Thanksgiving isn’t just about showing gratitude toward friends and family. It’s about breaking bread together (hellooooo, giant turkey and stuffing!) as a way to celebrate connection, and some of life’s tastiest, traditional foods. So, it could be 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 still indulge but keep your calorie count low(er) and eat healthier items with more nutritional value, too. Here’s 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 Turkey time.
We live in an era of FoodTV, foodgrammers, and foodfluencers. In fact, foodies like Jennifer Sattley @carlsbadcravings are even sharing week-long campaigns of their favorite, family-friendly Thanksgiving recipes "to help make your life easier and more delicious!" 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 — turning traditional into trendy so your out-of-town aunt will be asking you for recipes in no time.
6 Clean Thanksgiving Recipes to Spice Up Your Table
DOLL UP THE DATES (HINT: DITCH THE BACON)
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, which is high sodium and nitrates, and far from helpful when training.
“This appetizer is extremely simple, with just two whole food ingredients. It provides healthy fats to protect joints and regulate inflammation, which is important for muscle recovery, along with energy and potassium, which helps regulate fluid balance,” says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
BRING ON THE BRINE
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 5 star (over 5,000 reviews!) recipe for about a decade. 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,” says Jones.
You'll 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.
Related: Turkey Nutrition
SWITCH UP THE STUFFING
Lentil Walnut “Sausage” Stuffing
Skipping stuffing is a no brainer for athletes—hello, it’s loaded with unhealthy carbs and calories! So, swap out 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. Saturated fat and compounds in meats can impact heart health, an organ you want to keep in top shape for training and racing,” says Jones.
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.
Related: 8 Holiday Foods You Should Never Eat
SAUCES GET SASSY NOT SUGARY
Refined Sugar Free Cranberry Sauce
Swap refined sugar for orange juice and maple syrup, which 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,” says Jones. “Orange juice and pure maple provide nutrients and antioxidants that refined sugar won't,” she says. And those fuel your body and decrease inflammation post-workout.
CANCEL ARCHAIC CASSEROLES (Does anyone like them anyway?)
Green Beans with Caramelized Onions and Cashews
Swap green bean casserole for plain green beans sautéed with caramelized onions and cashews, suggests Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, and author of The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner. 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. (No high-calorie cream of mushroom soup or classic fried onion topper here.)
This way you still get the crispy onion taste with some crunch, and just healthy fats from the cashews, says Rizzo, without the bloating feeling. (Too much sodium can lead to water retention and make you feel sluggish, which isn’t ideal for training.)
HOW 'BOUT THEM APPLES?
Honey Sweetened Apple Crisp
Swap high-calorie, high-fat pumpkin or pecan pie for this apple crisp, sweetened with honey, letting the flavors of the apple shine through. You can prepare it in individual ramekins, too, to make portion control super easy. “Apples contain quercitin, a phytochemical that research has shown can support lung health. This is helpful since endurance athlete's lungs are much more stressed than the average person,” says Jones. And, the honey also contains antioxidants that support immune function to keep you healthy for training, she adds.