How to Make Your Thanksgiving Menu Healthy

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plate with turkey breast, broccoli, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and rolls
Photo: Robert Jacobs/Meredith

Preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner that's lower in fat and calories but still thrills the crowd isn't hard. All it takes is a few ingredient substitutions and some clever fat-busting techniques. Let's take a look at how to make a delicious, healthier Thanksgiving meal.

01 of 13

The Turkey

Small turkey with carrots and parsnips on white platter
Constatine Poulos/Meredith

If you're hosting a small gathering, buy a turkey breast rather than the whole bird, as breast meat is lower in calories than dark meat.

If you do buy a whole turkey, avoid "self-basting" turkeys, as they often contain added fat. And, it goes without saying, stay away from the deep fryer this year, and roast or smoke the turkey. Stuff the turkey cavity with whole or halved onions, halved lemons or apples, and sprigs of fresh herbs such as sage, marjoram, thyme, and/or rosemary. Rather than rubbing the skin with butter or oil, spray it with an oil spray and season it with salt and pepper.

02 of 13

Recipe: Slow Cooker Turkey Breast

sliced turkey breast with gravy on a plate
Lori

"This is simple and delicious, and certainly not rocket science," says naples34102. "No need to really add anything or change anything other than the cooking time -- mine was done perfectly at 5-1/2 hours. The meat is tender, juicy, and delicately seasoned."

03 of 13

Recipe: Cranberry Stuffed Turkey Breasts

sliced turkey breasts with cranberry stuffing, served on a platter garnished with fresh cranberries
lutzflcat

"This one is a keeper," raves momof4. "I make it every thanksgiving instead of the whole turkey -- it turns out beautifully every time! Very pretty presentation, too!"

04 of 13

Recipe: Easy Smoked Turkey

side view of a golden brown turkey on a platter
KGora

This smoked turkey recipe uses a minimal amount of oil to crisp the skin, but you can substitute with an oil spray for an even lighter take.

05 of 13

Guilt-Free Gravy

Two white gravy boats full of turkey gravy
Meredith

Gravy is one of the biggest calorie culprits on the table. Use vegetable oil rather than turkey drippings when making the gravy — it's still fat, but vegetable oil is lower in saturated fat and is cholesterol-free.

If you use turkey drippings to add flavor, use a fat separator ($16; amazon.com). Pour the gravy into a separator and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Some of the fat in the gravy will rise to the top of the glass where you can skim it off easily. Better yet, make a low-fat broth-based gravy or a vegetarian gravy instead.

06 of 13

Recipe: Lightning Gravy

turkey gravy on turkey meat
Marianne

Here's a broth-based gravy that comes together in just 5 minutes: "This is awesome because it's low fat, low cal, (for gravy!) and quick," says Drunken Cookie. "I added a black pepper and a small pinch of ground sage."

07 of 13

Slimmed-Down Sides

people reaching for side dishes around thanksgiving table
Blaine Moats/Meredith

Instead of loading up your mashed potatoes with lots of butter and cream, add some of the starchy water you used to boil the potatoes. The starchy water will give your mashers a low-cal creamy texture and help cut back on fat.

You can also add turkey or chicken broth, evaporated skim milk, or fat-free sour cream to your mashed potatoes. For extra flavor, stir in roasted garlic and herbs. For added nutrition, add pureed cooked cauliflower, parsnips, or turnips — or replace the potatoes entirely with Mashed Parsnips or Mashed Turnips.

Scrap the traditional dessert-style candied sweet potato casseroles in favor of a low-fat, naturally-sweetened sweet potatoes. Try a cranberry relish or cut down on the amount of sugar in your cranberry sauce by adding fruit juices or apple sauce.

Bake the dressing in a casserole dish rather than in the turkey, where it absorbs fat from the turkey as it bakes. It's hard to slim down a stuffing recipe, so take a small serving if it's your Thanksgiving favorite. If you can avoid recipes using too much sausage or bacon; wild rice and grains are more nutritious than bread stuffings.

08 of 13

Recipe: Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes and Cauliflower

Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes and Cauliflower
Photo by bd.weld.

"This was good and a great way of adding extra veggies into a meal," says Manda. I had mine along side some corn and stuffing. It was the perfect accompaniment and easy to make."

More Potato Recipes:

09 of 13

Recipe: Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes with Ricotta Cheese

bowl of six Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes with Ricotta Cheese
Allrecipes Magazine

"These were absolutely fabulous," says susiekew. "We aren't fond of sweet potato dishes that have a lot of added sugar, so this was really to our taste."

More Sweet Potato Recipes:

10 of 13

Recipe: Cranberry, Sausage and Apple Stuffing

stuffing with apples, cranberry, celery, and sausage in white casserole dish
Pictured: Cranberry, Sausage and Apple Stuffing. Allrecipes Magazine

LivinOurLuvSong says, "I left out the sausage and used veggie broth. I baked it in a pan and it was perfect."

More Stuffing Recipes:

11 of 13

Rethink Pie

three different pies on wooden table with servingware
Blaine Moats/Meredith

Most of the fat in a pie comes from the crust. Try a crust-free pumpkin pie recipe or a reduced-fat graham cracker crust.

12 of 13

Recipe: Pumpkin Pie Squares

Easy Pumpkin Pie Squares decorated with whipped cream
Alberta Rose

"This is a great recipe," raves LAURA J JOHNSON. "It makes homemade pumpkin pie much easier and it tastes great."

More Crustless Pie Recipes:

13 of 13

More Thanksgiving Menu Inspiration:

Thanksgiving dinner, family around table
skynesher/Getty Images
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