How to Plan a Healthy Thanksgiving Menu (Recipes + Printable)

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Wellness Mama » Blog » Recipes » How to Plan a Healthy Thanksgiving Menu (Recipes + Printable)

Holidays are a time to honor traditions, break out our best recipes, and celebrate in high style. Still, it can’t be denied that the usual Thanksgiving menu is rough on those with dietary restrictions, and generally leaves most of us feeling as overstuffed as the turkey!

Years ago I decided to take our Thanksgiving dinner in a healthier direction. I can now say with confidence that it really is possible to host a delicious and healthy Thanksgiving meal.

None of us miss the traditional versions of classic Thanksgiving recipes and prefer the taste and quality of these easy but homemade dishes. You can host your best Thanksgiving ever with a little pre-planning with some of these delicious recipes. Or if you’re bringing a dish over to the family Thanksgiving for a potluck-style event, there are plenty of options to choose from!

Our Favorite (Healthy) Thanksgiving Recipes + Menu Plan

Here are our favorite Thanksgiving Day recipes, from our family to yours! I adapted them back when I was completely grain-free and (mostly) paleo, so they’re definitely healthy. While our family does include some dairy and a few grains in our weekly menu, you’ll find plenty of allergen-friendly options here.

If you’d like to try this menu, I’ve included my complete shopping list below.

Mom disclaimer: No, I do not make all of these recipes from scratch every year! This is just a list of our favorites we’ve compiled over time. Some years we’re more motivated than others (read: when it’s not a baby year or the year of a worldwide pandemic).

Usually, I prioritize making the main portion of the meal from scratch and keep dessert simple. Even some fresh fruit or grain-free chocolate chip cookies from Thrive Market keep my crew happy. And as my kids have gotten older they’ve taken charge of many of our meals and family dishes which helps things go even smoother!

Enough from me, let’s dive into all the yummy recipes!

Appetizers

I like to have these around while I’m cooking/baking… along with a good glass of wine of course! They also help when you have little ones with big tummies who have a hard time waiting for the main meal to make its appearance. Another easy option to add is a plate full of chopped raw veggies with some dipping sauce, like high-protein ranch dressing or homemade French onion dip made with shallots.

Deviled Eggs (Traditional or Japanese)

For several years I avoided eggs because of a food sensitivity, but my kids would never let me forget the deviled eggs! We have them every year and they’re always a hit.

While I was taking a break from eating eggs, my kids took over making this Thanksgiving recipe, thanks to the skills they learned from my favorite online cooking class for kids.

If you’re tired of traditional deviled eggs (not that there’s anything wrong with them!), try this amazing Japanese twist on the classic. We always add some dried herbs to these for a burst of flavor, but fresh herbs also make a tasty garnish.

Charcuterie Board

Absolutely my go-to holiday or party appetizer. Very little chopping or prep is required and you can load it up with colorful veggies and fruits without anyone suspecting it’s actually healthy! Serve with homemade aioli or dip for healthy fats to take the nutrition even further. You can even add some buttery brie or other cheese for filling and tasty fats.

Here’s how to put together a beautiful charcuterie board… no artistic skills required.

Tip: Make some simple bulk nuts better by toasting them for a few minutes in a pan with a drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkle of sea salt.

The Thanksgiving Meal Turkey (of Course!)

How to make Thanksgiving turkey

No Thanksgiving feast is complete without a Thanksgiving turkey at the holiday meal! First, I highly recommend brining your turkey a few days to a week before the holiday. It helps the drier turkey breast meat especially to have so much more moisture and flavor. I quarter an onion and a lemon and place them inside the cavity before tying. Then, I rub butter on the outside and sprinkle it with salt, pepper, garlic, and basil.

You can find my turkey recipe for brined and roasted turkey here. You can also use the drippings to make your own turkey gravy. Just add a little arrowroot or organic cornstarch to the drippings and cook on the stove until thickened.

