 2 cups water
- 1 ½ teaspoon lemon juice, to taste
- Ground black pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper
- Peel and cut carrots in half or quarters
- Toss carrots with 2 tablespoons olive oil and ½ teaspoon of salt until lightly coated and arrange on the baking sheet in a single layer.
- Roast the carrots until they’re caramelized on the edges and easily pierced through by a fork, 30 to 40 minutes, tossing halfway.
- In a saucepan, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, occasionally stirring until the onion is softened and translucent.
- Add the garlic, coriander, and cumin and cook for 1 minute.
- Pour in the vegetable broth and water.
- Add the roasted carrots to the pot when they are out of the oven. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce to simmer for 10 minutes.
- Let the soup cool a bit, then transfer to a blender.
- Add the lemon juice and black pepper.
- Blend until completely smooth—salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
Thanksgiving dinner can still be a celebration of food and loved ones, but there can be a few healthier options to help balance out your meal and waistline.