Thanksgiving Dinner: Same Taste, Less Calories

One of the most joyful times of year is fall. Colorful leaves, cozy sweaters and the holidays! Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the years because of all the deliciousness during Thanksgiving dinner.

A nice piece of stuffed turkey dripped in gravy and accompanied by cranberry sauce.  Sweet potato mash, corn bread and bean casserole on the side. Concluding the dinner with a great piece of pecan pie. And let’s not forget a good glass of wine during the afternoon or evening…or both. It all sounds wonderful, but what we often forget is that a Thanksgiving dinner contains on average between 2,500-3,000 calories. And depending on the drinks and snacks beforehand, that number can even go up.
“No problem, I’ll sweat and work it off at the gym.”  Right? Well, chances are that it won’t happen over the holidays. Research shows that we gain less weight during the holiday period than assumed, but we never lose that extra 0.5 pounds in later seasons.

How do you keep calories in check without losing the flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner?
We looked at the traditional dishes and listed some alternatives so you can enjoy the dinner without being stuffed with calories!

1. Turkey: avoid the dark meat


88% of Americans eat Turkey for Thanksgiving. When you’re ready to dive into the beast, pick your pieces of meat carefully. The rule of thumb goes like this: The whiter the meat, the less calories it contains. 1 oz. of turkey skin contains 110 calories, and 1 oz of turkey thigh meat contains 45 calories, whereas 1 oz of skinless turkey breast meat contains only 29 calories. By picking the whitest pieces of the meat (like turkey breast) you can easily avoid calories but still consume important nutrients like protein, calcium and potassium.

Turkey Breast Gravy

How about going for the white meat with an apple cider glaze? This recipe for Apple Cider Glazed Turkey Breast helps you avoid the calories of turkey skin and dark meat without losing taste!

2. Stuffing

In 2005, more than 60 million people used pre-package stuffing, which contains 220 calories per cup.

If you decide to make the stuffing yourself, traditional stuffing often consists of butter, chicken broth and bread cubes, ingredients that can push the calorie and sodium counter higher.

How about scaling back on traditional stuffing and trying something less traditional but as flavorful?

Mushroom, quinoa stuffing
Picture: NYTimes

Try this recipe of  healthy stuffing with wild rice, quinoa, mushrooms and white wine.  It’s not meant to be stuffed inside a turkey, so you can enjoy it as a side at your feast.


3. Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potatoes Calories

Sweet potatoes are one of the oldest crops on Earth and have been around for more than 8,000 years. They are fat and cholestorol free. Wait, what? Indeed! Sweet potatoes contain mostly carbs. Sweet potatoes are excellent sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and other nutrients. One cup of plain mashed sweet potato boasts almost 40,000 micrograms of beta carotene.

Sweet potato casserole? Mashed sweet potatoes? Sweet potato gratin? The varieties are endless. But be careful to add unnecessary calories to your diet. Often times butter, milk and even marshmallows are added to mashed sweet potatoes, which adds up in calories.  If you opt for a sweet potato casserole, calories skyrocket because of the brown sugar and marshmallow topping.

Dairy Free Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Try this mashed sweet potato with chicken broth instead of cream, butter and heavy milk  if you’d like to reduce your calorie count.

Sweet Potato vs Butternut Squash

If you want to keep a deep flavor, but go even more down on calories, you can opt for butternut squash instead of sweet potatoes during your Thanksgiving dinner. Butternut squash contains a little more than half the calories of sweet potatoes. Worth the try?

Butternut Squash Puree

You can easily turn butternut squash into mashed potatoes or puree without even touching potatoes. Try this step-by-step recipe for butternut squash puree for a lighter and less caloric version of sweet potatoes.

4. Green Bean Casserole

Green bean casserole vs cooked beans

A green bean casserole is a delight to the eye but less to the body. It is made of fatty cream and whole milk and  topped with deep-fried onion rings. It contains a lot more calories than green beans.

Lemon Green Beans

Want to spice up your green beans without too many casserole calories? Try this lemon green beans recipe.

5. Cranberry sauce

Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce
At the Thanksgiving table, cranberry sauce is often gravy’s accomplice in making your turkey extra delicious. But when preparing your Thanksgiving dinner, you can skip a lot of calories by taking the effort of making cranberry sauce yourself instead of opting for a canned version, which comes with a load of added sugar to disguise the sour taste of cranberries. A lot of those extra calories come from the added sugar. (Fresh cranberries contain only 11 calories per 1/4th cup)

Orange Cranberry Sauce Thanksgiving

Have an extra 15 minutes and want to try a light, savory homemade cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving? Check out this recipe for low sugar orange cranberry sauce!

6. Pecan pie

Pecan pie vs Pumpkin Pie

Pecan pie often makes up a sizeable portion of calories during a Thanksgiving dinner. On average, a slice slice contains 503 calories. Pecans are healthy by themselves, but high in fat and fiber. If you mix them with ingredients of a pie (e.g., butter, flour, sugar) you get a big ol’ slice of calorie bomb.
If you want to keep a pie as part of your Thanksgiving dinner, replace the pecan pie with pumpkin pie. It contains less calories and fat.

Crustless Pumpkin Pie

How about reducing calories a little bit more and trying a crustless pumpkin pie? With this easy recipe you’ll reduce the calories to 95 calories per slice. What? Yes, it’s possible!

7. Go easy on those things:


1 cup of Campbell’s Turkey Gravy equals 100 calories. It might seem a small amount considering you’ll probably only eat 1/4 cup, but gravy is full of saturated fats and sugars. If you want to make a difference, make your own low-fat mushroom gravy or go for something totally different and try parsley puree made of parsley and olive oil.


With 168 calories per muffin and not much nutritients, pass on the cornbread and choose other nutritious sides during Thanksgiving dinner.

Bread pudding

1 cup of bread pudding contains 306 calories. Bread pudding is just like pie and made of eggs, butter and sugar. Don’t go overboard with this dessert.

Bread rolls

You might be eyeing that plate of bread rolls ahead of your meal, but try looking the other way: Bread roll recipes consists out of milk, eggs, sugar, butter, flour and some extra ingredients. A bread roll can contain up to 180 calories. It’s basicall a little bread bomb: a lot of calories for little nutrients. Why not wait say bye bye to the bread rolls and just until the turkey is served to satiate yourself?

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Community manager @Addapp. Fascinated by sleep tracking, healthy nutrition, technology, social media, sunny days and Addapp users.
Training to run the Half Marathon of San Francisco.

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