Side Dishes

Grain Free Veggie Stuffing Recipe

gluten free stuffing

Stuffing (or dressing if you’re Southern) is one of the most popular Thanksgiving side dishes. Instead of the typical cornbread dressing or from a box stuffing, though our family loves this grain-free version.

Roasted turnips and sweet potatoes are flavored with apples, celery, and onions. This is a great way to add some extra veggies to the meal and try some delicious root vegetables. Hints of sage and thyme give it the traditional taste of stuffing without gluten or artificial ingredients.

Get my stuffing recipe here.

Green Bean Casserole

Healthy Green_Bean_Casserole

Green beans topped with a homemade (real) cream sauce and topped with crispy pan-fried onions in a coconut flour batter. This recipe has all the flavor (and more) of the traditional version without the mystery soup in a can. You can use canned French-style green beans, but fresh or frozen work really well here.

Get the recipe for green bean casserole here.

Sweet Potato Casserole

At our house, we prefer sweet potatoes baked and topped with real butter and sea salt. If you like the marshmallow-topped version, this is a good alternative. It’s topped with a homemade egg and honey-based “marshmallow” meringue that’s very similar in taste and texture. (It’s just missing that high fructose corn syrup aftertaste…).

Get the recipe for sweet potato casserole here.

Mashed “Fauxtatoes”

Creamy Garlic Mashed Cauliflower potatoes Recipe

Many of us are used to a potato recipe of some kind at Thanksgiving dinner, whether that’s potato gratin or creamy mashed potatoes. If you love potatoes, by all means indulge, but we love this low-carb cauliflower version. It uses pureed cauliflower and all the seasonings of regular mashed potatoes for a delicious substitute. Don’t worry, I left in the butter, sour cream, and cheese so this qualifies as a Thanksgiving recipe!

Get the recipe for creamy garlic mashed cauliflower “potatoes” here.

Cranberry Sauce

Homemade Cranberry Sauce is a healthy recipe that has hints of pineapple and citrus. It has no sugar and is optionally sweetened with honey.

A slightly sweet recipe that leaves out the “equal parts sugar” in traditional recipes. Hints of orange and pineapple sweeten it naturally. It tastes great with the main even, or as a garnish on leftover turkey sandwiches.

Get the recipe for lower-sugar cranberry sauce here.

Maple Tarragon Carrots

My dad’s side of the family always has some sort of carrot side dish each year. A while ago I decided to give them a tasty twist and make some with maple syrup and tarragon. You can simmer them on the stove until soft or make roasted carrots for even more complex flavors.

Get the recipe for maple tarragon carrots here.

Apple Kale Salad

apple kale salad

While this may not be a classic Thanksgiving dish for most, it adds a crisp and refreshing side to help balance out the heartier dishes. It uses tender, massaged kale leaves paired with tangy apples and an apple cider vinaigrette. You can top it with fresh pomegranate seeds, goat cheese, and onions for even more flavor.

Get the recipe for apple kale salad here.

Bacon and Sea Salt Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Side Dishes

Who says kids (or adults) have to dislike Brussels sprouts? When roasted until caramelized and topped with bacon and sea salt, Brussels sprouts can become a side to fight over! The balsamic vinegar adds a nice tang to really complement the bacon.

Get the recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts here.

Butternut Squash Soup

If you want to serve a soup course, I recommend this one. We love this slightly sweet soup that tastes like Fall in a bowl! It uses coconut milk so it’s also dairy-free.

Get the recipe for butternut squash soup here.

Fresh Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan

Parmesan Asparagus Recipe

A delicious side that’s equally delicious in omelets the next morning. Even the kids like asparagus this way, and we usually serve it with Hollandaise sauce. It’s super simple to throw together with just a few ingredients and the oven really brings out the flavors. If you need to make it dairy-free, try it without the parmesan.

Get the recipe for roasted asparagus with parmesan here.

