Celebrating Thanksgiving the Healthy Way: Tips and Tasty Recipes

As the leaves turn and the air gets crisp, Thanksgiving approaches with its promise of cozy gatherings and delicious feasts. At The Center for Healthy Eating and Activity Research (CHEAR), we’re all about embracing the festive spirit while maintaining healthy habits. So, how can you enjoy Thanksgiving to the fullest without compromising your well-being? Let’s dive into some tips, ideas, and recipes for a fulfilling, health-conscious holiday.

Smart Strategies for a Balanced Thanksgiving

Moderation is Key

1. Stay Hydrated

Adults and children staying hydrated to control overeating during Thanksgiving
  • Why It Helps: Water plays an important role in maintaining your body’s balance and ensuring effective digestion. When you’re well-hydrated, your stomach sends signals to your brain that can reduce the feeling of hunger. Sometimes, we confuse dehydration with hunger, so staying hydrated can prevent unnecessary snacking.
  • How to Implement: Aim to drink a glass of water before your meal. It’s a simple trick to help fill your stomach slightly, so you feel satisfied sooner and are less likely to overeat.

2. Pre-Meal Snacking

  • Why It Helps: Eating a small, nutritious snack like yogurt, a piece of fruit, or a handful of nuts can help stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent the intense hunger that leads to overeating. It’s about taking the edge off your hunger so that you can make more mindful choices about portion sizes and types of food you eat.
  • How to Implement: Choose snacks that are rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fats as they are more satisfying and keep you full longer. A small snack can help you pace yourself through the larger meal to come.

3. Be Mindful of Alcohol

  • Why It Helps: Alcoholic beverages can contribute a large amount of empty calories to your diet and decrease how much you care about what and how much you eat, potentially leading to overeating. Setting a limit helps you enjoy the festivities without compromising your health goals.
  • How to Implement: Decide in advance how many drinks you’ll have and stick to it. Alternating between an alcoholic drink and a glass of water can also help reduce alcohol intake and keep you hydrated.

4. Treat Time Limits

  • Why It Helps: Setting specific limits and events/times for indulging in holiday treats can help prevent prolonged and uncontrolled eating of high-calorie, sugary foods. This balance allows you to enjoy the festive flavors without excessive calorie intake.
  • How to Implement: Set clear guidelines for yourself. For example, decide that you’ll only eat pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and the following day, and limit yourself to one reasonably sized piece each time.

Beyond Eating

1. Stick to Routines

  • Why It’s Important: Keeping to your usual exercise and relaxation routines can provide a sense of normalcy and control during the often chaotic holiday season. It ensures that you’re maintaining your physical health and mental well-being, which can be particularly challenging when your schedule is disrupted by holiday events and commitments.
  • How to Implement: If you typically work out in the morning, continue doing so. If your routine includes yoga or meditation, find a quiet time during the day, even if it’s just for a few minutes, to maintain this practice. Consistency is key, and it’s easier to stick with a routine than to restart after a long break.

2. Get Active

Adolescents engaging in physical activity for a balanced holiday season
  • Why It’s Important: Engaging in physical activities not only burns calories but also boosts mood and energy levels. Integrating physical activity into your holiday traditions makes it more enjoyable and something the whole family can look forward to and participate in together.
  • How to Implement: Plan activities that everyone can enjoy. This could be a morning walk or hike, a family game of touch football, or a friendly dance-off. Making it a group activity can also encourage more family members to join in and stay active.

3. Positive Attitude

  • Why It’s Important: Your mindset plays an important role in how you perceive and enjoy the holidays. A positive attitude can help you stay motivated and make healthier choices, turning challenges into opportunities for growth and enjoyment.
  • How to Implement: Focus on the enjoyable aspects of staying healthy rather than seeing it as a chore. Set achievable health goals, celebrate small victories, and approach the holiday season with an attitude of gratitude and joy.

4. Prioritize Sleep

Importance of sleep for weight loss and stress management during holidays
  • Why It’s Important: Adequate sleep is essential for overall health. It aids in digestion, helps regulate hormones that control hunger, and manages stress levels. During the holidays, when stress and dietary indulgences can disrupt sleep patterns, ensuring enough rest becomes even more crucial.
  • How to Implement: Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule even during the holidays. Make your sleeping environment comfortable and free from distractions. Avoid heavy meals and excessive alcohol close to bedtime, as these can disrupt your sleep.

By focusing on these broader lifestyle habits – maintaining routines, staying active, keeping a positive mindset, and ensuring adequate sleep – you can navigate the holiday season in a healthier, more balanced way. These practices help create a framework for not only enjoying the holidays but also for maintaining your well-being amidst the festivities.

Nutritious and Delicious Thanksgiving Recipes

Butternut Squash & Whole Grain Stuffing

Transform traditional stuffing by using whole grains and introducing the sweet, nutty butter flavor of butternut squash.

Healthy Butternut Squash and Whole Grain Stuffing alternative for Thanksgiving


  • 2 cups diced butternut squash
  • 4 cups cooked whole grain bread, cubed
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh sage, chopped
  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
  2. On a baking sheet, toss butternut squash with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes until tender.
  3. In a large skillet, sauté onions, garlic, and celery with a bit of olive oil until soft.
  4. In a large bowl, combine roasted squash, sautéed vegetables, bread cubes, cranberries, thyme, and sage. Gradually add broth until the mixture is moistened but not soggy.
  5. Transfer to a baking dish and bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is crispy.

Spiced Carrot & Lentil Salad

A vibrant, fiber-rich salad that brings a burst of freshness to your Thanksgiving table.

Nutritious Spiced Carrot and Lentil Salad for Thanksgiving


  • 4 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 cup cooked green lentils
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. In a large bowl, combine shredded carrots, cooked lentils, parsley, and pumpkin seeds.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, salt, and pepper.
  3. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well. Let it sit for 15 minutes before serving to allow flavors to meld.

Cranberry-Orange Sorbet

A light, refreshing dessert that captures the essence of Thanksgiving, without the heavy fat and sugar load.

Light and refreshing Cranberry Orange Sorbet for Thanksgiving dessert


  • 4 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup agave nectar
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange


  1. In a saucepan, combine cranberries, water, and agave nectar. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until cranberries burst and soften.
  2. Remove from heat, add orange zest and juice, and let cool.
  3. Blend the mixture until smooth and strain to remove solids.
  4. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Wrapping It Up with Wellness

This Thanksgiving, remember that the holiday is about more than just food. It’s a time for gratitude, family, and yes – delicious meals. By incorporating these healthful tips and recipes into your celebration, you’ll not only enjoy the festivities but also take care of your well-being. From our CHEAR family to yours, we wish you a joyful, healthy, and memorable Thanksgiving!