What’s Inside: Are you hosting Thanksgiving this year, but struggling to stay on track with your healthy habits and dietary needs? Look no further! This delicious holiday spread is Paleo-, Whole 30-, and AIP-friendly. Plus, we’ve included healthy Thanksgiving eating and care tips to make planning this extravagant meal simple.
How To Prep a Healthy Thanksgiving Feast
Alright, guys, we are quickly approaching one of the greatest feasts of the year — Thanksgiving! This is easily one of the best — if not THE best — eating holidays ever, so naturally it’s one a favorite of mine.
For me, cooking in the kitchen and wearing my hostess har equals fun times with family and friends. It’s good for my soul! And we all know nothing brings people together like food, so hosting my loved ones around the table filled with seasonal, fresh, delicious, healthy food makes my heart all warm and fuzzy.
That being said, it can be quite intimidating to host or even to contribute to a meal as labor-intensive as Thanksgiving. I mean, there’s a lot of pressure to satisfy everyone’s nostalgia needs while adding some flare of your own. Not to mention if you’re trying to serve a healthy spread that not only tastes good but that will make people forget the sugar-, dairy-, and carb-laden memories of Thanksgivings past. And it doesn’t have to be a whole week-long prep project, either.
Healthy Thanksgiving Basics
That’s exactly why I created this post. Here, you’ll find the basics of preparing, cooking, and serving a healthy Thanksgiving feast that is sure to leave your guests with a smile on their faces and little room in their bellies. Here are some quick tips to get started:
- Nail down your menu well ahead of time to eliminate stress and anxiety over planning your spread
- Determine the cooking times ahead of schedule and make whatever you can ahead of time in the days leading up to your event (like the cranberry sauce and gravy)
- And encourage guests to bring their own alcohol, appetizers, side dishes, or dessert. Pot lucks are fun and efficient for the host! Plus, it will help everyone feel involved and invested in this gathering.
Now, let’s get to it! These are my favorite, simple, tried-and-true Thanksgiving basics I’ve made them while hosting Thanksgiving for the past three years in a row, tweaking them each time to be better and simpler. They’re always crowd pleasers and are made with nutrient-dense, healthy ingredients for a nourishing and flavorful holiday meal everyone will feel great about eating.
Kitchen Tools That Will Make Hosting Thanksgiving A Breeze
Like anything in life, a critical component that makes hosting a large event like Thanksgiving less stressful is ensuring you have the tools needed to be successful. So, before we hop into the recipes, I’m first sharing my favorite kitchen tools, which will be mentioned in the recipes below and make your life 1,000% easier. Trust me!
Top Tips for Enjoying Your Healthy Thanksgiving Meal
Start your day with some warm or hot lemon water. As a bonus, add some fresh ginger. This will soothe your stomach for the eating bonanza that awaits you. No matter how much control you have, how slow you take it, or how much water you drink, it’s crucial to show your digestive system a little love first thing. You may eat more than you normally do over a short period of time or find yourself grazing all day until you’re in a turkey-induced coma. Sweets may be plentiful and you may find yourself indulging. Hopefully, you don’t go overboard, but regardless, prepping your stomach ahead of time will help a lot.
Stay hydrated (half your body weight in ounces) in between meals. If you choose to fast until an early dinner, staying hydrated will be particularly important. If you’re eating later in the evening, I’d encourage you to have a protein-rich, low carb breakfast (i.e., a nice breakfast salad or hash). Something light, but nutritious, that won’t cause your blood sugar to spike is key.
#2 Be Strategic
If appetizers are on the table, avoid spoiling the main attraction and lean toward the veggies. For example, if I know I have 20 minutes before dinner is ready, I’ll wait until the last 5-10 minutes to grab an appetizer so I don’t have too much time to spoil the dinner with a ton of carrots and dip. There is so much more to come, and you’ll want to save room for the star players of your healthy Thanksgiving feast.
#3 Be Present
Pick your party. By this, I mean pick out what you’re favorite indulgence will be ahead of time. What are you most looking forward to as your treat? Wine or cocktails? Biscuits or rolls? Dessert? (Mine has got to be a huge slice of apple pie … ) Pick that out and prioritize that above all else to really slow down and enjoy.
There can be so many goodies around and awkward family conversation, so it’s easy to eat emotionally, indulge, and not enjoy the very thing you were most looking forward to. But you deserve to live in the moment, so make sure to relish it!
