Cooking School: Thanksgiving

Our original plan for Thanksgiving this year was to host dinner for my husband’s side of family at our house, but due to some health issues a family member is having, we’re going to visit them instead.  It’s only about a 3 hour drive and I don’t have to get my house company-ready, so I’m not too disappointed.  Plus, the prospect of cooking Thanksgiving dinner, even for our relatively small family, scared me a little bit!  I am much more comfortable in the supporting role, of asking: “What can I bring?”

Every family has different traditions about what dishes are served at Thanksgiving, and I don’t really think Thanksgiving is the best time to experiment with a bunch of new recipes.  However, over the years I have attempted to make slightly healthier versions of some old favorites.  If you think about it, most of what is served on Thanksgiving, in its natural state, is very healthy.  I’d venture to say there are more vegetable side dishes on most people’s Thanksgiving tables than most other meals of the year.  The problem comes when we start going crazy with the butter, sugar, and… oh let’s just admit it — fried onions and marshmallow toppings.  (Not together, hopefully!)

Here are some ideas for slightly healthier swaps that will make your Thanksgiving table a slightly less guilt-inducing (and help you save room for your pie of choice!)

  • Fried turkey –> Smoked turkey
  • Green bean casserole with those famous fried onions –> Roasted or sautéed green beans with carmelized onions on top
  • Mashed sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows –> Roasted sweet potatoes topped with cinnamon and a little maple syrup
  • Mac and cheese –> just say no to Velveeta
  • Stuffing –> can you sneak in some veggies?  This would be an excellent place to use all that leftover zucchini that you stuck in the freezer this summer.
  • Mashed potatoes –> mash in some potato skins for extra fiber, season with herbs like chives, garlic and parsley, not just salt and butter, and please oh please — use real butter, not the fake stuff!
  • Gravy –> it’s sauce made out of fat and flour, I got nothin’.  Enjoy in moderation… it’s not the kind of thing you eat every day.  (RIGHT???)
  • All those cakes, pies, and cookies –> It’s Thanksgiving, pick a slice of your favorite and enjoy the heck out of it!

And just for fun — here’s a Thanksgiving Mad Libs from my favorite cooking blog, Dinner: A Love Story!

Do you have any cooking or hosting responsibilities for Thanksgiving?  Do you try to make healthier dishes, or splurge since it’s a holiday?

Welcome to my Cooking School series, which is designed to share what I’ve learned as an experienced home cook with people who want to learn how to cook healthy, homemade food. If you have a topic you’d like me to address, please leave a comment!


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22 thoughts on “Cooking School: Thanksgiving

    • Mmm… I may need that brownie recipe! I might have to go non-traditional and bring something like a kale salad. It would probably make-ahead well so the dressing can soften the kale a little bit.

  1. I actually prefer a lot of your healthier options! Our turkey is never fried, and I can’t stand those little fried onions on green beans. Of course if it were up to me, green beans would have bacon slathered on them, but luckily the relatives who bring the green beans would never touch bacon! (luckily for my health)
    Tamara recently posted…I Wish I Were Big.My Profile

    • Mac and cheese isn’t part of my thanksgiving tradition, so maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about. But a homemade cheesy bechamel sauce is a lot easier than you would think!

  2. Just say no to velveeta! Ha!
    Great tips! I love all the healthy alternatives for some Thanksgiving favorites. My parents are hosting this year but we are hoping when we get a host to host in the next couple years. I am looking forward to it!

    • I always think hosting Thanksgiving would be really fun, but I think I’d really just like to plan it all out and let someone else coordinate all the logistics of getting all the food done at the same time, keeping everyone entertained, etc.

  3. I’m cooking this year – roasted turkey, roasted sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with skim milk (and butter), sauteed green beans, and stuffing. My kids love Stove Top so I indulge them once a year. I’m making a chocolate babka for dessert which is will undo all the healthy options from dinner!
    Dana recently posted…Oh, to be a teenagerMy Profile

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