The Best And Worst Thanksgiving Foods (& How To Make Them Healthier!)

Thanksgiving is a magical time of the year. You get to take a break from classes and go home, see your high school friends, spend time with your family, and let’s not forget the best part—you get to indulge in the Thanksgiving feast. Right after we finish the meal (our pants a bit tighter than before the feast began), we start counting down the days ‘til next Thanksgiving… and then we proceed to fall into a deep food coma. So is there any way to enjoy this amazing holiday meal without getting a food baby so big that you feel like your jeans are going to rip at the seams?

It is actually possible to be healthy at Thanksgiving—and you’ve got HC to tell you how to do it! Below is a list of Thanksgiving favorites in order of most healthy to least healthy, as well as tips for how to make those less healthy options a bit better for you.

Green Beans

Calories and fat: 30 calories and 0 grams of fat per cup

The lowdown: You already know you’re supposed to eat your greens, and green beans are a great way to go. Not only are they low calorie and nonfat, but they are also full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them the perfect side dish.

How to make it healthier: The best way to eat green beans is raw or steamed. Squeezing lemon juice on them is a great way to add flavor (without adding any calories!). If the green beans are in a casserole, however, try to steer clear—and same goes for sweet potato casserole. Although green bean casserole may sound deceivingly healthy since it has vegetables in it, it’s actually full of fat and sodium from the canned soup, fried onions, and milk. So stick to fresh green beans!


Calories and fat: 150-180 calories and 1-4 grams of fat per 4 oz (about the size of your palm)

The lowdown: A lean source of protein, turkey is worthy of being the center of the Thanksgiving celebration. According to, “turkey contains selenium, which is essential for the healthy function of the thyroid and immune system. Selenium also has an essential role to play in your antioxidant defense system, helping to eliminate cancer-friendly free radicals in the body.” Turkey also contains Vitamins B3 and B6.  

How to make it healthier: The healthiest way to consume turkey is without the skin, which contains more calories and fat—a turkey wing without skin contains 3 grams of fat, whereas a wing with skin has 14 grams of fat! Also, white meat has fewer calories than dark meat, so go for that first.


Calories and fat: 30-80 calories and 0-6 grams of fat per ¼ cup

The lowdown: Gravy is by no means a health food, but using a reasonable portion (about a ¼ cup) to flavor your turkey and potatoes won’t hurt you.

How to make it healthier: Purchase nonfat gravy if you can or try this recipe for healthy homemade gravy.   

Canned Cranberry Sauce

Calories and fat: 110 calories and 22 grams of sugar in a ¼ cup

The lowdown: Cranberry sauce from the can, whether it’s jellied or whole berry, tends to contain tons of added sugar—a quarter cup has about as much sugar as a donut!

How to make it healthier: Fresh cranberries are actually incredibly good for you, so you can make this classic side dish healthier by nixing the can and going fresh. According to World’s Healthiest Foods, cranberries are a great source of fiber, vitamin C, and phytonutrients that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. Try this recipe for sugar-free (yet naturally sweet) homemade cranberry sauce.

Mashed Potatoes

Calories and fat: 200-300 calories and 7-14 grams of fat per cup

The lowdown: As with the cranberry sauce, it’s not the potatoes themselves that are unhealthy but rather what’s added to them. In this case, the calories and grams of fat in mashed potatoes depend on how they were prepared—the more milk and butter, the more calories and fat.

How to make it healthier: If Thanksgiving is at your house, prepare the mashed potatoes using skim milk instead of whole milk and go easy on the butter. You can even substitute some of the potatoes for cauliflower, which when blended gets a mashed potato-like consistency! But if you are unable to prepare the mashed potatoes yourself, just go for a small half-cup serving.

Sammie is a student at the University of Michigan where she is pursuing a BBA. A foodie since birth, she enjoys cooking, eating, smelling, looking at, photographing, reading about, and playing with any and all types of food. Her idolization of culinary delights is complemented by her active spirit- she enjoys running, swimming, barre classes, and even spontaneous bursts of interpretative dance if the mood strikes her. She has completed two triathlons and a half-marathon and plans to tackle more races in the future. She also dreams of traveling the globe, saving the world, and marrying James and/or Dave Franco. 

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