You should also avoid going back for seconds (or thirds). Drink plenty of water, be mindful, and give yourself time to get full between servings. Maybe 15 minutes. Chances are, your brain needs time to catch up with how full your stomach is. Plus, the less you eat during the actual meal, the more leftovers you have for later, right? And those are often the BEST part of Thanksgiving.
Having fun, enjoying the company of loved ones, and being grateful are the themes of this holiday. So go slow, sit down, take three deep breaths before eating, enjoy each bite, and make sure to chew thoroughly. Savor every bite. It’s not a race!
Get walking before and after your Thanksgiving feast. You don’t have to work up a sweat, but a brisk digestion walk can work wonders after a filling meal. Some yoga or light stretching at night would be wonderful for digestion, as well.
#5 Make a Plan to Rest
How do you unwind? After a day of eating and spending time with others, you might feel drained! A bubble bath, hot shower, curling up with a good book, or some Netflix might just do the trick. (Notice a common theme here? Alone time is key for recharging after being around so many people!) Know what you’re planning to do so you know when to put the leftovers away and cut yourself off for a short while. Resting is crucial for digestion and recovery for the next day so you don’t feel weighed down or sluggish.
A Complete, Healthy Thanksgiving Menu
My goal for this post is to make planning, preparing, and cooking your own healthy Thanksgiving meal not only possible, but easy and enjoyable. Feel free to follow my go-to menu for a satisfying Thanksgiving spread complete with a roasted turkey, mashed potato alternative, gravy, cranberry sauce, and even a green veggie!
- Appetizers: Regardless of how much prep work you do ahead of time, as the Thanksgiving hostess, you’ll likely still be working in the kitchen long after your guests arrive. So give them something to snack on while they eagerly await the main courses that won’t wipe their appetites. I would be proud to serve any of these recipes to my holiday guests:
- Salads and Soups: Sometimes you just need something light to prepare you for a heavy meal. This is why I love serving salads and soups on Thanksgiving. Not only are they delicious, but they cleanse the pallatte and prepare the stomach for what’s to come. Check out some of my favorite fall salad and soup recipes here:
- Entreé: First and foremost, the turkey. I’m proud to say I have cracked the code for the perfect, juicy, crispy-skinned roast Thanksgiving bird. And best of all, this is totally clean eating and can be modified to be AIP-friendly. Only six simple ingredients and a few simple steps stand between you and the best roasted turkey of your life! And while this component of your healthy Thanksgiving feast will require the most work, it’s honestly super simple and should not be overwhelming. I dare say that even first-time hosts can tackle this turkey. Find my recipe complete with ingredients and instructions further down this post.
BONUS TIP: Watch this video, “How to prepare and roast your Thanksgiving Turkey,” to see some of my tips in action! And while you’re at it, read these tips from Saveur that I’ve incorporated into my directions so you understand a bit more about the reasoning behind the techniques.
- Sides: Next up is the sides. Most people look forward to the side dishes and “brown food” the most because roasted turkeys can be notoriously dry (anyone remember “Christmas Vacation?”) Luckily, my whole roasted turkey recipe keeps that bird juicy and delicious while still achieving the crispy skin everyone fights over. But even with a prized bird gracing your table, these side dishes are sure to shine. They are absolute MUSTS for your healthy Thanksgiving meal.
- Gravy: No Thanksgiving meal is complete without some gravy. Unfortunately, most gravies — while delicious — are full of flour, meat bits, salt, sugar, and all-around “unclean” ingredients. I knew I could do better. So, I created a vegetarian and Paleo alternative: herbed mushroom gravy. Plus, it can be made AIP and vegan with a couple of simple ingredient swaps. Trust me, no one will miss the flour, butter, and grease-laden gravies of Thanksgivings past. Meat lovers and vegetarians alike will eat every last drop of this healthy mushroom gravy!
- Dessert: Lastly, you wouldn’t be a good host if you didn’t offer your guests something sweet at the end of your Thanksgiving meal. But that doesn’t mean you have to overload them with sugar and or send them into a carb coma after so much food already. Here are some of my favorite fall dessert recipes that would make for the perfect caboose to this Thanksgiving feast train:
How to Make Perfect Roasted Turkey
Check out the recipe below to learn how to make the perfect — not dry — roasted whole turkey to be the star of your own healthy Thanksgiving feast!
