November is here, which means, for those of us in the U.S., Thanksgiving is fast approaching! Whether this is your first year hosting the festivities or you’re a seasoned pro, you might be looking for ways to make the day a little healthier. Well, you’re in luck! There are plenty of simple ingredient substitutions you can make for a wholesome, healthy feast.
Over the years I have been asked this question more times than I can count, “What do I do at the holidays?” Clients who have been focused on health, weight, and fitness goals often begin to panic when the holiday season approaches with its added temptations and abundance of treats. Every time I’m asked I respond the same way…
The holidays are a special time and many of us enjoy recipes, meals, and treats that we only get one day a year. As our tastebuds are flooded with flavor, we are also flooded with memories of family, loved ones, and very special times. No one should deprive themselves of this type of nostalgia. So, eat the foods of the holidays, I always say. Enjoy every bite and soak in the magic that they bring. You can enjoy the flavors without overindulging if you wish. Or you can overindulge all day and savor every bite. It’s up to you. But leave the guilt and shame outside, they aren’t welcome at your holiday table.
At our house, we have a lot of fun experimenting with ways we can make our favorite holiday indulgences a little healthier. We like to make nostalgic recipes but change some ingredients to add a little more nutrition to each creation.
I’ve compiled some of my favorite ingredient substitutions for you here and I asked two of my friends, who are also in the health, nutrition, and wellness industry, to share their tips too. This blog post is packed with great ideas you can use for Thanksgiving this year and every holiday you celebrate.
Here are a few of my favorite swaps so you can effortlessly add more nutrition to your holiday favorites!
Pork Vs. Turkey
My husband makes the absolute best collard greens. He learned from his mom and the recipe called for pork. One Thanksgiving about 10 years ago I invited my friend, who did not eat pork, to Thanksgiving and she was super excited about eating collards. To respect her dietary preferences my husband switched the recipe and, instead of using pork, he used turkey.
Let me tell you something… it was the very best batch of collard greens he had ever made. We have never gone back. He now makes his collards with turkey and they are a hit every single year.
So, if cholesterol is a concern to you try substituting pork in your holiday recipes with turkey and see what you think. You never know, you might find that you enjoy the recipes with turkey more than you did with pork, like we do.
Mayo Vs. Greek Yogurt
My dear friend, Misti Tate, is an integrative nutrition health coach and functional fitness trainer at Best Day Fitness in St. Petersburg, FL. She knows all about what a big difference small healthy choices every day can make.
She recommends using plain Greek yogurt whenever a recipe calls for mayonnaise or sour cream, or if you’re looking for a healthier base for dips. The texture is really similar, but you get less fat and added protein, calcium, and B12.
It’s also a bit of a blank canvas when it comes to taste. A few herbs and spices can really change the flavor.
Wheat Vs. Almond Flour
Whether you’re a pie-lover or you’d rather go for a slice of cake, a Thanksgiving day feast isn’t complete until you’ve found room for some dessert.
What? You didn’t think I was going to say making healthy holiday choices meant having to deny your sweet-tooth, did you?
When you’re in the kitchen baking up a storm, try using almond flour instead of the typical wheat variety.
Typical white and wheat flour has virtually zero nutritional value. It has carbs and calories, which are both important in moderation…but that’s about it.
Almond flour has reduced carbs which means it’ll have less of an impact on your blood-sugar. It also has protein and healthy fats since it’s made from ground almonds. To top it all off, it’s naturally gluten-free, so people with sensitivities can eat it!
P.s. I’ve got desserts on my mind, but you can use the almond variety in any recipe that calls for regular flour.
Dairy Vs. Cashew Milk
My new friend, Holly Young, is a certified personal trainer & plant-based nutrition coach at Hōlvibe. Here’s what she had to say about switching out your dairy milk for something a little healthier:
“Cashew milk is my favorite milk for almost any dish. It’s super creamy and can be sweetened with dates. Just throw water and cashews in a blender to make this milk. You could add dates or any other sweetener if you want. I even make pumpkin spice cashew milk for my homemade chai lattes so I’m certain that’d translate beautifully to pumpkin pie or a raw vegan pumpkin cheesecake. So yummy!”
Traditional Vs. Veggie Noodles
When you’re cooking for hours on end to get ready for your Thanksgiving day guests, cooking another meal is probably the last thing you’ll want to do. I get it, but you also likely want something more wholesome than take-out or some frozen meal if you can help it.
Pasta dishes are a great go-to option for a home-cooked meal that’s simple, fast, and filling. Regular pasta on its own is perfectly fine, but much like flour, it doesn’t have much nutritional value on its own.
Misti Tate agrees. She loves switching out regular pasta with noodles made from zucchini or spaghetti squash. Once you add a little pasta sauce, you’ll have a delicious meal with extra vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Sugar Vs. Honey & Agave
Regular sugar is…well, just sugar. It’s sweet and delicious, but it doesn’t have much nutritional value. Not to mention eating too much of it can sometimes make you feel a little sluggish, especially after a big meal.
Honey and agave syrup are two alternatives you can use that will be a little easier on your glycemic levels that don’t involve sacrificing sweetness in your desserts, tea, or coffee.
Both options also have additional nutritional benefits. It’s a simple swap that will add a little extra potassium, zinc, and even vitamin C and calcium to your diet.
Milk Vs. Dark Chocolate
Is there anything better than eating something decadent and chocolatey? It’s a pretty perfect experience if I do say so myself.
Since chocolate is so indulgent-seeming, many people try to cut it out of their lives completely when they start their wellness journey. That sort of all-or-nothing mentality can work…but if what you’re cutting out is something you love, like chocolate, it can backfire.
Rather than saying no to chocolate completely, why don’t you try a few alternatives?
The biggest issue with milk chocolate is its sugar content. Luckily, there’s an easy alternative. My girl Misit once again has a great recommendation: dark chocolate or cacao nibs. They’re less processed and have fewer added sugars, so they still have some of cocoa’s natural bitterness. If you’re used to eating super sweet milk chocolate, it might take a little while to get used to these less-sweet options, but soon you’ll be craving them!
A great way to start swapping milk and dark chocolate is by baking. Your other ingredients like honey, cashew milk, and vanilla will add other flavors to make the difference in chocolatey sweetness virtually non-existent.
Salt Vs. Other Herbs & Spices
A final simple way you can make your Thanksgiving dinner a little healthier is to try to reduce your salt intake by embracing the rest of your spice cabinet.
Salt is a staple that definitely belongs in your recipes, but it can be easy to rely on it a little too much to add flavor to what you eat. Excessive amounts of salt can raise your blood pressure which can put unnecessary strain on your heart.
Luckily, there are dozens of other ways you can make your turkey, casseroles, and other dishes taste incredible. Rosemary, thyme, pepper, and garlic are just a few examples of simple alternatives to salt you can use to create flavorful meals with a little less sodium.
None of the foods that I gave replacements for in this article are bad. There’s no such thing as bad food or ingredients! However, they aren’t always the most nutritious. The main goal is to choose the healthier option if doing so isn’t going to detrimentally alter your recipe. Pursuing wellness is about making sustainable changes and choices over time, not flashy drastic ones that you can’t (and probably don’t want to) maintain.
I hope you got inspired to make a few healthy swaps while you enjoy yourself this Thanksgiving!
Check out my friends Misti and Holly on their Instagram and website (links below) and have the happiest Thanksgiving ever.
You can see more from Misti on Instagram @misti_coaches!
You can find Holly at holvibe.com