Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of the year to reconnect with family and friends. It’s also a nice time of the year to think about everything we have to be grateful for in our lives.
And what better way to celebrate that gratitude than with delicious food!
For many people though, the holidays can be a time of stress and overwhelm. While we may enjoy spending time in good company, good company usually means we encounter food options that aren’t always the healthiest for us.
Combine good company and unhealthy food and many of us are tempted to abandon any health goals we’ve set for ourselves during this season.
That’s why we’ve asked two nutrition experts, Alesia New, Licensed Dietitian and Nutritionist, and Olga Epstein, Health and Mindset Coach, for their best food swap and healthy eating tips for Thanksgiving — both from a practical and mindset perspective.
Let’s dig in…
Thanksgiving Food Swaps and Best Practices
During the holidays, tricking your brain out of the deprivation mindset is one of the most useful tips you can put into practice.
Your goal is not to deprive yourself of delicious food, but rather to provide yourself with healthy choices that reflect the health goals you have set for yourself.
Eating healthy alternatives is just as easy as reaching for traditional, oft-unhealthier foods. With that in mind, here are some tips from New and Epstein:
1. Use healthy soup ingredients
Whipping up soups is a great way for you to embrace the cozy holiday feeling without sacrificing your health goals, says New. Whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner or bringing a dish to a gathering, why not try making a filling, comforting, blended soup with nutritious, seasonal ingredients such as roasted butternut squash, apple, and ginger?
2. Always include greens
No matter what holiday you’re celebrating, remember to eat greens and vegetables with every meal. New recommends a greens medley: leafy greens cooked with peppers and vegetable broth, or served raw with spicy dressings.
Greens and vegetables are rich in fiber and vitamins. Even if you don’t eat as many vegetables as you do during other meals, you’ll still feel better if you add some color to your plate.
3. Stay hydrated
Although many people reach for the wine or hot cocoa during the holidays, don’t rely solely on these drinks for hydration. Remember to drink plenty of water, including sparkling water.
Staying hydrated throughout the day can help regulate your appetite, aid in digestion, and help you limit your intake of less healthy beverages. New recommends sticking with water throughout the holidays in addition to drinking ginger-infused teas in your daily routine. Peppermint tea also supports digestion.
4. Don’t forget healthy snacks
If you let yourself get too hungry throughout the day, you’re much more likely to reach for salty or high-fat foods later. Keep an abundance of healthy snacks on hand so you always have something to satisfy you, says New.
Many people try to “save room” for Thanksgiving dinner later in the day, but this can lead to overeating. Lightly grazing on healthy snacks throughout the day can prevent this. Keep good snacks on hand such as:
- Fruits with nut butter
- Vegetables dipped in hummus
- Greek yogurt and other protein-rich foods
5. Make a veggie-based casserole
Who doesn’t love a hearty Thanksgiving casserole? This year, opt for vegetable-based casseroles to get the most nutritional value out of your meals, while still feeling full.
Many people especially love switching ingredients out in sweet potato casserole. Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins and high in fiber, not to mention, delicious and hearty, but if you’ve typically topped your sweet potatoes with marshmallows, you can opt for goat cheese this year for a better source of protein and healthy fat.
6. Swap maple syrup for brown sugar
Lots of desserts during the holiday season call for brown sugar. Instead, use maple syrup. You’ll not only offer your guests a healthier alternative, you’ll infuse your baked goods with a warm-maple flavor as well.
7. Swap mashed cauliflower for mashed potatoes
If you want the texture of mashed potatoes with fewer carbs and calories, try eating mashed cauliflower at your next holiday dinner. If you prefer, you can make both dishes, and chances are, other people will be grateful they have a healthier option available.
8. Listen to your body/mind
Lastly, New reminds you to “pay attention to your body and mind. Focus on the environment (family, friends, locations, mood) — don’t overeat to the point you feel bloated or uncomfortable.”
9. Focus on whole foods
Epstein says “try to eat less processed and fatty foods and focus instead on whole foods, like potatoes and lentils that are filling and low in calorie density. Skip the butter and use flax seeds and applesauce in recipes instead.”
10. Maintain a healthy mindset
“Holidays are all about nourishing and feeding your soul with primary food such as relationships and establishing connection,” says Epstein. “Food is secondary when you think of it as just a feed for energy.”
If you do fall off the wagon? Don’t feel bad, says Epstein.
“Instead, just focus on planning ahead to eat more intelligently to get back on track.”
The Bottom Line
With a little preparation and research, you can have a healthy, fulfilling Thanksgiving.
As with every health goal, it’s important to understand the why behind the goal you’ve set for yourself. Your “why” will make it much easier for you to reach for the veggies and tea this Thanksgiving instead of the potatoes and gravy.
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