Let’s face it, life is pretty amazing. In order to make the most of it, we are all actively trying to make healthier decisions that will benefit our long-term health. In order to be the best version of ourselves, we need to adopt new habits and routines, implementing small changes that will make a big difference.
This Thanksgiving, you can enjoy yourself while staying on-track. In fact, you may find that you make new traditions that both you and your family love. Moderation is the key and as long as you create a balanced meal, sneaking in nutrient-rich ingredients, you’ll be well on your way. Here are some suggestions to make this Thanksgiving a memorable and healthy one.
Related: DIY Thanksgiving Dinner without the Guilt
1. Ditch iodized salt
With increasing rates of hypertension sweeping the nation, many feel as though they need to avoid this mineral. Like many aspects of our diet, salt has been deemed an enemy — even though we need it to survive. Our bodies rely on it for circulation, balanced blood sugar, bone density and so much more.
The problem is, table salt is what the majority of the population consumes, which is a manufactured version of salt. It is heated and processed, essentially destroying naturally occurring elements. Table salt has been linked to a number of chronic imbalances, so this Thanksgiving, ditch the table salt and invest in sea or Himalayan salt.
2. Amp up on herbs and spices
Once again, far too many people rely on table salt to season their food. This not only makes your meal less healthy, it also robs you of potential flavor. Fresh herbs and spices is the perfect solution, offering unique flavor profiles and health-boosting properties. You can even add fresh herbs to butter, creating a fall-inspired addition to your Thanksgiving table.
Sage and rosemary are some common ingredients used in Thanksgiving dinners, which are great — but take your cooking and health goals to the next level. One of my favorite side dishes is mashed sweet potato with grass-fed butter, allspice and garlic chive — can’t beat it. We have also cooked an Indian-inspired turkey in the past, utilizing antioxidant-rich turmeric, clove, cardamom and garam masala.
3. Include raw sides
At Thanksgiving dinner, most of the foods you toss on your plate are hot and comforting. Personally, I love cold sides with my hot meals, including sauerkraut, mixed salads and pickled vegetables. Raw foods provide your body with something that most cooked foods don’t — live enzymes.
When you heat most varieties of produce, many nutrients and natural enzymes are destroyed. Some exceptions to this include tomatoes, asparagus and spinach, as heat actually unlocks some of their health-boosting properties. This Thanksgiving, play around with a few raw dishes, including this delicious apple coleslaw recipe.
4. Make new traditions
Many Thanksgiving traditions are unhealthy, including all the calorie-dense recipes and booze. Perhaps your family makes all kinds of unhealthy appetizers before dinner, so why not switch it up? Sure, Thanksgiving is only once a year, but you can make equally delicious starters that promote positive health instead of adding to your waistline.
From nutrient-rich salsas and guacamole to citrus-marinated shrimp, there are many options outside of processed chips and dip. Pumpkin pie is another common tradition — but who says that you can’t get creative? Try something new that will really wow your family. This year, make baked apples sprinkled with fresh cinnamon, helping you achieve a more balanced blood sugar.
5. Watch your drinks
When we’re kicking back with friends and family, it’s easy to get carried away during the holidays. You may enjoy a few cocktails or one too many beers, which most certainly is not in the “moderation” range. If you enjoy your alcohol on the rocks, this will also ensure that you sip it slowly and avoid mixers that are packed with sugar.
If you’re going to drink, why not open a bottle of red wine? It’s something that can be shared among family members, allowing you to benefit from the antioxidant known as resveratrol. Also, be sure to drink a glass of water between drinks, reducing your intake of alcohol and ensuring that you stay hydrated.
6. Make homemade cranberry sauce
Who needs jarred, overly processed cranberry sauce when you can make your own? That way, you choose what you put in it, avoiding excessive amounts of sugar. You will benefit from fresh cranberries, as well as lemon zest and spices. Not only is homemade cranberry sauce healthier, but it tastes a million times better.
All you need to do is combine cranberries, honey and water, bringing the mixture to a boil, before simmering for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. You will begin to notice the cranberries popping and the sauce thickening. At this time, remove from heat and add in a dash of allspice, as well as fresh lemon or orange zest.
7. Be mindful of portions
With so many tasty options, it’s easy to load up your plate, not realizing that you’ve eaten 1,500 calories in one sitting. A Thanksgiving meal shouldn’t make you change your pants, swapping out a pair of jeans for sweats. If you use smaller plates, you will be less inclined to overeat.
