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15 (Plant-Based) Food Swaps for a Healthier Thanksgiving

Updated: Feb 21


thanksgiving table

A feast of food, comforting aromas, familiar flavors, and connecting with loved ones — this most likely captures the essence of the Thanksgiving holiday for many. It's also a time when many leave the table feeling overly stuffed and new year resolution plans may have started creeping into your thoughts. But it doesn't have to be this cycle of going all in and indulging from the moment Thanksgiving starts through the end of the year when all of that ceases and diets commence. This time of year can be a time of balance, consuming all of the foods you know and love while also feeling vibrant and healthy.


Imagine this: You indulge in all of the familiar Thanksgiving flavors and textures, but leave the table feeling a little lighter, a lot more energized, and pleasantly full instead of overstuffed.


Can Thanksgiving food be healthy?

vegetables

The short answer is yes, absolutely!


Consuming healthier versions of the sides you know and love like cranberry sauce, stuffing, cornbread, casseroles, and dessert while still getting the same or similar flavors and textures is not only possible but you may find that healthier versions taste even better!


For example, instead of a cranberry sauce sweetened with lots of refined sugar, try it naturally sweetened with pomegranate juice and date paste — the flavor is out of this world! Not to mention, the nutritional content is off the charts. The pomegranate juice and date paste not only offer natural sweetness but they also offer lots of antioxidant power from the pomegranate juice and fiber and minerals from the date paste.


With just a few simple swaps this holiday season, you could be enjoying all of the familiar flavors and textures while nourishing your body and your mind. This goes beyond general health, friends. When the food you eat nourishes you, whether it's during the holidays or any other time, you are happier, more energized, and may find that your connections with family and friends are even deeper. The food you eat can literally affect everything from your mindset to your relationships.


Here are 15 ways to make some unnoticeable swaps in traditional dishes you know and love that may make a difference in your body and mind health this holiday season.


potatoes

Use plant-based milk and plant-based butter in place of dairy milk or cream and dairy butter to reduce the saturated fat content of your mashed potatoes.

You're probably aware that saturated fat has been linked to high cholesterol and heart disease, but what may be new to you is that saturated fat has also been linked to joint inflammation, gut dysbiosis (unhealthy gut), cognitive decline, and overall inflammation. The highest concentrations of saturated fat are in animal products. Therefore, anytime you can swap lower-saturated fat plant-based products for animal products, you're doing your body and your mind some good. Or, change your mashed into a baked potato smashed (pictured above) with some plant-based parmesan. Yum!


potatoes

Use unsweetened plant-based yogurt in place of sour cream for smashed or mashed potatoes.

This not only reduces the saturated fat content, but it also adds some gut-loving probiotics! There are lots of tasty and creamy plant-based yogurts on the market like Kite Hill, Forager Project, So Delicious and Silk.


grilled cauliflower

Swap out the turkey meat and grill portobello mushrooms, eggplant, or grilled cauliflower instead.

I know, I know, some of you may (affectionately) think I'm nuts. :D I realize that this may not be the same texture swap, but you can still use the same sage, rosemary, and other herbal seasonings that you would use when making turkey. Mushrooms and eggplant create a wonderful meaty texture and umami flavors when grilled! Cauliflower is just super cool when roasted and it has a buttery, melt-in-your mouth texture. So, instead of thinking that a swap like this will create the exact replica, consider it as something new and adventurous (as long as you're not going to get a lot of backlash from auntie or uncle). If you don't think this technique will work in your home, consider the next swap instead ...


tofurky
photo credit: Tofurky

Consider swapping out the turkey with a plant based meat like Meati which uses mushrooms to create chicken and steak or Tofurky that uses vital wheat gluten and tofu to boost fiber intake while decreasing saturated fat.

Another plant-based meat that ranks high on my personal faves is No Evil Foods. Their ingredients are simple, flavors are outstanding, and their practices superbly support the planet.



grilled vegetables

Make side dishes, like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and green beans (to name a few!)  the stars of the show!

Instead of having turkey be the centerpiece, consider a meat free Thanksgiving and focus on the sides. This will also:

  • eliminate the stress of having to get up early in the morning to roast the turkey.

  • eliminate the pressure of the turkey potentially coming out dry.

  • boost fiber intake at Thanksgiving since it will be veggie-centric (fiber rich) rather than meat-centric (no fiber). Fiber can also fill you up more quickly, making it less likely to overeat and more likely to leave the table feeling good.


vegan biscuits
image credit: New York Times


If you’re having dinner rolls, consider whole grain rolls that have at least 3 grams of fiber per roll compared to white bread rolls that have one gram or less.

Try these sweet potato biscuits if you'd like to try a melt-in-your-mouth substitute for traditional rolls.


cranberry sauce

Instead of using refined sugar for cranberry sauce, use date paste or natural fruit juice to sweeten the cranberries and make cranberry sauce.

Here is the Pomegranate Cranberry Sauce I mentioned earlier. :)


cherry pie

Desserts that require eggs may be candidates for egg substitutes like a flax egg or chia egg, both of which are fiber- and omega 3 fatty acid-rich.

Check out the article Baking with Flax and Chia Seed "Eggs" for more details on how to use these nutrition superstars successfully in baking.


Reduce sugar content in desserts by 25%.

You won't know the difference! P.S. You may be asking what about sugar substitutes? Personally, I don't recommend many of them. They offer a lot of sweetness and some offer unpleasant, or worse, harmful side effects. The goal is really to become less dependent on extreme sweetness and enjoy a balance of flavors from sweet to salty to bitter to sour to umami.


Use 25-50% less butter (even if it's plant-based!) in recipes like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and casseroles.

Again, you won't notice a difference!


mushroom gravy

Make a veggie centric gravy that has all of the umami flavors of turkey gravy.

You may have heard that mushrooms are all the rage for their ability to substitute meat in recipes with their meaty texture and umami flavor. What's more, they're loaded with nutrition! One little button mushroom is actually all it takes to show cancer reducing, immune-enhancing benefits. This Magical Mushroom Gravy is powered with mushrooms that your body, mind, and belly will love.


chia seeds

Instead of traditional stuffing made with dairy butter, eggs and white bread, consider using plant-based butter, flax or chia eggs in place of traditional eggs, and whole grain bread to decrease the saturated fat and increase the fiber content.


wild rice stuffed acorn squash

Instead of traditional stuffing that may include white bread, sausage, and butter, try this Wild Rice Mushroom Stuffing for something new, tasty, and nutritious!


pomegranate salad

Serve a salad that everyone will love!


vegan pumpkin soup

Feature a warming and comforting soup at dinner this year.


Holidays are certainly about savoring those traditions you know and love, but that doesn't mean you can't start new traditions as well! If you want to keep the menu your family raves about year after year, then consider some of the simple swaps like substituting plant milk for dairy milk or reducing sugar content by 25% in dessert recipes. You'll continue to feed your family and friends familiar foods they know and love while also contributing to their health.


If you're ready to venture out a bit and start some new holiday traditions, consider making sides the stars of the show this year or serving a soup to warm up the table before diving into the main course to move toward a plant-based Thanksgiving.


Making small changes can serve your health, your family's health and the health of the planet. When we all do it collectively, it makes that much more of an impact!


Which one of the healthy swaps sounds doable to you?

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