Hot Flash: Thanksgiving Made Healthier (It’s a Good Thing)

Thanksgiving isn't just healthy for the soul, it can also be healthy for the body with nutrient packed options like turkey. Photo: Getty Images.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Every year for the past 15 years, I travel to Houston to hang out with Denise, my sister in law. We cook for 4 days. It’s the most fun I have all year. We make 2 turkeys, 5 pies, breads, several cranberry sauces, butternut squash soup, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, 2 types of stuffing, baked brie, green bean casserole; I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

It’s a great time to hang out with family, watch football, go shopping the day after Thanksgiving (really, I love shopping on Black Friday) and, of course, eat an amazing meal and tons of yummy leftovers the rest of the time.


Sure, it’s only once a year and no big deal when balanced against healthy eating habits the rest of the time. Or is it? In a recent issue of Eat Well Magazine, estimated that Thanksgiving meal contains at least 2,800 calories, without having seconds! For me, that’s 2 full days of allotted calories to maintain my weight. Wow.

With a little thought (and discipline) Eating Well says that your meal does not have to kill your caloric counts. Read on…


Turkey is one of the most straightforward dishes on the Thanksgiving table. Sure, there are ways to increase the calories (some recipes call for slathering the turkey in butter or dressing it with strips of bacon before roasting). But a basic roast turkey has little in the way of caloric surprises: 3 ounces of white meat is a lean 115 calories. While dark meat has a few more calories, it also delivers a nice dose of iron (11% of your daily value). Both light meat and dark meat are great sources of protein, offering 26 and 24 grams per serving respectively.

Sweet Potatoes

A powerhouse of nutritional goodness, a 4-ounce serving of sweet potato (about 1/2 cup) provides 390% of your daily value of vitamin A, which promotes bone health, 40% of immunity-boosting vitamin C, 18% of your daily dose of fiber and phytochemicals like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which contribute to healthy vision.

Green Beans

Green beans are a tasty low-calorie vegetable with fiber and a wide array of nutrients, such as vitamins A and C. A 1/2-cup serving of green beans provides some calcium, potassium and folate as well. And Green Bean Casserole is one of the most iconic holiday vegetable dishes, thanks to the perfect combination of creamy mushroom gravy, tender green beans and crispy onion topping. But you don’t need to add a ton of fat to make green beans taste good, I now use non-fat mushroom soup, and it tastes the same.


Cranberry sauce is a must-have for most of us on Thanksgiving. A good source of vitamin C and fiber, cranberries are also an excellent source of several antioxidants that have been associated with cancer prevention. I’ve cut out a lot of the refined sugar from my recipe, using spices like cinnamon and honey to create a festive flavor.

Brussels Sprouts

Tender, sweet and just a little nutty, Brussels sprouts add a yummy crunch to many healthy recipes. It’s packed with vitamins A, C and K, as well as dietary fiber and potassium, and works well roasted, sautéed or baked. It’s also packed with cancer-fighting sulforaphane. My favorite way to make them is to brown them with olive oil, garlic and breadcrumbs. It’s not the way my mother made them. I used to hate them. Now, I pile them on my plate.

Wild Rice

A great ingredient for stuffing, wild rice is chewy, nutty and a delicious replacement for soggy bread. It has fewer carbs and more protein than brown rice, while boasting 3 grams of dietary fiber in a 1-cup serving.  I add dried fruit, onion, and the liver and gizzard from the turkey for a sweet/savory taste. Yum.


Potatoes are a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin C. If you leave the skins on when you mash them, they offer a healthy dose of fiber as well. Just watch the milk and butter content when you mash them.

I know, I did not address the pies, the brie, the bread, the gravy, the wine, and other tasty traditional treats. This is where the self-discipline comes in. Good luck!

Have a healthy, blessed Thanksgiving!