Senior Health

11/17/2021 | By Terri L. Jones

By making a few easy, conscious choices, you can make Thanksgiving and other holiday meals healthier this year. Enjoy the goodies without the guilt!

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, meaning most of us are probably planning our menus about now. Almost every food we traditionally put on the table – from the stuffing to the pumpkin and pecan pies – is full of excess fat, sugar, carbs, or all of the above.

It’s easy to say that we’ll indulge ourselves just this one day and get back to our healthy diet. But then there are the leftovers and, following on their heels, the holiday baking and the parties with rich food and bottomless glasses of alcohol. Before we know it, we’ve been overindulging for more than a month (and our health is paying the price)!

So, this year, let’s inject a little common sense into our lineup of Thanksgiving dishes and kick off the season right!

Start with a healthy appetizer

Often as our guests wait for the turkey to finish roasting or other guests to arrive, we tide them over with chunks of cheese, nut, dips, chips, crackers, nut breads, and other not-so-healthy nibbles. Why not put out some fresh fruit, veggies, or steamed shrimp instead? That way you’re not only looking out for your guests’ diets but also making sure they don’t fill up before you put that delicious meal on the table.

Don’t give up your traditions

Traditions remind us of times gone by. Their predictability is comfortable and makes us feel secure. In other words, most of don’t want to substitute plain green beans for green bean casserole any more than we want to watch CNN instead of football after we eat.

Here are a few ways you can maintain your traditions and your good lab numbers:

Mashed potatoes

Exchange full fat butter and milk or cream for lower fat versions. You can even replace some of the butter with avocado mayonnaise (you can make it or buy it ready-made) and some of the milk with almond milk. If you want to go a step further, substitute about third of the white potatoes with cauliflower. Your guests will barely notice the difference!

Easy, healthy recipe: Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes


When you’re making your stuffing, cut back on the bread and add fresh vegetables, apples, or pumpkin seeds to bulk it up. You can also use low-fat turkey stock to reduce fat. A little avocado mayonnaise can add smoothness.

7 More Ways to Make Thanksgiving Healthier and Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

PLUS Vegetarian Thanksgiving Ingredient Swaps

Cranberry sauce

One slice of store-bought cranberry sauce has 22 grams of sugar! Make your own using fresh cranberries and cooking them with lemon juice, ginger, vanilla, and a little honey, coconut sugar, or monk fruit sugar.

Sweet potatoes

A great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, sweet potatoes need little enhancement. However, at Thanksgiving, we insist on negating their nutritional value with brown sugar, pecans, marshmallows, butter, etc. Just shake on a little cinnamon and you have a side dish that’s naturally sweet, rich, and delicious. If you must add butter, keep it at a minimum.


What would Thanksgiving be without pies?! However, a wedge of that traditional pumpkin pie can have 323 calories, 13 grams of fat and 25 grams of sugar! Make your pies a little healthier by exchanging the white sugar with monk fruit or coconut sugar. And you can reduce the fat by turning your pie into a “crisp” (oat-based streusel on top rather than a crust on the bottom), but be sparing with that topping!

To make Thanksgiving healthier: everything in moderation

The last and most important advice to make Thanksgiving healthier this year is to keep your portions small (your plate really doesn’t have to overflow – or use a smaller plate), and try not to go back for seconds and thirds. The cook(s) won’t be offended and maybe you’ll even stay awake for the big game!

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones