It was a crisp, bright fall day when I hosted my very first Thanksgiving dinner. As my in-laws approached our home it was clear that some of them had fear in their eyes. Being a holistic health coach and culinary nutrition expert, the family was worried a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings was out of the question for me and they would end up with some weirdly healthy holiday dinner. Before I opened the door to welcome our guests, my brother-in-law said, “I hope she doesn’t serve us some crazy Tofurkey dish!”
To my in-laws’ surprise, I did not serve a soy-based interpretation of turkey. The meal was not made with processed food that “resembled” items from a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. With a little creativity, I was able to create a delicious and healthy holiday dinner that embodied everyone’s favourite memories of a traditional holiday meal.
Using my guide you can create your own elegant, (mostly) plant-based holiday feast that will leave your guests happy and healthy!
How to Create a Healthy Holiday Dinner
Let’s start with a few items we can ditch. A traditional turkey dinner is often filled with ingredients that you want to avoid and keep out of your kitchen.
Foods to Avoid
I understand cocktails can be a staple for family events and parties, but consuming large amounts of alcohol can lead to many health issues and a lot of guests that can’t remember how delicious their dinner was! There are plenty of alternatives to enjoy throughout your holiday get together. More on those alternatives shortly.
Let’s face it, gluten is in everything. Everything you don’t make from scratch, that is. Even if you are purchasing packaged items marked “gluten free”, I bet the ingredients they contain still aren’t something worth writing home about. Gluten can add to that bloated and lethargic feeling most people experience after a holiday dinner. With growing sensitivities to the ingredient, it’s best to keep it off your menu so everyone can enjoy all your tasty dishes.
3. Refined Sugar
Typically, at the end of a holiday feast, everyone reaches for a sugary treat to bring them back to life. But that spike in sugar will lead everyone even further into a zombie-like haze fighting over that last drip of coffee (ok, maybe a little dramatic, but you get the point). Try to create a delicious dessert with naturally sweet, whole foods like dates, maple syrup and raw honey.
4. Damaged Oils
Cooking unstable oils and fats damages our health and there’s no room for them in your holiday dinner. Use coconut oil or organic, grass fed butter for your dishes that require heat. Save olive and nut oils for dressings and cold dishes. For more info, check out this handy guide to choosing healthy cooking oils.
How to Make Healthy Holiday Swaps
When you’re avoiding certain items, it’s best to look for healthy alternatives and get creative with the different ingredients you’re swapping in and out. Here are just a few:
1. Use sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes
Even though white potatoes are a source of potassium, Vitamin C and fiber they can cause blood sugar imbalances (and they’re not that healthy when most people mash them with butter and cream during the holidays). Go for sweet potatoes that are very blood sugar balancing, plus they’re rich in Vitamin A, a vitamin that is great for boosting the immune system.
2. Season with sea salt instead of iodized salt
With over 86 minerals, a pinch of sea salt goes a long way. Ditch the iodized table salt that has no nutritional value for the whole food alternative.
3. Cook with coconut oil instead of vegetable oils
Canola and corn oils are some of the most sprayed crops, plus their genetic modification can cause mayhem in your body, especially when heated. Use stable fats like coconut oil for high heat cooking. Coconut oil has a high smoke point, which means it is perfect for roasting vegetables and you get tons of health benefits from consuming another super food.
4. Bake homemade crackers instead of buying them
Since we’re avoiding gluten, sodium and damaged oils, the commercial crackers are out! Making your own crackers can be incredibly simple but have big impact. When people find out I make my own crackers, they think I’m the next Martha Stewart! Try these buckwheat crackers or flax crackers.
5. Use homemade gravy instead of powdered gravy
Same as those crunchy crackers, powdered sauces and gravies are full of gluten, sodium and a truck load of MSG. And there’s no room for all that on your dinner table. If you’re roasting a turkey, you already have everything you need for a homemade gravy or try this vegan gravy instead.
My Healthy Holiday Dinner Menu
Now we know what to avoid and what alternatives to use but putting it all together is a whole other challenge. Planning ahead is key for any dinner party, especially a healthy one. There are no “convenience” foods in my kitchen so it usually takes a little longer…but it is SO worth it in the end, and I think my in-laws agreed with me this past Thanksgiving. And yes, I even made a believer out of my anti-tofu brother in law!
Here’s a look at the healthy holiday dinner menu I enjoyed with my family and the menu you can enjoy with your own!
- Baked sweet potato with goat cheese & walnuts. Seen here on my Instagram
- Roasted butternut squash with kale. Inspired by Oh She Glows
- Meghan’s Cauliflower Millet Mash
- Individual stuffed turkey breasts with cranberry and goat cheese
- Meghan’s Gravy Sauce
- Meghan’s Wild Berry Crumble
For additional recipe inspiration, you can check out the recipe section of the ACN blog.
I hope you’re feeling inspired to challenge yourself and do things a little differently this year. And from my kitchen to yours, I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!