Breaking News
More () »

The New You: How to have a healthier Thanksgiving meal

Even if you're downsizing your dinner, here are some easy swaps to make the traditional holiday recipes healthier

All year long I have been counting down to Thanksgiving. The turkey, the dressing and we can’t forget about the desserts! Oh, and we can’t forget about the real reason for the holiday - getting together with friends and family.

And though some of us are downsizing our dinner tables, or moving to a virtual celebration, most of us are still preparing those traditional recipes.

But this year, I have a new perspective thanks to this "The New You" journey, and I’m learning that behind all of that love of family and food can be something that’s a danger to your health. So, I went back to my new friend Jim Perko, Executive Chef of Cleveland Clinic's Wellness & Preventative Medicine.

"Studies show everybody will consume between 3-5,000 calories between the food and drinks at holiday thanksgiving meal. Yeah, that’s a lot," Jim told me.

But, Jim says it is possible to survive this holiday without gaining weight.

"Some of the pitfalls are, you don’t want to starve before the meal because you’re just going to overeat. You want to make sure you eat slowly, chew your food well. Give your brain time to catch up with your stomach."

Studies have shown that our overeating can stretch our stomachs leading to weight gain. 

And when it comes to the meal, it starts with the turkey. Jim says, stick with the white meat, because there is much more saturated fat in the skin, leg and thigh.

But how you cook the turkey can make a big difference too.

"If you put the dressing between the skin and the breast of the meat, the flesh what happens is the dressing isn’t going to overcook. It Is going to protect the jewel that solid muscle of white meat. By the time the white meat is done, it helps it keep it moist," Jim said.

He also suggests that instead of using a gravy or sugar - try adding fruit instead.

"Pears and apples. Try moistening that dressing with the fruit and its adding flavors I don’t have to pour a lot of gravy and roux on top of it," Jim explained.

Last week, I tried Jim’s Mac and Cheese-less recipe, another great option to add to the meal - trust me, it's actually good!

"It is totally plant based. The thickening agent is sweet potatoes and cashews and 100% whole grain pasta. There was no cheese added. No saturated fat," Jim reminded me.

Another staple in my family is ham, but Jim says, it's not the best choice.

"When you have ham its cured with nitrates and salts so its better to just avoid anything cured salty," he explained.

And, if you still have room for dessert at the end of the meal, Jim said, try to just have a taste.

"Maple syrup makes you want more maple syrup. Sweet wants more. So trying to go to make less it will be just enough to let you satisfy your sweet tooth."

Jim was kind enough to share some of his favorite holiday recipes from "The What to Eat When Cookbook."



PREP: 40-45 minutes

COOK: 40 minutes

MAKES: 6 servings

SERVING SIZE: 1 ¾ cups

INGREDIENTS: Four cups water, one cup (5 ounces) raw cashews, 12 ounces 100% whole wheat short elbow pasta, 6 cups (about 28 ounces)sweet potato, peeled, cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes, 2 teaspoons (or more) mild hot sauce such as Cholula, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard , 3/4 tablespoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 pinch cayenne pepper.


  • Combine the water and cashews in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Drain the nuts and set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until just tender, but still firm to the bite (al dente). drain the pasta; Rinse and drain again. Set aside in a large mixing bowl and cover.
  • In a large saucepan, bring the sweet potatoes and almond milk to a boil over medium- high heat. Reduce to medium- low heat and simmer uncovered until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Strain the sweet potatoes in a bowl, reserving the almond milk. Measure reserved on the milk and add more almond milk, if needed, to equal 3 cups.
  • Cool the three cups almond milk too lukewarm and placed in a heavy- duty blender. Add the cashews. Blend until the sauce is smooth. Add the sweet potatoes, hot sauce, mustard, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Process until the sauce is smooth, scraping down the container as needed.
  • Pour the sauce over the pasta and mix well. Please in a 10 by 12 inch casserole or baking pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly.


