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10 easy ways to lighten up your Thanksgiving

November 11, 2019

Lori Mager, MBA, RDN, LDN, CDE, NCH Clinical Nutrition Manager

Memories are made by sharing a meal around the table at Thanksgiving. But Grandma’s sweet potato casserole and other family dishes can quickly rack up the calories and set the tone for overindulging. This year, keep your traditions, but make these small changes to lighten up your feast. Make the day be more about family, friends and memories and less about the food.

Here are 10 easy ways to reduce the calories and fat from your Thanksgiving feast:

  1. The bird  Go light. Eat white. Dark meat has nearly twice the amount of saturated fat as white breast meat. 
  2. Dress it, don’t stuff it  Cook the dressing outside of the turkey; it will have fewer calories and be healthier. Use rice, barley or quinoa instead of bread cubes or for a super healthy stuffing, substitute apples, chopped carrots or butternut squash. If your family recipe calls for pork sausage, use turkey sausage instead.
  3. No need to sweeten the pot  Sweet potatoes and yams are naturally sweet, so ditch the marshmallows and brown sugar. Start a new tradition and try our Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Mash instead (below).
  4. Skinny mashed potatoes  Lighten up your mashed potatoes without losing flavor and creamy texture by using plain Greek yogurt instead of butter and milk. Add a little chicken broth for added flavor and extra moisture.
  5. Green beans are good for you  Whether swimming in a casserole or drowning in butter, green beans get a bad rap on Thanksgiving. Instead, sauté your green beans in a touch of olive oil and add some sliced, roasted almonds for extra crunch and flavor.
  6. Berries are best  Fresh cranberries contain more antioxidants than 19 other commonly eaten fruits, are low in calories and high in fiber. But store-bought, canned cranberries have as much sugar as a candy bar. Make your own by adding chopped apples or fresh pineapple and shun the added sugar.
  7. Pile on the veggies  Load up on vegetables instead of rolls, stuffing and gravy and save your calories for the turkey, the star of the meal.
  8. Pass on the pumpkin pie…crust  The crust has the most calories and fat. Instead, pour the pumpkin filling into individual serving dishes and bake. Add some pecans on top for some crunch.
  9. Beware imbibing too much  Calories from alcohol can add up fast. For every alcoholic beverage you drink, down one glass of water to keep hydrated and stay fuller, longer.
  10. Portion control  It’s Thanksgiving, the day of accepted indulgence, right? This year, stay in control. Try everything that looks good to you but only eat a small portion to enjoy the taste without the extra calories.

Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Mash Recipe


  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 1 pound cauliflower florets
  • 3 tablespoons milk of choice
  • ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh chopped parsley for garnish


  1. Peel and cut sweet potato into 1 ½-inch chunks.
  2. In large pot with steam basket, steam sweet potato and cauliflower with an inch of water in the bottom of the pot. Vegetables will be ready in about 10 – 12 minutes or when fork tender.
  3. Place in large bowl and mash the potato and cauliflower with the milk. Stir in the Greek yogurt, garlic powder, salt and pepper. If too thick, add milk one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is achieved.
  4. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.