Healthy Substitutes for Thanksgiving Foods

Mallorey Daunhauer and

For Americans, the holidays are a time of eating gravy covered, bacon wrapped, sugar infested foods in massive quantities. The average American gains two to 10 pounds by New Year’s Day, and according to the National Institute of Health, this gained weight is rarely lost after the holidays are over. So how does this extra poundage happen?

Whether it be a pitch-in at work or a family gathering to celebrate the holidays, all have one common theme… food!” Wellness Coordinator of IU Health Bloomington, Molly Packard said.                    

Though there are massive amounts of unhealthy foods during the holidays, weight gain doesn’t have to happen. With paleo, gluten free and many more diets on the rise, there are plenty of healthy recipes that can substitute some of the classic, and unhealthy, holiday foods that everyone loves. And these recipes can be just as yummy, if not more, than the actual foods themselves.

A big part of the holidays is dessert. Desserts can come in many forms, but for the most part, they are all very sugary and high in calories. Applesauce can be a better alternative for sugar in baked goods.

“I recommend experimenting with your favorite recipe first to make sure it works – baking is a science,” Packard said.

Also, vegetables that are fried or cooked with a lot of butter or sugar can be substituted for roasted vegetables. Packard suggests that instead of eating sweet potato casserole which is very sweet and rich, the sweet potatoes can be cut up and roasted with some olive oil. This dish can be just as tasty as the unhealthy and calorie filled casserole.

Along with health-conscious alternatives, exercise is crucial throughout the year, but especially during the holiday months. Exercising can help to burn off extra calories that are taken in, which in return will help individuals to not gain weight.

“I enjoy starting off the mornings before holiday parties by going on a run or strength training, that way I’ve started off the day on a healthy note,” Packard said.

Overall, if there’s one thing to keep in mind during the holiday, it’s practicing self-control and moderation according to Packard.

“Even though I’m a pretty health conscious person, it’s unrealistic for me to say I won’t have a piece of pumpkin pie during Thanksgiving, so I try to cut a smaller piece of pie,” Packard said.

Here are some healthy Thanksgiving recipes to get you started:


Author: The Gracious Pantry

Recipe Type: Dessert

(Makes 2 traditional sized pies)


  •        2 cups prepared pumpkin
  •        1/2 cup honey
  •        4 egg whites, room temperature
  •        1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  •        1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  •        1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  •        1 1/2 cups milk (you can substitute unsweetened soy, almond or rice milk)


  1.      Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and mix thoroughly.
  2.      Pour mixture into pie crusts. (I used this recipe)
  3.      Bake at 425 degrees F. for 15 minutes.
  4.      Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. and bake for 45 additional minutes.

Side Notes: This pie is not very sweet. If you prefer a sweeter pie, add an additional 1/4 cup of honey.

© The Gracious Pantry. All rights reserved.


Author: Jenn Laughlin via Peas and Crayons

Recipe type: side


  •     1 large butternut squash, peeled + chopped
  •     a hearty drizzle of olive oil [approx 1-2 TBSP]
  •     salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste
  •     2 cups fresh cranberries
  •     2-3 TBSP honey [or extra, to taste]
  •     ¼ cup finely crumbled feta
  •     ground cinnamon, to taste [optional but delicious!]
  •     fresh or dried parsley, to garnish [optional]


  1.    Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2.    Lightly drizzle or spritz a baking sheet with olive oil.
  3.    Add cubed squash to the sheet along with another drizzle of olive oil.
  4.    Sprinkle with a light layer of salt, pepper, and garlic powder, based on taste preference.
  5.    Roast at 400 F for 25 minutes on the center rack.
  6.    At the 25 minute mark, pull out the oven rack, and add your fresh cranberries to the roasting pan.
  7.    Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the cranberries have started to soften and burst a bit, resembling really juicy craisins vs fresh firm cranberries.
  8.    Remove from oven and add a sprinkle of cinnamon [approx ⅛-1/4 tsp depending on preference] along with feta and honey. I listed the honey measurements I used, but depending on whether you used fresh cranberries or dried, sweeten to taste.
  9.    Garnish with parsley for a burst of color and dig in while it’s hot!