6 Healthier, Macro-Friendly Swaps for Your Favorite Thanksgiving Dishes
Thanksgiving isn’t just about showing gratitude toward friends and family. It’s about breaking bread together as a way to celebrate connection, and some of life’s tastiest, traditional foods. That being said, this could make it hard to stay on track with your healthy eating and training plan, as temptations go wild. In fact, the average person consumes 3,000 to 4,500 calories at Thanksgiving, according to estimates by the Calorie Control Council. That could be two days’ worth of calories, depending on your body size and requirements.
Luckily, you can indulge while still keeping your calorie count low(er) and eating healthier items with more nutritional value, too. Just follow the Spartan way to show up with a dish everyone will love: Think about making smart swaps, like adding more fiber and skipping unhealthy fats, so you won’t feel so bloated or weighed down after eating.
With a million different options out there, we sifted through the noise for our favorite (and healthiest!) clean Thanksgiving recipes and food swaps to make a hearty holiday meal.
6 Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes to Spice Up Your Table
1. Pistachio-Stuffed Dates
Swap bacon-wrapped dates for pistachio-stuffed, instead. A great appetizer for those training for a race, it's chock-full of protein and fat from the pistachios, and dates curb your sweet tooth. Avoid fatty bacon — a food high sodium and nitrates and far from helpful when training.
“This appetizer is extremely simple, with just two whole-food ingredients," Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, says. "It provides healthy fats to protect joints and regulate inflammation, which is important for muscle recovery, along with energy and potassium, which help regulate fluid balance."
2. Good-Eats Roast Turkey
Swap the brown sugar brine for maple syrup. Maple syrup — a natural sweetener — has magnesium, potassium, and calcium to boost electrolyte levels, as well as antioxidants to fight inflammation.
“My family has been preparing turkey via Alton Brown's recipe for about a decade," Jones says. "We actually skip the brown sugar in the brine and add some maple syrup, but you'll want to follow brining and cooking time to a T."
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You'll also get a wonderful taste and texture with lean protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals to support training, she says. Plus, it came from a Top Chef — so you know it’s got to be good.
3. Lentil Walnut “Sausage” Stuffing
Skipping stuffing is a no brainer for athletes: It’s loaded with unhealthy carbs and calories. So, swap out the high-fat meat for whole grains and legumes. This vegetarian option is prime for those who are trying to limit meat intake when training.
“This side dish will please any meat eater, without the saturated fat that sausage provides," Jones says. "Saturated fat and compounds in meats can impact heart health, an organ you want to keep in top shape for training and racing."
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You'll get iron from the whole grain bread and lentils, as well as inflammation-fighting fats from the walnuts.
“Iron is crucial for energy metabolism, and those with active lifestyles,” she says.
4. Refined Sugar-Free Cranberry Sauce
Swap refined sugar for orange juice and maple syrup. The latter provides natural sweetness in a more nutritious way for those in training.
“Sweetened naturally with orange juice and just a touch of maple, this cranberry sauce is bursting with flavor and it’s not heavy in sugar to weigh you down during workouts,” Jones says “Orange juice and pure maple provide nutrients and antioxidants that refined sugar won't."
And, both will fuel your body and decrease inflammation post-workout.
5. Green Beans With Caramelized Onions and Cashews
Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, and author of The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner, suggests swapping green bean casserole for plain green beans sautéed with caramelized onions and cashews. Greens beans provide fiber to fuel your body for workouts.
Unlike traditional green bean casserole, this takes just 35 minutes to make and each serving is only 140 calories. And, you can kiss sodium goodbye: There are no high-calorie cream of mushroom soups or classic fried onion toppers here.
This way, you still get the crispy onion taste with some crunch and healthy fats from the cashews without the bloating feeling, Rizzo says. (Too much sodium can lead to water retention and make you feel sluggish, which isn’t ideal for training.)
6. Honey-Sweetened Apple Crisp
Swap high-calorie, high-fat pumpkin or pecan pie for this apple crisp, which sweetened with honey to let the flavors of the apple shine through. You can prepare it in individual ramekins, too, to make portion control super easy.
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“Apples contain quercitin, a phytochemical that research has shown can support lung health," Jones says. "This is helpful because endurance athlete's lungs are much more stressed than the average person."
And, the honey also contains antioxidants that support immune function to keep you healthy for training, she adds.