5 Thanksgiving Recipe Swaps {…to save calories & guilt!}

Thanksgiving is known for warm comfort foods, juicy deep fried turkey, and tasty pies. It’s the one day a year where calories don’t count, and we can eat ourselves into a food coma. Hallelujah!  But when the company leaves, and you are back to the daily grind and feeling a little sluggish — you may be wishing you hadn’t indulged quite as much. We know we have felt like that before! As registered dietitians/healthy living bloggers, we believe moderation is key throughout the holiday season. But it can also be difficult to find healthy recipes that are time and diet friendly, especially for busy moms who are spread so thin between daily mom duties and the extras that come with the holidays.

So if you’re looking for ways to lighten up your Thanksgiving fare this year without sacrificing taste, we have some delicious swaps that won’t leave you feeling overly full. We promise your guests will not miss the calorie-laden options that you opt out for this year with these Thanksgiving recipe swaps too!

Thanksgiving Recipe Swaps - 1

Sweet Potato Bites with Pecans and Pomegranate

Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving. Growing up, it was a staple on our holiday menu. But these nutrient dense vegetables turn into a pseudo dessert when Thanksgiving rolls around. With butter and sugar whipped into mashed sweet potatoes, and typically topped with pecans, more sugar, and even marshmallows – a serving of this dish can easily add up.

There’s no need to compromise our health just to enjoy the goodness of sweet potatoes. For a healthier {and dare I say tastier!} alternative, I love these decadent bites to either pass as an initial appetizer while food is being served or as a side dish to your main meal.  With incredible flavors from the pomegranate seeds, ricotta/ goat cheese mixture, and a finishing drizzle of maple syrup, your taste buds will explode when you take a bite into these.

Sweet Potato Recipe


Sweet Potatoes

2-3 large sweet potatoes, sliced into ¼ inch rounds

Olive oil

Ground cinnamon

Cheese Mixture

½ cup fat free ricotta cheese

½ cup goat cheese

½ tsp nutmeg

1 tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp kosher salt

1 Tbsp maple syrup


1 cup raw pecans, roasted and chopped {or purchase pre-chopped raw pecans}

¾ cup pomegranate

maple syrup to drizzle


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the sweet potato slices, olive oil,and cinnamon in a bowl, and combine with your hands to ensure the spices are on both sides. Arrange the rounds on a baking sheet, bake for 20 minutes, flip the rounds, and then bake for another 15 or so minutes. Make sure your rounds are cooked through and crispy on the edges.

During the last 10 minutes of baking, roast your pecans on a baking sheet. While the sweet potatoes are baking, prepare the cheese mixture by combining ricotta cheese, goat cheese, nutmeg, cinnamon, kosher salt, and 1 Tbsp maple syrup. Stir well to combine and refrigerate until ready. Once the sweet potatoes are done, change the oven setting to broil and place a dollop of the cheese mixture on each sweet potato round. Place in the oven for 2 or so minutes until the cheese is melted and easy to spread. Remove the rounds from the oven, spread the melted cheese to cover, and top with chopped pecans, a few pomegranate seeds, and a drizzle of maple syrup. Serve immediately.

Quinoa Farro Fall Harvest Salad

Stuffing is perhaps the ultimate comfort food, though traditional versions are packed with simple carbohydrates, fat and thus excess calories.  I have tried many times to make healthier versions of stuffing, though none have been good enough to serve to guests; they have all been “too healthy” in the words of my husband. So this year, I’ll be serving a hearty fall harvest salad in its place. This quinoa/farro salad combines fall produce – brussels sprouts and butternut squash, with a pop of sweetness from pomegranates and dried cranberries. The end result is a satisfying colorful salad rich in flavor and nutrients! Prep the quinoa and farro the night before, and this salad will come together in less than 25 minutes!

Fall Harvest Salad Recipe


1 cup quinoa {cooked}

1 cup farro {cooked}

1 cup brussels sprouts

1 cup butternut squash, cubed

½ cup fresh pomegranate arils

½ cup dried cranberries

salt and pepper to taste


¼ cup orange juice

¼ cup olive oil

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare quinoa and farro according to package instructions. Set aside. Cut brussels sprouts in half lengthwise and place on baking sheet. Spray with olive oil and top with salt and pepper. Prepare butternut squash the same way and place both baking sheets in the oven. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until softened.

While vegetables are roasting, prepare dressing by mixing all ingredients together in a dressing shaker or bowl {whisk with a fork to combine}.  When veggies are done, combine with quinoa, farro, pomegranate, dried cranberries, and dressing. Serve warm.

