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How to Have a Healthy Thanksgiving

By Kristin Sidorov
We all know that moderation is key. If you constantly deny your cravings, chances are your good intentions will backfire. But there’s a big difference between a small treat every now and then and gorging on all of those holiday favorites just because it’s Turkey Day. Thanksgiving can be an easy excuse to break your diet in a big, bad way, and even if you’re trying for moderation, it can be hard to resist once you’re in the holiday spirit.

Nip it in the bud before you have a table full of temptation in front of you. Here you’ll find tips to lighten up your holiday table without sacrificing the classic flavors that make Thanksgiving the delicious, comforting meal we all cherish.

Plan and Prepare
Start now. Get a firm menu lined up, make a list of all the ingredients you’ll need, and hit the store. Having everything you’ll need ahead of time takes care of a lot of stress and worry later on. Then, get cooking. Preparing and freezing dishes ahead of time is without a doubt the best way to ensure a stress-free day come Thanksgiving. Bread, rolls, stuffing, pies, casseroles: They can all be frozen and reheated the day of with little more effort than turning on your oven. And any prep work—chopping veggies, tossing salads, mixing dressings or even cocktails—can be done in advance too, saving you tons of time. Go ahead and set your table whenever it works for you. Having any setup done can go a long way toward a happy and relaxing day.

Think about the Turkey
Ah, the centerpiece of the meal. There are hundreds of cooking tips out there to make yours better than all the rest, but the best way is to start at the source. If you can, purchasing your turkey from a local farm is the best option—best for your health, for your community, and for the environment. These birds are allowed to run, go outside, and eat quality grain, producing a better quality meat all around that doesn’t need fatty gravies and sauces to make it taste good. Try checking out to find what’s available near you.

Always be sure to thaw your turkey well in advance. Brining is a great option to add tons of flavor without unhealthy ingredients, but if you’re not up for it, you can still get a delicious, juicy bird without the help of unhealthy ingredients. Try miso, lemon, garlic, white wine, and herbs to add flavor without a lot of calories.

Go Vegetarian
If you’re anything like me, the seemingly endless array of Thanksgiving sides are what really make the meal. Casseroles, stuffing, creamy potatoes, and hot, flaky rolls make up most of the meal—and it’s tempting get second or thirds of them before you realize what you’re doing. By adding veggies to your casseroles, stuffing, and sides, you can help cut down on calories and boost the nutrition level of your holiday meal. Make a vegetarian stuffing filled with in-season veggies, or swap out some less-healthy filler ingredients in your casseroles. Stick to nutrient-rich sweet potatoes and add squash to the menu. That way, if you do go back for seconds, you’re already in the clear.

Don’t Skip Breakfast
It seems like sensible logic: Skipping every other meal except the big one on Thanksgiving day means you can eat a little more and indulge in some pie, right? Think again. Eating a small breakfast will help control your appetite and keep your metabolism in check. Even if it’s just an egg or some yogurt, you’re better off putting something in your stomach in the morning. You’ll be more discerning once it comes to the main event and probably eat much less than you would have otherwise.

If you’re searching for healthy recipes to add to your table this year, look no further! Here’s a sampling of some really wonderful, lightened-up and wholesome options that are sure to please and fit right in to your Thanksgiving celebration.

Start your Thanksgiving meal off right with delicious, seasonal Butternut Squash, Lentil, and Ginger Soup (4 Ingredients Gluten-Free).

Skip the added sugar and (shudder) marshmallows this year and make these Chai-Spiced Sweet Potatoes instead (Oh My Veggies).

Add a side of Garlic Roasted Cauliflower with Toasted Asiago Breadcrumbs for a nutty, buttery side dish that’s healthy and delicious (Skinny Taste).

This Pumpkin Cranberry Bread Pudding has all of the classic flavors you love about this holiday wrapped up into a sweet, creamy, chewy bread pudding that’s full of whole grains (Mix It Up).

Can a side dish get any better than Roasted Brussel Sprouts? It’s a classic at Thanksgiving, and a perfect compliment to turkey (Heart, Mind, and Seoul).

Even though it has a healthy veggie tucked in there, green bean casserole can be one of the most calorie-packed sides on your holiday table. This lightened-up version cuts the fat and calories way down, but keeps the classic flavor we all love (Eat Yourself Skinny).

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