For grain-free dinner rolls, bake a batch or two of coconut flour biscuits. We love them for making sandwiches with leftover turkey and cranberry sauce the day after Thanksgiving!

Show-Stopping Thanksgiving Desserts

Although I often like to keep dessert simple with some fruit and fresh whipped cream, pies are a must-have at our Thanksgiving table. Here are a few different options to try (or try all of them!).

Pumpkin Pie

The much-loved Thanksgiving dessert gets a makeover without the added sugar or dairy and a grain-free almond and pecan pie crust. (It’s also equally good for breakfast the next day!). And don’t forget the whipped cream!

Get the recipe for pumpkin pie here.  

Pumpkin Cheesecake

pumpkin cheesecake

If you aren’t much of a pumpkin fan or need to feed a bigger group, this recipe has a subtle pumpkin taste in cheesecake form. It’s quickly become one of my all-time favorite desserts! And it’s not only gluten-free but it’s grain-free and naturally sweetened. It’s almost like having pumpkin pie and whipped cream (but with a cheesecake tang) all rolled into one.

Get the recipe for pumpkin cheesecake here.  

Carrot Cake

Gluten Free Carrot Cake Recipe

A healthy version made with coconut flour, lots of eggs (protein!), and spices. You can add the optional cream cheese frosting if you like. Carrot cake is a little more involved to make, but it works really well to make this even several days before the big event. For a more crowd-friendly version, try making them into cupcakes!

Get the recipe for gluten-free carrot cake here.


Pecan Pie

Grain free and dairy free pecan pie recipe

This is one of my favorite grain-free dessert recipes. With no refined sugar and lots of eggs for protein, it’s a relatively healthy dessert for special occasions. Plus this version doesn’t have any of the corn syrup that gives many versions a weird taste.

Get the recipe for pecan pie here.

How to Put It All Together (Step by Step)

Do the words “menu plan” send chills down your spine? Here’s how to get a healthy and stress-free Thanksgiving menu on the table in 5 manageable steps:

Step 1: Write Out a Thanksgiving Dinner Menu Plan (or Borrow Mine!)

About two weeks before Thanksgiving, I pull up my holiday recipes in Real Plans (the tool that makes all my menu dreams come true) and decide what I’m going to make. I also check the pantry and make sure I have my staples that aren’t available locally. This way I have time to order from my favorite online sources.

Doing this well ahead of time saves so much stress. I can shop before the stores get really insane and make most of the dishes ahead. Then, on Thanksgiving, I just have to cook the turkey, roast some veggies, and reheat the dishes I’ve made.

Free Printable Shopping List

Here is my full printable shopping list for a healthy Thanksgiving menu.

Step 2: Shop, Prep, and Chop

I head to the store with my list about 5 days before Thanksgiving. Surprisingly, shopping is pretty straightforward (and affordable) when you can spend most of your time in the produce section of the store. Most of the items on the list (brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.) keep well for days.

We plan for a day at home after shopping and I put my younger kids’ knife skills to work helping me peel and chop the fresh veggies. The older kid’s cooking skills mean they’re able to take over on some of the dishes. I also precook any veggies that will be blended into soups or casseroles. (The Instant Pot is handy for this!)

I save an extra bowl of chopped veggies for an easy turkey vegetable soup to simmer the day after the big feast.

Step 3: Brine That Turkey!

I don’t mean to be pushy, but really … don’t skip this step! Brining is my favorite way to achieve juicy, amazing turkey every time. Grocery stores do their own brining with overly salty solutions with questionable ingredients (that you end up paying for since it adds to the weight).

If you can get your hands on a local organic turkey it’s worth the extra planning and expense. A pastured turkey brined at home just can’t be beaten for amazing flavor and texture. If you don’t have a place local to you, places like Butcher Box will deliver one to your door.

A frozen turkey can even slow defrost in a brine. By the time it’s defrosted, you have an amazing juicy turkey ready for roasting! I explain how to brine step by step in this post.

