How to Lighten Up 5 Thanksgiving Favorites


How to Lighten Up 5 Thanksgiving Favorites

Can you guess how many calories the average American eats during their Thanksgiving feast? According to the Calorie Control Council a whopping 4,500 – plus a whopping 229 grams of fat! That means most folks will be consuming over 200-percent the average 2,000 recommended calories per day. However, you don’t have to be part of the statistic and can lighten up Thanksgiving favorites by making simple swaps or tweaks to dishes for additional protein. Here are 5 turkey day favorites and simple ways to lighten them up.


Sticks of butter and pounds of sausage tend to jack up the artery clogging saturated fat and calories in this holiday must-have. One cup of traditional homemade stuffing, on average, using white bread and sans the meat provides around 325 calories, 16 grams of fat, and less than 2 grams of fiber. Pile on the bacon, sausage, or other fatty meat of choice and that’s another 100 to 150 calories per serving for this side dish.

Simple Swaps:

  • Modify the meat: Remove the meat, use less meat – around ½ ounce per person for flavor, or use a leaner cut of meat.
  • Use less butter: You don’t need sticks of butter to keep your stuffing moist. Instead, use half the butter and supplement with a touch of low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock.
  • Use whole grains: Instead of enriched bread use 100% whole wheat bread or whole grains (like bulgur or brown rice) or a combo of white and 100% whole wheat bread. Also, be mindful of portions and keep them to around ½ cup to ¾ cups per person.

Mashed Potatoes

Traditional mashed potatoes provide about 400 calories per servings thanks to the gobs of butter and heavy cream. If the recipes uses one stick of butter (or ½ cup), that would add 816 calories to the recipe. If the recipe serves 6 people, that’s 136 calories just from the butter. Add one-half cup of heavy cream and that’s another 67 calories per serving – or close to 200 calories just from fat!

Simple Swaps:

  • Modify the butter: Halve the amount of butter in the recipe and/or use whipped butter than have fewer calories per amount.
  • Modify the heavy cream: Swap the heavy cream for whole milk or reduced fat milk. That will cut the calories and saturated fat significantly.
  • Add fiber: Most folks don’t meet their daily recommended amount of fiber. Leaving the skin on the potatoes can help add some extra fiber.
  • Add low-calorie flavor enhancers: If you’re cutting back on butter and heavy cream then add more flavor using low-calorie herbs, spices, and vegetables. Chives, onion, and garlic add mouthwatering deliciousness to mashed potatoes.
  • Swap half the potatoes for cauliflower: If you’re looking to cut back on some carbs you can make your mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower combined with potatoes.

Cranberry Sauce

Many folks use the canned version which is brimming with added sugar. You’ll get plenty of added sugar from the rest of your meal so cutting back on your cranberry sauce is a smart move.

Simple Swaps:

  • Make you own: When you make your own cranberry sauce, then you have full control over the ingredients. Making your own only takes 10 to 15 minutes and you can always halve the sugar in the recipe.
  • Add flavor enhancers: Instead of using a ton of sugar in your cranberry sauce, use orange zest and lemon juice to add flavor for few calories.

Green Bean Casserole

A traditional green bean casserole can rack up about 550 calories per serving. That’s because the recipe usually calls for tons of cheese, gobs of heavy cream, and the crunchy fried onion topping.

Simple Swaps:

  • Replace the heavy cream: Instead make a slurry, which is a combination of cornstarch or flour with a liquid. In this case, create the thickener using low fat milk and flour.
  • Cut back on cheese: Aim for about 2 tablespoons of cheese per serving. Use a reduced fat cheese to help cut back on calories and saturated fat. Avoid fat free cheese that doesn’t tend to melt well or be very tasty.
  • Replace the fried onions: Instead sauté fresh onions in 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil or use crunchy panko (Japanese-style) breadcrumbs.

Apple Pie

An average slice of apple pie can contain over 400 calories and 20 grams of total fat. Add a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream and you’ve upped the calories to at least 500 or more! The ice cream and whipped cream aren’t really the main issue. Rather, the crust and filling is where things can be adjusted. Some filling recipes call for tons of butter adding artery clogging saturated fat.

Simple Swaps:

  • Cut back on butter: You don’t need tons of butter especially in the filling. Cut back majorly on it in the filling and save it for the crust.
  • Be mindful of your apples: Each apple provides about 70 calories. Aim for about one-half to three-quarters of an apple per serving.
  • Opt for an open-faced pie: Instead of making a pie crust that is covered on top, opt for a galette, which is open-faced apple tart. It will help cut back significantly on calories and saturated fat. You can also opt for a warm apple crisp made with a delicious, crunchy topping which includes rolled oats, nuts, and seeds.

Pecan Pie

While apple and pumpkin pie have about 400 calories per serving, pecan pie can pile on over 500 calories because of the boatload of nuts. Just to put it into perspective, one ounce of pecans (about 20 halves) provides 196 calories and 20.4 grams of total fat. Although pecans are certainly a healthy nuts providing 19 vitamins and minerals, adding cups to your recipe can add hundreds of unnecessary calories to your pie. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and it will be closer to 650 calories per serving.

Simple Swaps:

  • Swap the crust: Make an open-faced tart (AKA galette) instead of a full pie with the crust over the top.
  • Use less pecans: Halve the amount of pecans the recipe calls for.
  • Use less butter: Use one-third to one-half less butter the recipe calls for in the filling.
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