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Healthy Holiday Foods to Include at Your Thanksgiving Table

According to the Calorie Control Council, Americans may consume more than 4,500 calories at their Thanksgiving dinner. Throw in some healthy options. Not only will those with health issues appreciate it, so will everyone's waistline.


According to the Calorie Control Council, Americans may consume more than 4,500 calories at their Thanksgiving dinner. It takes 3,500 calories to add up to a pound of weight. The turkey should be the only thing stuffed at Thanksgiving.

When planning the menu, focus on not only traditional holiday foods, but how they will be prepared. Throw in some healthy options. Not only will those with health issues appreciate it, so will everyone’s waistline. 

Honestly, the Thanksgiving sides are what make the meal for me. The sweet potato soufflé, dressing, green bean casserole and all those other goodies. What can you do to enjoy these favorites yet still be mindful of calories? Choosing the correct serving size will be helpful.

The infamous green bean casserole has 230 calories per 1 cup, while everyone’s favorite candied yams come in at 206 calories per 1 cup. Let’s not forget the dressing. The average recipe comes in around 350 calories per 1 cup.

With these high calorie counts, you may want to stick to one serving of each and stay away from seconds. Your plate already has 786 calories and you haven’t even added the turkey, roll or cranberry sauce. Nor have you hit the dessert table featuring desserts only prepared once a year.

You can include numerous holiday foods in your menu that will please everyone by simply making small changes they likely won’t even notice, until they are less likely to let out their belt at the end of the meal. Just don’t tell them that you have made them a little healthier.

Here is my list of the top holiday foods to include in the menu.

  • Pumpkin- Pumpkins are low in calories, fat, and sodium and are high in fiber. They are good sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein, and iron. It is a healthy holiday food until you turn it into a traditional Pumpkin Pie made with eggs, sugar, and evaporated milk and baked in a high-fat pie crust. You can make changes by making your crust with ginger snaps instead of a traditional pie crust. This small change saves from 165 to 220 calories per slice.
  • Cranberries- Cranberries are packed with Vitamin C and also provide a fair amount of dietary fiber and manganese. Cranberries also contain a type of antioxidant that can prevent the adhesion of bacteria to the urinary tract, something that can lead to urinary tract infection. One fourth cup of jellied cranberry sauce is approximately 110 calories. Make it yourself to lower the sugar level.
  • Sweet Potatoes- Sweet potatoes are a rich source of antioxidants such as Vitamin C and beta-carotene. Similar to the banana, it is also an excellent source of potassium. If you eat the skin, you will also reap the health benefits of fiber, making the sweet potato a healthy holiday food.
  • Green Beans- Green beans are probably one of the healthiest holiday foods out there.  They are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese. They also contain a good amount of vitamin A, dietary fiber, potassium, folate, and iron. Green bean casserole is a traditional holiday dish that is high in calories due to the cream of mushroom soup, fried onions and milk. Lighten it up by using fat-free cream of mushroom soup and skim or 1 percent milk. No one will know unless you tell them.
  • Turkey- Turkey offers the least amount of fat per serving among all other meats, IF you pass on the skin. In addition to being an excellent source of protein, it is low in fat and an inexpensive source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins. A serving of turkey is  3 and one half ounces of the cooked portion. Different parts of the turkey add different calories. Again, practice portion control. A 3.5 ounce portion is a serving. Calories differ according to what part you eat. The breast with skin is 194 calories. Skip the skin and save 33 calories. Opt to have the wing with skin and you have added 238 calories. The dark meat has more calories. Dark meat with skin offers 232 calories, without skin, it has 192 calories. 

Thanksgiving dinner is a time of tradition as well as a time to be thankful. You can still enjoy your favorite holiday foods, or a healthier version. This Best Light Pumpkin Pie replaces the high fat crust with ginger snaps. That small change will save you about 100 calories per serving.

Best Light Pumpkin Pie Recipe

  • 16 pieces of ginger snap cookies
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup egg whites
  • 1/3 cup sugar or sugar substitute
  • 1 1/2 cup evaporated skim milk
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grind ginger snaps in food processor or crush fine.
  3. Lightly spray a glass pie pan with cooking spray.
  4. Pat cookie crumbs into the bottom of the pan evenly.
  5. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and pour into the crust.
  6. Bake until knife comes out clean from center, about 45 minutes.
  7. Refrigerate and slice into 8 wedges or better yet, slice it into 10 wedges and you’ve decreased the calories to 120 per slice.


For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse.

By Carla Due
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Miller County Cooperative Extension Service
400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854
(870) 779-3609