Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to celebrate healthy, wholesome, locally sourced foods.
In fact, the more colors and flavors you feature at your Thanksgiving table…the healthier the meal!
So, today, let’s talk about eight delicious trimmings I hope you will enjoy alongside your turkey on Thursday…
Add these eight healthy foods to your holiday spread
1.) Sweet potatoes. As I reported last week, sweet potatoes make a great addition to any holiday feast, as long as you skip the added sugars and marshmallows. They’re packed with fiber—so we know they support healthy digestion and metabolism. They also have lots of magnesium and potassium, which support healthy blood pressure.
A sweet potato’s bright orange color also tells us that it has lots of carotenoids—powerful antioxidants that protect you from disease and aging. (I helped discover the role of carotenoids in food nutrient composition, and in human metabolism, with researchers at the National Institutes of Health [NIH] and the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] during the mid-1980s.)
I suggest roasting and serving whole sweet potatoes, with the skins on (for the added nutrition). Then, you can add a dab of organic butter and some healthy spices—like allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. To finish them off, you can sprinkle some chopped nuts, like pecans or walnuts—or even a little coconut—before serving.
2.) Butternut squash. Like sweet potatoes, this Thanksgiving mainstay has loads of healthy fiber, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids. And you can prepare it in a variety of ways…
Roasting the squash and turning it into a soup is perhaps the simplest way to serve a big crowd. You can prepare it ahead of time and bring the soup tureen with you—if you’re going somewhere else to dine—as a healthy, tasty appetizer.
Or if you’re serving a smaller crowd on Thanksgiving, just cut the squash in half and roast it. Top it with any of the additions I mentioned above for sweet potatoes. Then, eat it right out of its own natural bowl.
3.) Green beans. I have many fond memories of sitting at the kitchen table with my grandmother and mother snapping the ends off green beans to prepare them for cooking. Green beans aren’t starchy—like other kinds of beans. In fact, experts consider them a green vegetable, since we eat the green outer pods and the beans within. Plus, compared to sweet potatoes and squash, they’re lower in carbs and contain more protein.
I suggest sautéing fresh green beans in butter and/or olive oil. You can also bake them in a healthy casserole. Just make sure to skip the ultra-processed mushroom soups and fried onions. Experiment with fresh, wholesome foods—like chopped celery and onions—to create an even tastier casserole instead. You can sprinkle some healthy spices and full-fat cheese on top!
4.) Mushrooms. I also enjoy serving stuffed mushrooms on Thanksgiving. Mushrooms, which are technically fungi, offer potent prostate protection. Plus, a recent study found that older adults who consume just a 1.5 cups of mushrooms per week can reduce their risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) by a staggering 50 percent.
So, clearly, they make a great addition to ANY meal…not just special meals, like Thanksgiving!
I make my stuffing for mushrooms with a base of organic breadcrumbs, sautéed celery and onions, a cheese (like feta, goat, or mozzarella), and fresh, cracked pepper. Then, you can add some seafood, like crab, for some added protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
Of course, if you’re busy enough stuffing the turkey on Thanksgiving, you can skip the stuffing and just sauté the mushrooms with onions. (You can also add mushrooms to your Turkey Mole Tacos, as I will explain on Friday.)
5.) Cranberries. Every year, fresh cranberry sauce makes its way onto our Thanksgiving table. I find it adds a tart burst of refreshing goodness to the hearty, savory meal. Plus, cranberries have abundant nutrients, including:
- Vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K (essential for all aspects of your health)
- Copper (for red blood cells and your immune and nervous systems)
- Manganese (for building bones and connective tissues)
- Magnesium (for bone, brain, and heart health)
Cranberries also contain potent plant pigments called anthocyanins, which give fruits and berries their deep scarlet, purple, and blue colors. (Anthocyanins are similar to carotenoids, as found in sweet potatoes and squash.)
Click here to view my recipe for fresh cranberry sauce.
6.) Green salad. You can also make a large, fresh, green salad—with your own homemade dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar, fresh-squeezed lemon, Dijon mustard, and cracked pepper. As in Europe, this simple salad makes a refreshing end to the big, main meal.
7.) Homemade desserts. As I explained last year, studies show that enjoying some sweet, decadent foods—on occasion and in moderation—will NOT hurt your health. That being said, when it comes time for dessert on Thanksgiving, I suggest you opt for less sweet, more wholesome, homemade options—like my apple turnovers, my apple-blueberry pie, or a pumpkin pie with homemade purée.
Then, instead of ice cream as a topping, try using whole-milk, full-fat Greek yogurt—with some vanilla extract and extra cinnamon.
8.) Cider, wine, and spirits. Despite what the neo-prohibitionists try to tell you, drinking alcohol in moderation is good for your health. Especially your brain, heart, and metabolism!
So, if you’re eating later in the day, why not enjoy a festive cocktail while prepping for your meal? In New England, we liked to enjoy a refreshing “seabreeze.” It contains:
- 1 1/3 oz vodka
- 1 oz grapefruit juice
- 4 oz fresh cranberry juice (with no added sugar)
Mix all three ingredients together in a highball glass filled with a lime wedge.
You can also enjoy some hard cider, as the early Americans did. Or—if you just want to keep it simple, pop the cork on a bottle of wine.
I know many people insist that red wine is healthier. But that just isn’t true. Plus, red doesn’t really go well with your traditional Thanksgiving Day foods.
Instead, I suggest opting for a nice, dry white—such as a sauvignon blanc, Pouilly-Fuissé, or Pouilly-Fumé. Or, if you’re in the mood for something different, try some Greek Retsina. It’s a white wine made with the resin of the Aleppo pine. (Learn more about this healthy Mediterranean drink in the February 2021 issue of my monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter.)
No matter what you choose to serve on Thursday, take some time to kick back, relax, and give thanks. Because as I’ll explore on Thursday, gratitude is one of our most powerful and healthy emotions.
“The Association between Mushroom Consumption and Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Community-Based Cross-Sectional Study in Singapore.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 68(1): 197-203, 2019. doi.org/10.3233/JAD-180959.