Photo: Jennifer Causey

Find the best healthy Thanksgiving recipes, from savory stuffing to tasty sweet potatoes, in our ultimate turkey day planner.

Elizabeth Laseter
September 29, 2017

Making healthy recipes for Thanksgiving doesn't mean you have to sacrifice butter, cheese, and salt. Yes, a Thanksgiving meal is likely higher in fat, calories, and sodium than your average everyday meal, but you can minimize the damage by ensuring that your dinner plate isn’t just turkey, gravy, potatoes, and stuffing. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends filling up your plate with salad and vegetables before heartier dishes to help you take in less calories during the meal. The organization also notes a common Thanksgiving mistake that even the healthiest eaters make—assuming that nutrient-rich foods are fair game for massive portion sizes. While Thanksgiving can evoke the “feast” mentality, moderation should always be the goal, whether it’s a healthy sweet potato dish or classic macaroni and cheese. 

Our healthy Thanksgiving menu ideas will help you plan the perfect clean eating feast so you and your guests can avoid the post-meal turkey coma. Whether you’re cooking for a crowd or feeding a smaller group, our healthy Thanksgiving menu is guaranteed to please all palates. Find easy healthy stuffing recipes, healthy sweet potato recipes, healthy Thanksgiving dessert recipes, and more so you can plan your tastiest, most nutritious gathering yet.  

Healthy Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes

Healthy Appetizers

When choosing healthy Thanksgiving appetizer recipes, aim for lighter foods that won’t tempt guests to overeat before the big meal. Crudité platters, bite-sized savory tarts, creamy Greek yogurt-based dips, and hummus are your best bets.  

VIEW GALLERY: Healthy Thanksgiving Appetizer Recipes

Broiled Shrimp with Buttermilk Rémoulade: Rémoulade is a tangy mayonnaise-based French sauce that’s commonly paired with fresh seafood, but it can be high in fat. Our guilt-free version matches the creaminess of the original recipe with canola mayo, Greek yogurt, and fat-free buttermilk.

Caramelized Leek and Spinach Dip: Classic spinach and cheese dip often packs unnecessary amounts of calories and saturated fat. Our lightened version relies on caramelized leeks—not cheese—for flavor and uses protein-rich Greek yogurt for a creamy texture. Serve with sliced veggies such as radishes, carrots, and endive leaves, or homemade pita chips.

Bacon Phyllo Cups: Salty, sweet, and tangy all at once, bacon, brie, and apricot jam combine inside mini phyllo cups for a ultra-satisfying two-bite snack. Center-cut bacon keeps the fat low while paper-thin phyllo, or Greek pastry dough, lends plenty of crunch.

Smoked Salmon Salad in Cucumber Cups: Scooped-out cucumber cups make perfect low-calorie vessels for creamy smoked salmon salad. Substitute chives for the green onions if you prefer a softer, less pungent onion flavor.

Beet Hummus with Blue Cheese and Walnuts: Beets give this ruby red hummus a satisfying earthy flavor and a load of essential nutrients. To avoid a beet bloodbath, protect your hands by wearing a pair of disposable latex gloves when handling. If blue cheese is too pungent, you can swap it for milder feta.

Healthy Side Dishes

To get the most nutrition from your Thanksgiving feast, fill your plate with colorful healthy side dishes from leafy greens to crunchy root veggies. Our healthy takes on much-loved classics pack flavor from nutritious ingredients such as fresh herbs and tangy vinegars. When deciding how many sides to prepare, take the advice of Cooking Light Senior Food Editor Tim Cebula—lots.

VIEW GALLERY: Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Raw and Roasted Carrots and Fennel: This provocative dish juxtaposes the flavors and textures of raw and roasted carrots and fennel. We toss the vegetables with a simple lemon vinaigrette, then top them off with feta cheese and chopped pistachios. You can substitute fresh parsley for cilantro if you prefer a more neutral-tasting herb.

Sweet Potato Casserole: While classic marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole may feel comforting and nostalgic, the overload in sugar isn’t worth the indulgence. Our healthier version balances sweet potato’s natural earthiness with a lightly sweet vanilla bean, oat, and pecan streusel.