Step 4: Bake a Dessert (or Three)

Pumpkin and pecan pies are a Thanksgiving requirement in our house. Thankfully we’ve mastered grain-free versions of all the desserts we love (and I’ve included a few extras below for good measure). Many people also welcome a classic apple pie or sweet potato pie at their Thanksgiving table.

I usually plan some time in the kitchen about 2 days before Thanksgiving to make one or more of these from start to finish so they are ready for the big day. As my kids get older, most of them are able to take charge of this … anything in the name of dessert!

Step 5: Put It All Together

The day before Thanksgiving, we assemble casseroles, soups, stuffing, and basically anything that keeps well overnight. I really just save the turkey and the asparagus for cooking on the big day and reheat the rest of the food in batches in the oven.

At the end of this day, the cutting board, blender, and a few bowls need washing, but not much else!

Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

What are your favorite Thanksgiving traditions? Will you use my shopping list or recipes? Share below!

Sources
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

39 responses to “How to Plan a Healthy Thanksgiving Menu (Recipes + Printable)”

  1. Bettie Avatar

    These recipes for Thanksgiving sound wonderful……Do you have a favorite one for healthy Turkey gravy for those faux potatoes and a grain-free one to replace croissants or rolls? I do prefer using coconut flour when there is a recipe choice between that or nut flours. Thank you for the great shopping list. It is extremely helpful since I plan to incorporate all my wanted items from your menu plan.

  2. Heather Avatar

    Katie,
    My daughter is gluten and dairy averse. She just started college and is pregnant:( . She is very down. What can I do to encourage her to eat healthy for baby? She is wondering how gluten free and dairy free may affect breast feeding. She does not want to use formula. She is craving cake, gluten free ideas for strawberry flavored cake and cream cheese frosting?
    Thank you for the thanksgiving meal ideas I will make the “stuffing for her ” and potatoesbof cauliflower? What Essentials may she use first trimester? Also baby safe EO? Lavender augustifolia 1% dilution?

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      I personally avoid all EOs in first trimester unless there is a really specific reason to use one and I’ve checked with a doctor. That is so tough in early pregnancy too…. is she near a whole foods, they have a lot of pre-made gluten and dairy free treats that she may be ok with. They aren’t the best but better than regular gluten-filled ones.

  3. Cindy Schemenauer Avatar
    Cindy Schemenauer

    Having Celiac disease has made me not enjoy the holidays or big family meals. Perhaps with a few of these recipes, I can contribute and have something to eat.

  4. Heidi Avatar

    My daughter and I just started a gluten free, sugar free diet so these recipes are so welcome! I’m having Thanksgiving at my house so I can make these healthy versions and see if my mom notices! 🙂

  5. Katie Avatar

    I am really looking forward to trying your recipes! While I don’t have my own Thanksgiving to cook for quite yet, I think I’ll make these within the next year! They look so delicious, thank you for healthier alternatives!

  6. Adam Baum Avatar

    You look a lot like Britney Spears to me. I love the Idea’s you gave me here. Family Thanksgiving has become my responsibility since mother and my wife have passed and my father turned 90 this year so he can’t help as much as he had before. Coming from a family of 12 kids that has blossomed into well over 100, I usually expect 70 to 80 for dinner. I have split the preparation of dishes and deserts between my relatives and I roast the Turkeys, Hams. and Rib-roasts, and Dressing. I’m looking forward to trying your turkey roasting tips and use some of the other tips you recommend for the dressing. I will let you know how we end-up satisfied later on after Thanksgiving.

  7. Rebecca Knight Avatar
    Rebecca Knight

    Any suggestions for stuffing for someone needing gluten free. This is what I miss the most about not eating gluten.

  8. Leslie Avatar

    Katie – what are your thoughts on using cream cheese that forms after making whey from yogurt for the pumpkin cheesecake? Thanks!!

  9. Jessica French Avatar
    Jessica French

    Thanks for sharing! I made the sweet potato dish and it was a huge HIT!! I was a little skeptical initially, but it had great flavoring and everyone raved about it! Thanks again!