Homemade Green Bean Casserole

There’s just something about green bean casserole that reminds me of gathering around the table with family and friends for Thanksgiving. It doesn’t seem like a holiday celebration without it, at least for my family. But the calorie and fat content of a typical recipe can take away from having the nutrients of the vegetables in your dish! By making the recipe from scratch, you are able to control the ingredients you include. And to make this dish even better, the fifteen minute prep time will have you making it from scratch from now on. This dish can be made vegan and/or gluten free – perfect for any family members that may have food allergies or preferences.

Green Bean Casserole Recipe


1 pound green beans, rinsed, trimmed and cut in half if not already {use fresh or frozen for the same nutritional benefit}

sea salt and black pepper

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup finely chopped button or baby bella mushrooms

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

¾ cup vegetable broth

1 cup unsweetened plain almond milk

½ cup parmesan cheese

1 cup crispy fried onions {or make your own with sliced onions and coconut oil on the stovetop}

½ cup whole wheat breadcrumbs or Panko Breads


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bring a large pot of water to boil with salt. Add the green beans, cook for 5 minutes, drain, and place in an ice bath to prevent further cooking. Drain and set aside. Prepare the sauce by sautéing the garlic with the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook until lightly brown {about 3-4 minutes}. Sprinkle in flour, whisk to coat the veggies, and cook for 1 more minute. Then, slowly add in the vegetable broth, whisk, add the almond milk and ¼ cup parmesan cheese, and continue to whisk. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Allow your sauce to simmer to thicken {about 6-7 minutes or until thick}. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Remove from heat; add half of the fried onions and all of the green beans. Stir to coat, pour into an oven safe dish, and top with remaining fried onions, breadcrumbs, and parmesan cheese. Cook at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Antioxidant Rich, Sugar Free Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is another traditional Thanksgiving side that can be a total diet bomb! Loaded with antioxidants, cranberry sauce has the potential to be one of the healthiest dishes at the table, though most recipes are loaded with sugar to mask the natural tart taste of fresh cranberries. We created this recipe to showcase the tart taste of fresh cranberries with a hint of sweetness from natural sugars in orange juice and honey. This is unlike traditional sweetened cranberry sauce, though the tart flavor pairs well with savory turkey!

Cranberry Sauce Recipe


1 bag fresh cranberries

½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice

¼ cup applesauce

¼ cup water

juice and zest of 1 small orange {or half of a large orange}

3 Tbsp honey, to taste

pinch of cinnamon

pinch of cloves


Place cranberries, orange juice, applesauce, and water in a saucepan on medium heat. The cranberries will begin to pop, continue stirring until most cranberries have popped and the sauce is formed. Reduce to a simmer and place zest and juice of orange into pan, also add spices. Mix well. Store in the refrigerator overnight before serving to allow flavors to mix.

Optional :: If flavor remains too tart for your liking, consider sweetening with 1-2 tsp Truvia.

Perfect Pumpkin Custard

Pumpkin pie, the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert that everyone looks forward to. When creating this recipe, the first priority was to not sacrifice taste as dessert is the best part of the meal {in my humble opinion}. By leaving off the crust, and making a custard, you save calories and fat without losing the creamy, rich pumpkin filling. Top with a dollop of whipped cream, and you won’t even miss the crust!

Pumpkin Custard Recipe


2 eggs, plus 2 egg whites {or 3 eggs}

1 ½ cups canned pumpkin

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup sugar

½ tsp nutmeg

1 ½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ginger

½ tsp salt

1 ½ cups evaporated milk

1 tsp vanilla

Optional Toppings

whipped cream


biscoff cookie


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray. Beat eggs/egg whites, stir in pumpkin, sugars, spices, salt, milk, and vanilla. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish. Bake for 25 minutes or until fully set – knife should come out clean.  Top with whipped cream and cinnamon. Garnish with Biscoff cookie.

So tell us, do you do healthy swaps on Thanksgiving? What are some of your favorite ways to make your feast a little healthier?

Healthy Bites Houston - BioAbout Healthy Bites Houston

Healthy Bites Houston is a healthy living blog founded by two Registered Dietitians looking to share their knowledge to help others live a healthy lifestyle. Laura Pearce and Caitlin Ogletree work as dietitians in the Houston area and blog in their spare time. They are passionate about whole food nutrition, lifestyle modification, and believe moderation is key in any healthy lifestyle as there is always room for a treat in a healthy diet!  Check out their website, and follow them across social media @HealthyBitesHouston.


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