MAKES: Fourteen – ½ cup serving  

INGREDIENTS: 8 cups - 100% Whole Grain Dried Bread, ½ “dice, 3 tablespoon Parsley – chopped, 2 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil, ¾ teaspoon Salt, 1/8 teaspoon Pepper, 1 teaspoon Poultry Seasoning, 1 teaspoon Sage, 2 cups Vegetable Stock, 1 cup Leeks – small dice, 1 cup Onion – small dice, ½ cup Celery – small dice, ½ cup Carrot – small dice, ¼ cup Toasted Pecans, ¼ cup Toasted Walnuts, 1 ½ cup Unsweetened Pineapple Juice, 1 ½ cup Apples – small dice, 1 ½ cup Pears – small dice


Wash and small dice the apple placing them in a bowl of pineapple juice to prevent browning.  Drain the apples, reserving the liquid.  Wash pears and small dice placing and toss them in the reserved pineapple juice to prevent browning, add apples to bowl and set aside.  Heat a non-stick skillet and add oil, then add onions season with salt, pepper and cook on medium heat until onions just turn transparent.  Add celery, carrots and cook until tender.  Add the leeks, cook for 5 minutes, then turn off heat and set pan aside.  In a large mixing bowl, combine bread with sautéed vegetables, add parsley, poultry seasoning, and sage - mix well. 

Add vegetable stock and mix well.  Add cut fruit in pineapple juice, nuts and mix well.  Use a 2 quart casserole dish that has been wiped with a light film of extra virgin olive oil to prevent sticking; add dressing.  Cover with plastic wrap then aluminum foil.  Bake for 30 minutes in a pre-heated 400 degree oven.    


MAKES: 6 Servings – Serving Size: ½ cup

INGREDIENTS: 1 ½ cups rutabaga - peeled and diced, 1 ½ cups carrot - peeled and diced, 1 ½ cups sweet potatoes - peeled and diced, 32 ounces water, ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper


In large saucepan combine rutabaga with vegetable broth and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. Add carrots and continue simmering until carrots are almost tender, about 5 minutes. Add sweet potatoes and simmer until all vegetables are tender, about another 10 minutes.

Drain the vegetables into a bowl while reserving the liquid.  Place liquid back in saucepan, reduce to ½ cup.  Turn off heat and add vegetables from bowl back to sauce pan along with salt and pepper.  With a potato masher, mash vegetables with reduced liquid until a coarse consistency.  If mash needs to be heated more, just heat in saucepan until desired temperature. Remove and serve.


Calories: 50 calories

Sodium: 210 mg

Sugars: 5 g

Cholesterol: 0 mg

Saturated Fat: 0 g

Fiber: 2 g

Protein: 1 g

Carbohydrate: 11 g


For increased flavor, cook vegetables in vegetable broth instead of water.


This recipe shows how to create intensely flavorful cooking liquid by using a vegetable skimmer to remove vegetables after cooking. One can retain and reduce cooking liquid for a 100% natural and extremely flavorful broth that can be added back to the vegetables or used in another application.


PREP: 25 minutes, plus overnight soaking

BAKE: 1 hour

COOL: 2 hours or more

MAKES: 11 servings


INGREDIENTS1 cup raw cashews, 4 cups water, 1 sweet potato (14 to 16 ounces), 1 large ripe banana broken into chunks, ½ cup pure unsweetened almond butter, 6 tablespoons raisin reduction, ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1 can (15-ounce) pure pumpkin, 5 teaspoons pure maple syrup, 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon, ¾ teaspoon ground ginger, ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg


  • Place the cashews in a medium bowl; pour water over. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Drain well just before using.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the sweet potato until very tender, about 1 hour. Cool slightly, then peel. Scoop out the flesh and measure 1 cup; set aside.
  • Mix the drained cashews, banana, almond butter, raisin reduction, almond milk, and vanilla in a high-speed blender until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside.
  • In a food processer, puree the reserved 1 cup sweet potato until smooth. Add the cashew mixture, pumpkin, maple syrup, ad all spices, and process until as smooth as possible, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  • Transfer the mixture to a clean medium bowl and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

If you're interested in learning more, or signing up for a similar program through the Cleveland Clinic, visit: 


call: 216.448.4325 or email: cilm@ccf.org

Paid Advertisement

Before You Leave, Check This Out