  10. Christina Misuraca Avatar
    Christina Misuraca

    I just found wellness mamma and iI am thankfull because now maybe I can get an understanding of why after all the dieting and aerobics Ive been doing arnt making even the slightest difference.

  11. Alice Avatar

    Wow, thanks so much for this–looks delicious! We’re a shaving company called Dorco and we think every girl should be able to afford high quality razors. That’s why we provide quality razor systems, disposables, and cartridges for 30-70% less than leading brands. Check out our prices for yourself by Googling us! Thanks again for this great post!

  12. Dana Avatar

    Katie, I am so thankful for you. Not only have I gained so much from your posts regarding healthy eating, but I’m so pleased that I learned of the Catholic parenting book on your blog. I still, for the life of me, can’t figure out how you get so much done each day. I think I need to spend a few days with you 😉

  13. Charmaine Taylor Avatar
    Charmaine Taylor

    Thanks again for doing my homework! 😉 You’re the best!! Can’t wait for the book!!

  14. Conni Stock Avatar
    Conni Stock

    Wow! What a hit the thanksgiving meal was this year! All credit to the #WellnessMama for the wonderful healthy dishes in this post! I printed the shopping list and recipes and went headed straight to the stores to prepare for my first HEALTHY thanksgiving feast. I feel so good that we exercised, ate and enjoyed the time spent with my family and friends more than ever… my children have been very supportive of my paleo lifestye but have not really eaten the foods… NOW… they are believers. Leftovers were divided up fairly! Brussel sprouts and asparagus were the favorite new sides! We enjoyed our meal so much that we did not feel the need for the dessert. Looking forward to watching this meal and what it represented grow into a healthier life for my family. Thanks again.

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      That’s wonderful! Thanks so much for taking the time to come back and let me know! 🙂

      1. Conni Stock Avatar
        Conni Stock

        It was very rewarding to witness the benefits from your sharing.
        My daughter has a new home and I am trying to put together healthy living survival kit to get her off on the right foot. Suggestions? … Would love to read your spin on what to include.

        1. Wellness Mama Avatar
          Wellness Mama

          Hmmm…. Coconut Oil, coconut flour, almond flour, homemade lotion, soap, etc, some basic herbs and spices and maybe a little printed recipe book?

  15. Cecilia Duval Powers Avatar
    Cecilia Duval Powers

    thanks again for all you do! my not paleo husband loves your green bean casserole!

  16. Jody C Avatar

    Great recipes and alternatives to the traditionals. Since hubby and I are eating better now, we will forgo the green bean casserole for fresh, sauteed green beans with a wee bit of bacon, slivered almonds, and onions, totally skipping the cream sauce. I love sweet potatoes just like you describe (hold the marshmallows). I’m going to try your cranberries since in the past I’ve always made the cup for cup recipe on the back — WAY too much sugar. Oh! sharing one more cranberry idea for you. Chocolate dipped FRESH cranberries. Wash, dry, then dip individual cranberries in dark chocolate. THE BEST THING EVER!

  17. monalisa Avatar

    Thx so very much on all your hard work putting this out there for all of us:) I am using some of your recipes for my family dinner:)

  18. Allison Avatar

    Wow sounds fabulous!   What time should we be there 🙂   I love all your great ideas.   I’m cooking a turkey for the first time ever this Thanksgiving and need all the help I can get!   I’m also making some yummy roasted root veggies for those of us who don’t want the mashed potatoes and stuffing.

    1. Carol L Avatar

      Just don’t forget to remove the neck and liver, etc. from the inside first! I did this the very first time I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my new husband and my parents…imagine my surprise at the table when I pulled this out!!!!!
      Talk about RED faced!

  19. Anitra Sweet Avatar
    Anitra Sweet

    wow! thank you for putting all this together! i am going to make a few healthier options and bring it over to my folks house for thanksgiving!

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