turkey and cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, whipped cream and pumpkin pie…these are the defining dishes of our favorite American holiday, Thanksgiving. These staple dishes seem inseparable from the annual feast…which presents a challenge for so many of us who are following vegan, vegetarian, paleo and gluten-free diets. How do you participate when there is nothing for you to eat?
If you’re cooking, the solution is simple: Redefine what’s appropriate for Thanksgiving fare. Simply hold onto the basic flavors, textures and seasonal ingredients classically used to create a meal that you can truly be thankful for. Here are our top eight swaps to help you do just that. Whether you’re hosting the main event or simply contributing to this year’s festive feast, there’s definitely room for health at the holiday table. All of the healthy Thanksgiving recipes below meet our TCM nutritional standards – so bon appetit!
8 Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes To Makeunder Your Holiday
One of the biggest health blunders of holiday eating is overindulging in too many oh-so-decadent appetizers. Within the first twenty minutes we’ve already dug ourselves into a health-hurting hole, all before the main course! Most appetizer dips are packed with high-fat (and not the good kind of fat) dairy and oil, plus refined carbs – all of which can give you post-holiday bloat. Clean up the appetizer and go vegan: use nut and seed butters such as tahini instead of cream, and focus on blending up fresh roasted vegetables and herbs to create that classic rich holiday flavor.
TCM Pick: Vegan Carrot Tahini Dip
For many of us, alcohol is the key to getting through this holiday meal. But so many festive cocktails are loaded with refined sugar and heavy cream – which not only add unnecessary calories, but can lead to hormone imbalance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation and even cancer. Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting that you ditch the cocktails all together. Just make them with high-grade alcohol, natural sweeteners like fresh pressed juice, and add in fresh herbs to boost the nutrition and taste. Make sure to steer clear of store-bought simple syrup, pre-made cocktail mixers and white sugar.
TCM Pick: Rosemary Rose Sangria
A great trick for improving your holiday meal is to revamp your soup. While we typically go for the cream-based soups and chowders like tomato, pumpkin, and potato, choose a lighter option instead – you can easily replicate the same thick texture without using cream, sour cream or creme fraiche. Simply roast a root vegetable like parsnip or celery root, or a winter squash like kabocha, then add it to a blender with vegetable stock or a dairy-free milk and watch it thicken up! You can also add other vegetables and herbs to diversify the flavor, like we did in this recipe below.
TCM Pick: Kaboucha Squash Soup
Salad seems like the safest choice at the Thanksgiving table, but often it’s the secret source of unhealthy ingredients. From creamy salad dressings and croutons to sugar-laced dried fruits and gobs of cheese, your salad can end up being as unhealthy as the casserole. This year, stick to the basics – fresh greens, roasted root vegetables, homemade dressing and chopped herbs. This will help eliminate bad stuff while still keeping those flavors we associate with the Thanksgiving meal.
TCM Pick: Cranberry Walnut Harvest Salad
Mashed potatoes are not the worst, but they are definitely not the best side dish either. With all that non-organic butter and cream, each decadent bite burdens your system, leading to hormone imbalance, weight gain and menstrual issues. White potatoes are also a high-glycemic food that doesn’t offer much in terms of vitamins and minerals. Our favorite swap for potatoes is cauliflower. Cauliflower is one of the healthiest, most nutrient-dense vegetables and it takes on the same consistency and taste as potatoes. Plus it is far lower in calories. All you need to do is steam, puree and serve!
TCM Pick: Cauliflower Puree
Green beans (just like the salad) are a safe side dish, right? Well, almost. Greens beans are a healthy green veggie, there is no doubt about it, but once they get the traditional Thanksgiving treatment, there isn’t much nutrition left. Most recipes overcook the beans which leaches their beneficial vitamins and minerals. Then, butter, cream, creme fraiche and white flour are often added. These ingredients inflate the calories of this once healthy side dish while also burdening the digestive system (lactose in the dairy and gluten in white flour are hard to digest). Switch to using just a small amount of organic butter (preferably raw butter or ghee) or olive oil, and use almond or coconut flour instead. As for cooking the beans, try blanching them or lightly steaming them to maintain their nutrients.
We know should should eat this part of the Thanksgiving meal sparingly…but who can resist delicious, carb-filled stuffing? Traditional stuffing, especially the kind made from a box, contains trans fats, preservatives and tons of gluten. This is more than just a no-no carb food, but something to modify ASAP. Make homemade stuffing using fresh vegetable stock and produce, and use healthy oils such as olive oil or grapeseed. As for the carb choice, look for sprouted bread or choose a gluten-free option like homemade cornbread. You will be surprised how much better this healthy stuffing comes out!
TCM Pick: Mushroom Leek Cornbread Stuffing
...And The Pumpkin Pie
Want something to be truly thankful for? We’ve come up with a completely vegan version of traditional pumpkin pie (you’re welcome). Pumpkin pie, especially the kind made with pre-made pie crust, is a sure-fire way to expose yourself to trans fats, preservatives and conventional dairy (notice a common theme here?). Avoid trans-fatty acids, sometimes listed as partially hydrogenated oils, since they are known to cause metabolic disease, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Make the filling with organic pumpkin puree, nut milk and real spices. And if you really want to dazzle your guests, add a praline layer like the one in this recipe from Annie Campbell!
TCM Pick: Vegan Pumpkin Praline Pie