I Healthified Your 5 Favorite Thanksgiving Dishes (You're Welcome)
Here at mbg, we believe that coming together and celebrating community is a key part of wellness—which is why, this Thanksgiving, we won't be asking you to forgo turkey for salad or sacrifice diving into a bowl of stuffing. Instead, we're arming you with little tweaks that let you keep the best foods of Thanksgiving and ditch the worst (hello, food coma). From the one ingredient that'll make your traditional desserts gut-healing and blood-sugar-balancing to the pregame breakfast your stomach will thank you for, think of it as having your pumpkin pie and eating it too. That's something we can all be grateful for.
This year, our Thanksgiving celebration at mbg is all about little tweaks. We've already shared three tweaks that make stuffing way healthier (and more delicious!) and the one ingredient I'm adding to all of my desserts to make them way more blood-sugar-balancing, but we needed more to healthify—so we reached out to mbg staffers to find out their biggest Thanksgiving challenges. Here's what they said, and an easy way to make each dish a little bit healthier, no sacrifices required.
"At my house, we always have mashed potato casserole with creamy mashed potatoes and cheese. It's homey, warm, and comforting—but it's not great for my digestion, with all of that dairy. Any way to..." —Jenna, Manager of Culture & Events
This time of year, the internet becomes flooded with recipes suggesting cauliflower mashed potatoes as an easy sub, but here's the thing—they taste in no way as good as normal mashed potatoes. They simply lack the starch to create that thick, gooey, stick-to-your-ribs texture that we've come to associate with mashed potatoes, so here's what I do: I sub half of the potatoes for cauliflower. I also roast the cauliflower, using a fair bit of avocado oil and salt, instead of steaming it, to add a nutty caramelization instead of that watered-down cruciferous flavor (boil your potatoes in well-salted water too; it makes a huge difference). I use a high-fat, neutral-flavored plant milk like hemp or cashew (coconut is too coconut-y) to mash it all together with some ghee for a buttery vibe. If you want a cheesy element, stir in a few spoonfuls of nutritional yeast. (When I was developing the grain-free Cheddar Chive Biscuits for my upcoming cookbook, I tested both pastured cheddar and nutritional yeast, and I was surprised to find that the nutritional yeast actually offered a richer, more satisfying cheesy flavor.) Finally, mix in some chopped chives and plenty of black pepper to cut through all of that umami.
"I love when gravy is healthy but also thick and delicious. It doesn't need to be vegetarian, but I'm not willing to sacrifice that huge flavor pop." —Elise, Senior Account Executive
Gravy isn't actually terrible for you, particularly if you're using stock or bone broth from a pastured bird. I like to use a lot of fresh herbs in mine for an extra flavor and polyphenol boost, and I'll often use rice flour or arrowroot to thicken it so that even the gluten-free among us can enjoy. Finally, after it's cooled a bit, I like to stir in a little bit of miso. It adds gut-healing probiotics but also a funky depth that makes the final product feel restaurant-worthy, even if no one can quite put their finger on why.
"Cranberry sauce is my sister Hannah's absolute favorite Thanksgiving food. I love it too, but I find it to be a huge sugar bomb. Is there a way to get all of the fresh, zesty flavor without adding so much sugar?" —Gretchen, Health Editor
For the life of me, I can't understand why people ever buy canned cranberry sauce since it's so incredibly easy to make a homemade, healthy version. Just dump 2 cups of fresh or frozen cranberries in a small pot, then add the zest and juice of one orange, a sprinkle of cinnamon, a generous pinch of salt, and a few tablespoons of coconut sugar, honey, or maple syrup. Bring it to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cover it. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes, but it's not fussy: You're really just waiting for the cranberries to pop. You can blend the final sauce or just leave it chunky. The orange zest adds that freshness you want, and the low-GI natural sugars are just enough to bring out the natural sweetness of the cranberries. If you want a sauce that's more on the gelatinous side, stir in a tablespoon of chia seeds at the end and let sit for a few minutes before blending. Bonus: It adds more blood-sugar-balancing properties as well.
"Is there a dessert that would make me feel a little less awful?" —Sarah, Visual Designer
Pie isn't actually all that bad—really, the crust is the worst part. I recommend people skip it altogether and make a crisp, which eschews the crust (far and away the hardest part to healthify) for a super-satisfying topping, giving you way more of the delicious filling in every bite. Crisps are also way less fussy and easier to make. I love this recipe, which is also gluten-free. P.S.: Don't forget to add my favorite blood-sugar-balancing ingredient to any normal dessert to alleviate the spike and inevitable fall.
"Honestly, bread is my favorite part of Thanksgiving. Is there any way to make a dinner roll or any bread that's just as tasty but not as bad for my blood sugar?" —Ray, Social Media Manager
I feel ya, Ray—I'm a huge bread lover myself. I've been obsessed with Simple Mills baking mixes since they came out—at my family's Thanksgiving this year, I'll be making the almond flour artisan bread mix. I shape it into dinner rolls, adding a bit of fresh rosemary and some flaky sea salt to the top to elevate the flavor, then brushing it with a bit of olive oil just before broiling. The result is better than traditional dinner rolls and contains a lot more protein and far more simple ingredients.
Liz Moody is an author, blogger and recipe developer living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated with a creative writing and psychology degree from The University of California, Berkeley. Moody has written two cookbooks: Healthier Together: Recipes for Two—Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Relationships and Glow Pops: Super-Easy Superfood Recipes to Help You Look and Feel Your Best. She also hosts the Healthier Together Podcast, where she chats with notable chefs, nutritionists, and best-selling authors about their paths to success. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Food & Wine & Women’s Health.