Healthy Ingredients to Add to your Thanksgiving Meal

It can be intimidating to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner for your family or friends. It can even be intimidating if you’ve been asked to bring a dish of your own to a holiday gathering. 


When making food for a group of people - large or small - you always have to be aware of their likes, dislikes, and what they expect to see on the table when it’s time to sit down and eat. 


You may have to contend with someone’s allergies. Another person may be a picky eater. Maybe you need to make sure to prepare some vegan dishes. And what if you’re trying to maintain a diet of your own?


The good news is that you don’t have to throw out your entire Thanksgiving meal plan just because of a couple of hiccups. Instead, take stock of all the special situations you need to account for and modify your dishes based off of them.


Healthy ingredient swaps can be especially beneficial for those who want to enjoy a favorite Thanksgiving dish while still maintaining a diet.


9 Ingredient Swaps to Make This Thanksgiving


Many Thanksgiving dishes are naturally healthy but tend to get smothered by unhealthy ingredients. On a day like this, you shouldn’t worry about the nutrition of every morsel you put on your plate, but it doesn’t hurt to make a few healthy ingredient substitutions. Your guests might not even notice the difference!

1. Unsweetened Applesauce

If any of your dessert recipes call for vegetable oil, a fantastic substitute is unsweetened applesauce. Vegetable oil is so common as an ingredient that you might not realize that just 1/4 cup contains 480 calories and 56 grams of fat. 


In comparison, the same amount of unsweetened applesauce has just 25 calories and no fat. How’s that for a healthy ingredient swap? You can substitute unsweetened applesauce at a 1:1 ratio to vegetable oil. So, if the recipe calls for 1 cup of vegetable oil, go ahead and use 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce.

2. Lemon or Lime

Many recipes call for "salt to taste," but Thanksgiving meals are loaded with salt to begin with. Instead of using salt every time, consider adding a little bit of lemon or lime. These ingredients bring out the flavor of your dish without piling on the sodium.

3. Greek or Low-fat Yogurt

A lot of people love sour cream, but it’s not the healthiest addition to any dish. If you think you can live without it, consider substituting Greek yogurt instead. This ingredient swap can save your dish an extra 55 calories per ¼ cup. 


If buttermilk is the ingredient in question, consider swapping it for low-fat plain yogurt. It can be swapped in at a 1:1 ratio and helps minimize your dish’s fat and sodium levels.

4. Chipotle Powder, Chestnuts and More

Many people have very strong feelings when it comes to stuffing, so this could be a hard sell. However, there are a few changes you can make that can make your Thanksgiving stuffing a little more nutritious. 


First, pass on the bacon and replace it with chipotle powder. This healthy ingredient swap gives your stuffing a nice smoky flavor. If you usually add sausage to give your stuffing a meaty texture, you can try replacing it with chestnuts, almonds, or pecans. 


It’s important for stuffing to retain its classic texture, but you still have a lot of room for creative ingredient swaps like these. 

5. Apples and Oranges

We’ve already covered why canned cranberry sauce should stay in the can. But when you’re making your own cranberry sauce, it’s a great idea to add some other fruits to the mix. If you want to limit the sugar in your cranberry sauce, use a food processor to pulse some apples and blood oranges along with your cranberries. Just make sure to let it sit overnight before serving.

6. Dried Mushrooms

It’s common for unused turkey bits to find their way into the base of a Thanksgiving gravy, but that doesn’t have to be the case. A great ingredient swap is to use dried mushrooms in place of meat. They are chock full of savory flavor, which is a must for any gravy, and taste delicious despite not having the saturated fat commonly found in gravy.

7. Coconut Milk

Bread or rolls are a Thanksgiving staple, but there are healthier ways to add color and flavor without using an egg wash. Instead, try brushing them with a mixture of maple syrup and coconut milk just before they go in the oven. 


If you're making any soups or stews for Thanksgiving dinner, another healthy ingredient swap is to use coconut milk instead of heavy cream. It gives stews the same delicious taste and texture, but it cuts the calories in half.

8. Cacao Nibs

Chocolate chips are probably the most common addition to cookies and other desserts, but cacao nibs can be a better option thanks to their abundance of antioxidants. If those aren't to your liking, dark chocolate chips are 70% cacao and another great ingredient swap to take advantage of.

9. Whole Wheat Pasta

If any of your Thanksgiving dishes contain pasta, consider using a whole wheat pasta option instead. This healthy ingredient swap will give your guests more fiber and up to 50 fewer calories per serving. 


Need a Turkey Alternative?

If your guests are expecting a vegetarian option instead of - or in addition to - turkey, one of the best alternatives is an eggplant shepherd’s pie. If you’re going to substitute a meat-based entree for a plant-based entree, make sure to go with something hearty. Eggplant shepherd’s pie is not only filling, but it also doesn’t skimp on flavor. On a day like Thanksgiving, you don’t want to leave your guests unfulfilled.


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