Lightening Up Turkey Day Favorites

Use these simple tricks to lighten your Turkey Day favorites.


For many folks, the Thanksgiving feast is a green light to overindulge. According to the Calorie Control Council, the average American may consume more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat from snacking and feasting – and those figures don't include breakfast or nibbling on leftovers. That's two and a quarter times the recommended daily calories and almost three and a half times the recommended daily dose of fat. Many folks justify this gluttonous behavior as being an annual occurrence. But how can much of the U.S. population be overweight or obese if they're not overindulging on a more regular basis? Instead of throwing your arms up in defeat, use these simple tricks to lighten your Turkey Day favorites.


Turkey is a lean meat, but it's the size of the bird that gets most folks in trouble. Let's say you buy a 14-pound turkey for eight people – that's well over 1 pound per person. Smaller birds are usually more tender, so opt for a 7, 8 or 9 pounder instead.

In order to cook a juicy bird, keep the skin on when cooking. However, most of the saturated fat is found in the skin – so remove it before munching. If you're debating light vs. dark meat, both have a reasonable amount of calories and fat, as long as they're eaten without the skin. One serving of light meat (aka breast), or about 3 cooked ounces, has 117 calories and 1 gram of fat. Dark meat, on the other hand, has about 20 calories and 2 grams of fat more per serving than light meat.

[Read: Bird is the Word: Your Guide to a Successful Thanksgiving.]


Filled with bacon or sausage and butter, stuffing can average 425 calories per serving. Boxed stuffing contains fewer calories – around 160 per half cup – but is filled with a laundry list of ingredients and preservatives. Plus, most folks eat double the amount listed as a serving size on the box.

To lighten stuffing, use wild rice or bulgur, veggies, chopped nuts and dried fruit (like cranberries and raisins). These wholesome additions contribute flavor without as many calories and fat. If you must go the meat route, then use about half ounce portions per serving to keep artery-clogging saturated fat under control.

Green Bean Casserole

Innocent green beans drenched in heavy cream and cream-based soups drive the calories in this dish up to about 500 and 35 grams of fat per serving. To lighten this classic dish, make these simple swaps:

• Instead of heavy cream, use a combination of flour or cornstarch and low-fat milk, or combine yogurt with chicken or vegetable broth.

• Instead of mounds of cheese, use about 2 tablespoons of a flavorful cheese per serving, such as Gruyere or Parmesan. Steer clear of nonfat cheese, as these tend to lack flavor and don't usually melt well.

• Instead of fried onions, chop fresh onions and top with panko bread crumbs for the added crunch.

[Read: How to Have a Stress-Free Thanksgiving.]

Scalloped Potatoes 

Traditional versions of this holiday classic call for heavy cream. One cup of this packs 830 calories and 89 grams of fat, and many versions call for 2 cups. And that's not even factoring in heaps of shredded cheese, butter and sometimes ham or bacon – leading to a side dish that contains at least 550 calories and 40 grams of fat per serving. Simple substitutions can lighten it up dramatically:

• Instead of heavy cream, use half-and-half to save at least half the calories. You can also use a combination of whole and low-fat milk.

• Instead of piles of cheese, aim for 1 to 2 tablespoons of flavorful cheese per person.

• Instead of ham or bacon, use turkey or Canadian bacon – or skip the meat altogether. If you need the real deal, aim for half-ounce portions of meat per serving.

[Read: Happy Thanksgiving! Hold the Gluten, Nuts, Dairy, Etc.]

Apple Pie 

Classic apple pie a la mode can weigh in at more than 500 calories. Butter, lard and shortening are the top three fat choices that makes your pie crust delicious and flaky. To cut calories, make an open-faced pie (which is also called galette). If you make your own crust, substitute half the butter with nonfat plain Greek yogurt or light sour cream to help cut calories and fat.

For a lighter filling, aim for half to three quarters of a medium apple per serving, and use as little butter as possible – you'll need some for the crust.

If you must go a la mode, choose low-fat frozen vanilla or chocolate yogurt, or drizzle 1 or 2 teaspoons of caramel instead.

[Read: Skip the Eggnog! These Holiday Foods Are Good for You.]

Hungry for more? Write to with your questions, concerns and feedback.

Toby Amidor , MS, RD, CDN, is the owner of Toby Amidor Nutrition and author of the forthcoming cookbook "The Greek Yogurt Kitchen" (Grand Central Publishing 2014). She consults and blogs for various organizations including's Healthy Eats Blog and Sears' FitStudio.