Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner and Stay on Your Diet

Many of us, including this author are continually on a diet and always watching what and how much we eat. Thanksgiving is the beginning of the holiday season. Start your season out on a good foot by saving calories, adding nutrition to your Thanksgiving feast.

Turkey is naturally a low calorie food, as are baked potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash. The devil is in the butter, gravies and sauces. Think carefully about how foods are prepared and dressed up for the dinner.

Lower Calorie Thanksgiving Fare


  • Do not eat the turkey skin, it is primarily fat.
  • Choose a white meat slice. A serving of meat is 3 ounces (85 grams) – about the size of a deck of playing cards. Instead of gravy, top your meat with some cranberry sauce.

Cranberry Sauce

  • Make your own cranberry sauce using a sugar substitute (follow package directions). Homemade cranberry sauce has less sugar than the canned varieties.
  • If you prefer sugar in the cranberry sauce, cut down the amount needed by adding chopped apples or oranges. Add less sugar when cooking the cranberries, stir in the fruit. Taste, and add sugar if needed.
  • Cost-saving tip: buy cranberries when on sale, store in the freezer until ready to use. Cook frozen – do not thaw.


  • Mashed potatoes a must on the menu? Use chicken broth instead of butter and milk.
  • Baked potatoes are a wiser alternative for dieters. Try topping with fat-free ranch dressing instead of gravy or sour cream.
  • Serve roasted root vegetables instead of potatoes. (See recipe below)

Sweet Potatoes

  • Try to pass on the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, or take a spoon full.
  • Instead, put a fresh sweet potato in the oven to bake with the turkey. That’s just over 100 calories; a cup of casserole may be 300 calories. Top the potato with a teaspoon of brown sugar for a sweet treat.
  • Or, try the mashed sweet potato recipe below. Put it in 2 dishes, top one with the obligatory marshmallows, and bake until melted.


  • Steam vegetables to retain nutrients. (Be careful not to over-cook – should still be crisp). Use fresh vegetables, or the frozen steam-in-the-bag choices now abundantly available.
  • Instead of butter or cream sauces, use herbs, chopped walnuts, almonds or pecans for lower calories, great crunch, color, flavor and added nutrients.
  • Avoiding the green bean casserole can save up to 200 calories – go for the steamed, flavored veggies instead.


Add more fiber by serving whole wheat breads and rolls. Many bakeries now feature fat-free breads; recipes abound on the internet – Google “fat-free bread recipe.”


Lower fat and calorie gravy idea: remove the turkey from the roasting pan. Pour juices into a glass measuring cup; allow cooling so fat rises to the top. Meanwhile, scrape the bits from the bottom of the pan. Skim the fat. Use 1 cup (250 ml) juices and 1 cup (250 ml) apple cider, make gravy as usual. Either use the gravy packet that came with the bird, or thicken with 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of flour (dissolved in a small amount of water) per cup of liquid. Heat the liquids to boiling, stir in the flour-water mixture. Cook at a low boil, stirring constantly until thick. Taste, adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Appetizer Ideas

Include plenty of raw veggies with a fat free dip and fresh fruit.


If you must indulge, go for the pumpkin pie, which will probably be the least calories of the pie choices, but say no to the whipped cream, and don’t eat the crust. Consider making a lower calorie and fat choice such as a low-fat pumpkin cheesecake.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes Recipe

Serves 6


  • 4 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground ginger


  1. Bake the potatoes in the oven or microwave until very tender.
  2. Scoop from the shells into a bowl.
  3. Add orange juice, orange zest, brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger.
  4. Mash until smooth.

Low Calorie Cranberry Sauce Recipe


  • 1 (12-ounce or 340 grams) package (fresh or frozen) cranberries rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup (250 ml) water
  • Sugar substitute to taste


  1. Mix cranberries and water in a medium saucepan.
  2. Heat to boiling, reduce heat to low. Simmer until the berries have popped and the sauce begins to thicken, about 15 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature.
  4. Stir in sugar substitute to taste. Use the equivalent of substitute for the amount of sugar the cranberry package states.
  5. Pour into serving bowl and refrigerate.

May be made up to 2 days ahead. Note: sugar helps the sauce thicken, this may be thinner. Cook until the consistency preferred.

Roasted Root Vegetables Recipe


  • 8 cups (2 L) coarsely chopped root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, new baby red potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, beets, rutabagas)
  • 2 large onions cut in wedges
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) oil
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) table salt or sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) dried herb of choice (or a mix), depending on flavor desired. Ideas: rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, tarragon


  1. Mix vegetables, toss with oil and seasonings.
  2. Spray a jelly roll pan with cooking spray; spread the vegetables in a single layer. Bake at 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) for 20 min, stir, bake 20 min more or until tender.

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