Thanksgiving is quickly becoming my favorite holiday. And why not? It's a great time to hang out with family, watch football and, of course, eat an amazing meal.
Most people think of Thanksgiving dinner as being a bit of a calorie bomb. And, really, it is: in a recent issue of EatingWell we estimated that the Turkey Day meal clocks at least 2,800 calories.
Sure, it's only once a year and no big deal when balanced against healthy eating habits the rest of the time. But that argument obscures an important fact: even while it's high in calories, the Thanksgiving menu is full of healthy foods. Check out some of the healthiest foods on your Thanksgiving menu.
1. Turkey--Turkey is one of the most straightforward dishes on the Thanksgiving table. Sure, there are ways to up the sinful factor (some recipes call for slathering the bird in butter or dressing it with strips of bacon before roasting). But a basic roast turkey has little in the way of caloric surprises: 3 ounces of white meat is a lean 115 calories. While dark meat has a few more calories, it also delivers a nice dose of iron (11% of your daily value). Both light meat and dark meat are great sources of protein, offering 26 and 24 grams per serving respectively.
2. Sweet Potatoes--A veritable powerhouse of nutritional goodness, a 4-ounce serving of sweet potato (about 1/2 cup) provides 390% of your daily value of vitamin A, which promotes bone health, 40% of immunity-boosting vitamin C, 18% of your daily dose of fiber and phytochemicals like beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which contribute to healthy vision.
3. Green Beans--Green beans are a tasty low-calorie vegetable with fiber and a wide array of nutrients, such as vitamins A and C. A 1/2-cup serving of green beans provides some calcium, potassium and folate as well. And Green Bean Casserole is one of the most iconic holiday vegetable dishes, thanks to the perfect combination of creamy mushroom gravy, tender green beans and crispy onion topping. But you don't need to add a ton of fat to make green beans taste good. Try our slimmed-down recipe for Green Bean Casserole to bring this classic vegetable to the table in a healthy way.
4. Cranberries--Cranberry sauce is a must-have for most of us on Thanksgiving. A good source of vitamin C and fiber, cranberries are also an excellent source of several antioxidants that have been associated with cancer prevention.
5. Brussels Sprouts--Tender, sweet and just a little nutty, Brussels sprouts add a delightful crunch to many healthy recipes. The cruciferous vegetable is packed with vitamins A, C and K, as well as dietary fiber and potassium, and works well roasted, sautéed or baked. It's also packed with cancer-fighting sulforaphane.
6. Wild Rice--A great ingredient for stuffing, wild rice is chewy, nutty and a delicious balance for soggy bread or fall fruit. It has fewer carbs and more protein than brown rice, while boasting 3 grams of dietary fiber in a 1-cup serving.
7. Potatoes--Potatoes are a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin C. And though some might see this a sacrilege, if you leave the skins on when you mash them they offer a healthy dose of fiber too. Find more tips for perfect mashed potatoes here.
What's your favorite food on the Thanksgiving menu?
By Matthew Thompson
Matthew Thompson is the associate food editor for EatingWell Magazine.
More from EatingWell: