Guest Post: Introducing Healthy Foods at Thanksgiving


Ok, it’s crunch time.  Thanksgiving is officially one week away.  Now that you’ve been mindful of your guests and have planned the perfect menu, it’s time to get cooking.  Perhaps you’re planning to trial a new healthy item with the hopes it will be a hit with the crowd.  Or you’re the health nut going to someone else’s home with the hopes of opening the guests’ eyes to the wonders of kale/cauliflower/brussels sprouts/farro  or any other superfood trend.  How do you handle the initial resistance?  Fellow Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Katie Goldberg gives her advice for introducing new foods at the holidays on today’s Guest Blog post.

This article was contributed by guest blogger Katie Goldberg, MCN, RDN/LDN.

Normally, Thanksgiving is synonymous with extreme overeating. If your family is anything like mine, there are certain traditions that aren’t messed with. But that doesn’t mean healthy and Thanksgiving must sit at separate tables, and that doesn’t mean new traditions can’t be created for your family.  Somedays you have more control over the meal than others. As host, you can manage tone of the meal versus traveling to another home. Whether the host shares your value for healthy eating – or they make an exception for the holidays – makes a big difference.

Maybe you’re the only one at the meal that chooses to value health. Or just you and your significant other are celebrating this year. Perhaps you’re spending the day with just one side of the family. Depending on the circumstances, you may feel helpless and powerless when it comes to making optimal decisions.

Don’t just throw your hands up in the air and fall victim to the holiday season. Instead, roll up those sleeves and get in the kitchen! Here are some of my favorite ways to bring a healthy side dish to Thanksgiving.

Bring a lightened version of a favorite – without making it unrecognizable

Plenty of simple swaps and alterations can be made to a recipe while increasing the nutritional value. Not all recipes need an overhaul! Two examples are mashed potatoes and the southern favorite, spoonbread.

To lighten up mashed potatoes, I like to start with yellow potatoes, due to their natural creaminess. Add in some cooked cauliflower to bump up the veggie content. Play around with the exact ratio that works for you, but I suggest starting with twice as many potatoes as cauliflower. Then add plain yogurt (Greek or Skyr style), fresh chives and roasted garlic. Mix in a little low-sodium broth if it needs to be thinned out. The recipe is still simple, and resembles traditional mashed potatoes on the table and in your mouth!


Photo by Scott Suchman

For a lighter version of spoonbread, try Ellie Krieger’s Corn Spoonbread with Goat Cheese and Chives.

Bring a fresh take on a favorite flavor

The flavors of Thanksgiving and Fall are based on fruits and vegetables, which means you’re starting with a fantastic base. It’s all about how preparation of the delicious produce. For this one, think about roasting your vegetables.


Photo by Flikr user dolled

One example is sweet potatoes. They are beautiful and packed with nutrients, but often sitting on the Thanksgiving table drowning in butter, brown sugar, and marshmallows. Instead of trying to tweak this traditional dish, make something totally fresh and different with sweet potatoes. I like to roast sweet potatoes in a little olive oil, cinnamon and cayenne powder. You get plenty of natural sweetness with a nice spicy kick.

Another option is Brussels sprouts. They are super trendy right now, and are a vegetable that many people are open to trying. Roasting with some seasoning and olive oil is always acceptable and delicious – no matter what vegetable you choose. But if you want to take it up a notch, try one of these takes on roasted Brussels sprouts.

Bring something totally new

When you think of Thanksgiving, a green salad probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But bringing a delicious – and not boring – salad is a great way to provide a little levity to the normal buffet table. One of my favorite ways to make a delicious and easy salad is to follow this recipe: greens + fruit + nut + cheese. Serve with a side of a simple vinaigrette and you’re set.

  • Arugula, pear, walnuts, goat cheese
  • Spinach, cranberry, pecan, blue cheese
  • Butter greens, grapes, cashews, feta
  • Kale, apple, almonds, cheddar

Or, try bringing a fruit-based dessert. Poached pears or my Everyday Cranberry-Apple Crisp both pair nicely with ice cream, or vanilla or pumpkin flavored yogurt.


Introducing New Foods: Do’s & Don’ts

Ok, so now your mouth is watering and you’ve found the perfect recipe to bring. But, you’re still not sure that people will love it. Here are some of my top tips on encouraging people to try it, even if they’re skeptical.

Don’t: Tell them it’s healthy

Most people don’t want to know about the substitutions you made, or hear about the nutritional benefits. They just want to know it’s delicious. So keep the “health” factor to yourself. Instead focus on the flavor and presentation. We eat with our eyes first, so make it enticing. Make sure the flavor is there when they do try it!

Do: Tell them it’s tradition

If you’re dining with new friends or in-laws, talk up the traditions from your childhood. When dining with your own family, talk about the new traditions you and your spouse are creating together. Many people respect traditions during the holidays.

Do: Make it pre-approved

You’re more willing to see a show, read a book, or try a dentist if they get rave reviews, right? Same goes with your contribution dish. It might help to give some background on the recipe – it was a top recipe on Pinterest, it’s from the Food Network, etc. The corollary to this is to make sure that you know it’s good. The holidays aren’t the time to debut new recipe for the first time, especially if it’s a healthier version of something that people love.

Do: Make it a game

This one’s for the kids. See how many different colors they can put on their plate to try during the meal. Let the kids be food critics or judges in a contest of the best side, or the best green dish, etc (think Chopped). This encourages kids to try each food, and lets them know they don’t have to LOVE it all. But of course, know the room. No need to create extra tension.

Ultimately, don’t forget what you can control. You can set an example of healthy habits for your friends and family, but you only get to choose what you eat. Fill your plate with healthy options, and enjoy small bites of your favorite indulgences. Most of all, practice being thankful.

Katie Goldberg, MCN, RDN, LDNKCP_8549 is a private practice dietitian in Chicago, specializing in weight management, wellness, pre- and post-natal nutrition, and nutrition for runners. Not a fan of “diets”, she believes in practical, sustainable changes for life-long health. Food is meant to be enjoyed!  Follow her on Twitter (@katie_goldberg) and Instagram (@katiegoldbergrd).
What healthy additions will you bring to the Thanksgiving table this year? How do you introduce new foods to the family?  What is your favorite healthy recipe swap? 
Share your tips and recipes in the Comments below!
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