5 Ways to Royally Mess Up Sweet Potato Casserole

Maple-Caraway Brussels Sprouts: Fragrant, anise-flavored caraway seeds enhance crispy sautéed Brussels sprouts in this fresh approach to a classic side dish. To achieve a perfect caramelization, make sure you’re using a large enough skillet to allow the Brussels sprouts to brown evenly.

Blood Orange and Radicchio Salad: Tangy-sweet blood oranges balance bitter radicchio leaves in this stunning fall-inspired salad. If you can’t find blood oranges, you can substitute navel oranges. Fennel fronds, or the green “feathers” on the fennel stalk, finish the salad by adding a pop of color and a delicate anise flavor.

Haricots Verts with Warm Shallot Vinaigrette: Green beans are an essential part of any Thanksgiving table, but their flavor often gets lost inside a cheesy casserole. Our elegant recipe showcases these delicate and crunchy-tender green beans in their purest, cleanest form.

Classic Turkey Gravy: While turkey parts like the heart, neck, and gizzards may sound obscure, they’re crucial ingredients that can easily take a gravy sauce from bland to extraordinary. This go-to basic recipe can easily be riffed nto tasty variations using a splash of red wine or generous pinch of black pepper.

White Balsamic and Rosemary Cranberry Sauce: Canned cranberry sauce has a special place at Thanksgiving tables, but it’s often loaded with artificial ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup. Minimize sugar by making your own from scratch with fresh cranberries. Our recipe elevates the traditional recipe with fragrant rosemary and white balsamic.

Healthy Stuffing

Finding healthy stuffing recipes for Thanksgiving may sound like a daunting task, but this much-loved classic dish can easily be made wholesome and nutritious with the right ingredients. Instead of store bought stuffing mix—which can be high in sodium and may have preservatives—our healthy Thanksgiving stuffing recipes achieve big flavors from fresh ingredients.

VIEW GALLERY: Healthy Thanksgiving Stuffing Recipes

Ham, Gruyère, and Onion Stuffing: Luscious Gruyère cheese, lower-sodium ham (such as Applegate Farms), and caramelized onions makes for a crave-worthy stuffing that feels indulgent while keeping nutrition in check.

Pear, Sage, and Golden Raisin Stuffing: This sophisticated stuffing celebrates delicious fall pears by elevating them with whole-wheat sourdough bread cubes, fresh sage, tart golden raisins, and thick-cut bacon.

Herbed Bread Stuffing with Mushrooms and Sausage: This addictive stuffing is lower in calories, fat, and sodium thanks to fresh ingredients and aromatics. A meaty duo of cremini mushrooms and sweet turkey sausage makes magic with sourdough bread cubes and delicate herbs.

Dirty Farro Stuffing: Bring a taste of New Orleans to this year’s Thanksgiving feast with this Cajun-inspired whole-grain stuffing. Traditional dirty rice uses minced chicken livers to add a deeply comforting flavor—in our version, we mix them into veggies and farro for a similar effect.

Southern Corn Bread Dressing Squares: This savory corn bread dressing uses a clever trick that saves on fat while enhancing the flavor—instead of using all of the butter in the batter, we brush part of it over top during baking to create a golden brown crust. Pre-portioning squares before serving eliminates the worry of guests fighting over who gets the best piece, whether it’s the soft centers or crispier edges.

Healthy Breads

Whether it’s muffins, yeast rolls, or corn bread, homemade bread adds a special touch to any Thanksgiving table. Our healthy bread recipes use nutritious whole grain flours such as whole-wheat flour and spelt flour that also pack fiber and protein. If you have time, make butter from scratch, such as our fall-inspired Sherry-Pear Butter, to serve alongside your bread.

VIEW GALLERY: Healthy Thanksgiving Breads Recipes

Whole-Grain Spelt and Cornmeal Biscuits: Sweet and nutty spelt flour is the star ingredient in these simple, no-rise biscuits. If you don’t own a biscuit cutter, don’t fret—we cut the dough into squares to ensure no stray scraps.

Herbed Whole-Grain Yeast Rolls: Thanksgiving guests of all ages will flock to these buttery herbed yeast rolls. With only 109 calories per roll, you won’t have to feel too guilty about reaching for a second helping.