Also, eat more slowly — enjoy your food! When you eat too rapidly, your brain doesn’t have a chance to send the signal that you’re full. The truth is, this process is highly complex, involving your stomach, brain, gut and even fat cells. If you eat slowly this Thanksgiving, you’ll likely feel satisfied without needing a second helping.
8. Get moving
We always have Thanksgiving at our cottage, when all the leaves have changed and the air becomes crisp. During the day and after dinner, we all go for walks, canoe and even help my 87-year-old grandpa rake leaves. The last thing you want to do is all get together, sit in chairs all day and then eat a massive meal. Instead, get moving — no matter where you are.
Go walk to a local park or set up a fun game in your yard. Not only will you be physically active, but you will create more memorable moments. After all, who remembers a show they watched with their uncle two years ago? In comparison, you will likely remember the time you beat your uncle at a game of lawn bowling.
9. Sneak added nutrients
As mentioned, spices and herbs are a great way to enhance the flavor and nutritional profile of meals. When you’re cooking, there are so many easy ways to enhance the health-boosting properties of a meal. I often use plenty of fresh citrus juice, minced raw garlic and living pea tendrils to enhance the look, taste and nutrient level of meals.
If you do not want to steer away from your tried and true recipes, start to experiment with garnishes. This is an easy way to consume raw ingredients, all while making dishes look like they’re professionally cooked. Some of my favorites include pumpkin seeds, raw olive oil, fresh herbs or even shredded apple, carrots and fennel.
10. De-stress with family
No one should be stressed on Thanksgiving, which is why everyone in my family lends a helping hand. This holiday is not about one or two select individuals stuck in the kitchen. It’s about all of us coming together, laughing and enjoying our time with another. Really allow yourself to unwind, being thankful for all the beauty in your life — starting with all the loving people you’re surrounded by.
11. Go veggie
If you have been trying to live a cleaner, healthier lifestyle and your family has been supportive of your decision, why not create a whole new experience for them? Who says you have to have a turkey on Thanksgiving? Make a delicious and vibrant meal that is 100 percent vegetarian — but please, skip the Tofurkey. Try something new, like pumpkin pot pie or quinoa-stuffed acorn squash.
12. Have plenty of water available
We already touched on the importance of water between alcoholic beverages, but regardless of what you’re drinking, be sure to consume plenty of water. With all the excitement, many of us do not get enough water on holidays, but this could actually sabotage how much fun you’re having.
Even when you become slightly dehydrated, you will begin to lose focus and a headache could develop. No one wants to have to go lay down on Thanksgiving, especially when it could be such a simple fix. Invest in a few glass bottles and continually fill them so that there’s fresh water available to your guests.
13. Drink a healthy after-dinner tea
Who says that we need to fill our bellies with sugar after we’ve eaten two helpings of turkey? If you’re feeling as though you’re stuffed to the brim, don’t overdo it. Instead, have an after-dinner tea that will soothe digestion and balance blood sugar — like a cinnamon tea. It takes great and will satisfy your after-dinner cravings.
14. Avoid margarine
Like salt, butter has long been viewed as the enemy, which could not be further from the truth — especially when compared to margarine. This highly processed butter substitute has now been linked to all kinds of health problems, including an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Say no to trans-fats and say yes to grass-fed, organic butter.
15. Fill up on vegetables
If your plate is half mashed potatoes and half turkey and gravy, with a side of white bread, you will likely feel yucky after your meal is through. Instead, go crazy on vegetables — filling at least 50 percent of your plate with non-starchy options, including green beans, bell peppers, carrots or salad. Bring a little color to your plate and you’ll certainly boost the nutritional profile of your meal.
16. Choose wisely
If you want to eat in moderation this Thanksgiving, no need to avoid every special side dish, but just choose wisely. If you love stuffing and only eat it once a year, have a small spoonful. Enjoy this side dish instead of, let’s say, a plain white roll. Allow yourself to enjoy Thanksgiving, without overdoing it.
17. Make stuffing with homemade whole grain bread
If you have not yet invested in a bread maker, I highly recommend one. That way, when you do eat bread, you know exactly what is in it. Instead of using white bread for your stuffing this year, make a loaf of whole grain bread, adding ground pumpkin seeds and flax. This option will not only be healthier, but due to the increased fiber, it will promote satiety.
18. Focus on family and gratitude
At the end of the day, Thanksgiving is all about your loved ones. Take this time of year to celebrate the love and compassion you share for one another, truly expressing gratitude. Also, take this concept with you moving forward, practicing gratitude each and every day, instead of just once a year.
On behalf of myself and Alternative Daily, we’d like to wish everyone a safe Thanksgiving, full of laughter, family and healthy alternatives. Enjoy!
— Krista Hillis