Perfect Roasted Turkey
- 1 14lb. Turkey (simply increase the proportions for a larger bird)
- 1/2 stick grass-fed butter (or any saturated fat*) (lard for AIP would be great)
- 2 Tbsp herbs de provence (mix of thyme, marjoram, savory, oregano, etc.)
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- plenty of sea salt
- 3 cups vegetable broth can sub any broth you like
- 24 HRS BEFORE YOU SERVE: Simply defrost your turkey beforehand, remove the giblets and neck, and put away in the fridge for later use. Rinse the turkey well. Pat BIRD dry, and add the turkey to a large pan. Salt the turkey well. You want to sprinkle the salt from high above the turkey so you don't only salt one portion, rub the turkey skin well so it can penetrate. This helps to prep for taste and texture, keeping the bird moist. (I know it seems weird for salt to do that, but trust me). That's it for prep, cover the turkey with tin foil and place it in the fridge until Thanksgiving morning. (Nope, I don't brine, I find this technique keeps it way moister and is less messy and stressful.)
- Next, make your game plan and timetable before cooking. Watch the link and confirm how much time it will take you to cook your bird depending on the size, etc. and remember if you add more to the oven, it will slow down the cooking. The only recipe here you’ll add to the oven is to finish off the brussels sprouts, and that can be done while the turkey rests. Look for dishes that can also bake up in a hot oven in less than an hour so it can all be done while your turkey is done and resting. Also, on that note, make sure you allot time for the turkey to rest for 30mins and up to one hour before serving. You can serve appetizers at that time if you’d like!
- DAY OF: Now that you have your timetable worked out, let's start. 1 hour before you are going to cook the bird, take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature.
- After that 1 hour has passed, preheat your oven to 500°F, which you'll use to cook the bird just for the first 30 minutes. (Yes, ONLY the first half hour. Trust me! This helps with that crispy skin.)
- In watching the video link below, you'll see how to loosen the skin by placing your hands at the neck area and patiently working your fingers throughout to loosen it. It works easier as the bird gets to room temp. Have faith, and don't be too scared or too rough!
- Next, give your hands a good wash and start making your herbed butter. Mix the herbs, minced garlic and butter in a food processor until well combined. Break off pieces of the butter and start adding it underneath the skin on each piece of meat (so to speak), like on each breast, leg, thigh, backside, and near the wing pits, as I call them! Use as much as fits well and try not to rip the skin. If it tears a bit, just keep the skin covering as much as you can so the butter absorbs into the meat during the roasting process.
- Now, add more sea salt all over your bird! You can add any other seasonings you like here too. I do recommend adding kitchen twine just to close the drumsticks and the wings. This helps to keep it all in place, but if you don't, it's not the end of the world.
- To your roasting pan, pour the vegetable broth into the bottom, and add that neck you saved to the bottom as well and then set the rack on top. Place your turkey on top and begin roasting for 30 minutes. SET A TIMER! Then reduce the temperature to 325-350°F and continue roasting, allowing 16 minutes per pound. Baste turkey every 30 minutes after the first hour and if you see one side getting darker than the over, spin your turkey around!
- Check the temperature using a meat thermometer. (You can start checking before the projected "done" time as your oven may be quick, see variables below)- 170 degrees means you're all done. Check the thickest part of the breast and thigh (without touching the bone) to be sure. Remove when done.
- LET IT REST before you carve! Plan for 30mins up to 1 hour for resting with tin foil covering the bird. Trust me, it will still be very hot before you carve it. If you want a juicy bird, do not rush this process!
- When you're about to carve, get some assistance with lifting the bird out of the pan and onto a board where someone can carve it. In the meantime, grab that neck and the juices in the pan and make a quick pan gravy by heating it in a saucepan with a bit of starch. Start with 1 Tbsp of arrowroot starch in 4 oz. of water and stir well to create a slurry. Pour that slurry when dissolved into the heated sauce and whisk until it thickens! Add any herbs you like. You can even cook the liver and heart in here, if you'd like.
- VOILA! Carve that bird up, serve and have your turkey drippings gravy on the side. Enjoy!
Complete Your Healthy Thanksgiving Meal with These Dishes
Don’t stop with the turkey! Bookmark these side dish recipes when planning to host your own Thanksgiving feast this holiday season:
- Simple Cranberry Sauce (Refined Sugar-Free)
- Ghee-Roasted Brussel Sprouts (Paleo, Whole30)
- Cauliflower mash (Low-carb, Paleo, AIP)
- Herbed Mushroom Gravy (Vegetarian, Paleo)