Chocolate-Tahini Banana Bread: Banana bread gets a fresh makeover with healthy ingredients such as tahini, whole-wheat flour, and bittersweet chocolate, and heart-healthy sesame seeds. This recipe makes a perfect quick breakfast or energizing snack for guests while you prep for the big meal ahead.

Browned Butter Whole-Wheat Muffins: This go-to muffin recipe is delicious on its own, but it can easily be enhanced by adding sweet or savory ingredients to the batter—try dried fruit, dark chocolate chips, chopped nuts, bacon, shredded cheese, or fresh herbs.

Parmesan Corn Muffins: To bake mini versions of these cheesy corn muffins, spoon the batter into 24 miniature muffin cups and make sure to adjust the bake time accordingly. You can also play around with herbs, such as substituting the chives for chopped fresh thyme or rosemary.

Healthy Turkey Recipes

Naturally lean turkey is well suited for a healthy Thanksgiving feast, but it’s prone to drying out during roasting. Our healthy Thanksgiving turkey recipes showcase simple flavor-boosting tricks such as brining, curing, and spatchcocking. Once you’ve feasted on the moist and succulent meat, don’t forget leftovers, which can be spun into a multitude of tasty weeknight dishes.

VIEW GALLERY: Healthy Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes

Honey-Bourbon Spatchcocked Turkey: Brining turkey before roasting it is a foolproof way to ensure juicy, flavorful meat. After the bird gets a boost from a bourbon-honey brine, we spatchcock it, or remove the backbone. The turkey roasts flat in the oven, allowing it to cook evenly and develop a flawlessly crisp skin.

See More: How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Rosemary Butter-Rubbed Turkey with Porcini Gravy: Rubbing herbed butter underneath the turkey’s skin before roasting imparts rich flavors and locks in moisture. This stunning recipe puts this simple technique to the test with a fragrant rosemary butter. After the turkey cooks, we make a heavenly gravy with the roasting liquid, porcini and shitake mushrooms, and Madeira wine.

Tuscan Turkey: Slow-roasting garlic softens its normally pungent kick and coaxes out a gentle sweetness. Here, we use this garlic to make a luscious herbed butter that’s rubbed underneath the turkey skin before roasting.

Cider-Glazed Turkey with Roasted Apples: After a brine of apple cider and other aromatics, we elevate the turkey’s flavor further by rubbing thyme butter underneath the skin. Then, we roast the bird with caramelized apples and vegetables to mouthwatering perfection.

Brown Sugar-Cured Turkey with Apple-Bourbon Gravy: Dry-rubbing your turkey packs essentially the same benefits as brining and yields juicy, flavorful meat that won’t dry out during roasting. Here, we break down the turkey ahead of time to speed up the roasting process, then rub it in a mixture of salt, brown sugar, and spices.

Healthy Desserts

Our healthy Thanksgiving dessert recipes are guaranteed to end your turkey day gathering on a sweet note. These delicious recipes don’t rely on added sugar for flavor and focus on the natural sweetness of seasonal ingredients such as cranberries, pumpkin, and apples.

VIEW GALLERY: Healthy Thanksgiving Dessert Recipes

Pecan-Date Pie: This isn’t your grandmother’s pecan pie recipe, but we can safely say it’s lower in sugar. Oat flour gives the flaky crust a whole-grain boost, while the filling pairs naturally sweet dates with dark corn syrup.

Mini Cranberry Tarts: Find the perfect use for leftover cranberry sauce in these two-bite mini tarts that keep portion size in check while satisfying guests’ sweet tooth.

Easy Individual Apple Crisps with Oatmeal Crumble: Spin much loved, but not-always-healthy, apple pie into perfectly-portioned individual fruit crisps. Choose store bought oatmeal cookies that are low in added sugar, such as Back to Nature Crispy Oatmeal Cookies.

Roasted Pumpkin Pie: A healthy Thanksgiving meal doesn't have to sacrifice pumpkin pie—to keep nutrition in check, try a few simple ingredient swaps. This recipe swaps canned pumpkin for fresh pumpkin, which is richer in flavor and packs a velvety texture. Roasting the pumpkin whole also makes the skin easier to peel before puréeing the flesh.