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  • Healthy Thanksgiving Makeover

    Nothing says tradition like the holiday feast: a steaming tray of turkey, bowls of colorful sides, breads, and sugary or alcoholic drinks. When the table is cleared, in comes an array of high-fat, high-calorie desserts.

    Let the promises of New Year diets begin.

    Miriam Hospital dietician Kim Maloomian says the traditional Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to be a dietary disaster. She offers several healthy menu options and cooking alternatives that will be sure to please all of your guests.


    Kim Maloomian
    Kim Maloomian, Dietician at The Miriam Hospital


    Learn more about weight loss programs at The Miriam Hospital

    Appetizers

    "If you're going to put a lot of work into dinner," explains Maloomian, "you don’t want people spoiling their appetites." 

    Consider these simple snacks:

    • A bowl of pistachios in the shell (shelling nuts will often keep you from eating too many)
    • A cheese board with two types of cheese and a baked Brie with whole grain crackers, dried apricots and cranberries, and raw almonds. A plus, you can decorate it all nicely on the board.
    • Homemade hummus

    Drinks

    fruit and crackers For a healthier alternative to hard liquor mixers (which have a high sugar content), offer wine and high-quality, small-brew batch beers. The health benefits of wine are widely known.

    The hops used to make beer bitter actually have been shown to help with calcium uptake.

    Also have plenty of ice water on the dining table and seltzer with an array of cut citrus.

    Turkey

    Turkey Alternatives

    The turkey is king at most Thanksgiving dinners, but it doesn't have to be. Here are a few alternatives to the usual turkey fare:

    • Seafood is a great option instead of turkey; it is high in protein and offers plenty of healthy omega fats. (It's also the perfect excuse to keep unhealthy turkey stuffing off the table.)
    • Consider baked shrimp sprinkled with a west Indian blend of spices as an option for folks avoiding meat.
    • Other things to experiment with are venison, which would have been at the first Thanksgiving, or lobster.
    Turkey Tips

    If you cook a stuffed turkey, you have to cook it longer, which increases the likelihood of dry meat. People try to cover this up by making a gravy, but the turkey itself is still dry.

    Cook the turkey unstuffed and stop the dryness before it begins by brining the turkey overnight (up to 18 hours ahead of time) with a mixture of salt and sugar. This allows the turkey to soak up some of the brine juice and hold onto it while cooking. This is a great way to impart flavor since the bird won't be stuffed.

    Read more about cooking turkey and storing leftovers

    Sides

    vegetables breadsThanksgiving dinner can sometimes feature an unhealthy amount of butter. People put butter in everything: mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, squash, string beans. But you can get richness and creaminess from other ingredients:

    • Marscapone cheese is a great way to make mashed potatoes creamy with less saturated fat, but be sure to add rosemary, garlic and some caramelized onions (cooked in olive oil not butter) for depth of flavor. "You can whip the whole thing together if you don’t like chunky potatoes," says Maloomian. "Chicken broth will help to loosen them up."
    • Consider making mashed turnips instead of potatoes. They have a tendency to be bitter, so use parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil to combat the bitterness; then you don't have to add sugar.
    • Instead of green bean casserole, use arugula or baby kale and make a greens salad with lemon juice. If you serve it with the meal you will not only eliminate the fat from the casserole (and preserve a vegetable side) but the acid from the lemon helps with palate cleansing between bites.
    • Roasted vegetables are also a great option instead of mashed vegetables. Use eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, asparagus and onions together. Or use carrots, red or fingerling potatoes, onions, beets, and garlic together. Either way, toss them in olive oil, dried thyme or Herbes de Provence, salt and pepper, and roast in the oven at 425 degrees until desired doneness.

    Dessert

    Dessert can be wrecking ball for anyone who is trying to make a healthy meal. fruit plate

    • "If you're cooking dessert and you need a baked good, consider a cobbler instead of a pie," says Maloomian. Fat lives in the pie crust, so make a crumble topping out of oats and crumbled graham crackers. Use fruits that hold up to spices so you don’t have to use a lot of sugar. Apples, pumpkin, butternut squash, cherries, pears, plums and nectarines are good choices.
      • Spices that add zing are cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cardamom, vanilla, almond extract, lavender, dried thyme and dried sage and maple.
      • If you are cooking the fruit first, don’t be afraid to add a sauvignon blanc wine or pumpkin lager or coffee porter beer. The alcohol will burn off and leave the flavor behind.
       
    • "Offer a fruit platter. Consider pineapple, champagne mangos (yellow skin), strawberries, blackberries and blueberries, and the occasional kiwi," says Maloomian. "Put it out with the cheese and then rework it to look pretty at dessert time."

    Traditional Thanksgiving dinner is about enjoying the spoils of the harvest. It's about gathering your friends and family and enjoying each other's company. The tips described above will help dial back the unhealthy elements and showcase the wonderful natural tastes of meats, fruits and vegetables. Your guests will appreciate it and you'll enjoy serving it.