8 Easy Ingredient Swaps to Make Your Thanksgiving Healthier

By Betty Gold, realsimple.com | November 9th, 2021

Vegetarian swaps and tips that are tasty and better for you


mashed cauliflower in a bowl. For article on healthy vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner tips. Photo from Premium Health Image

Betty Gold of Real Simple magazine offers eight healthy vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner tips, ideas for ingredient swaps and options that are nonetheless delicious and satisfying.


The only thing more intimidating than cooking a Thanksgiving feast for a crowd? Making it a healthy-ish one.

No longer. We’ve rounded up a few simple ingredient swaps and tips that’ll make your Turkey Day dinner more plant-based … because, balance. Whether you have a table full of vegan and vegetarians, flexitarians or carnivores, these tips from Ashley Ucan, the executive chef at Vital Root restaurant in Denver, Colorado, are easy – and more importantly, delicious and satiating.

1. Upgrade your stuffing.

Skip the bacon and use chipotle powder to give your stuffing some deliciously smoky flavor instead. You can also add lentils and chestnuts to mimic the meaty texture from sausage. “It’s really important for stuffing to have a lot of dimensions and texture, so you have some room to get creative here,” Ucan says. You can try garnishing with roughly chopped smoked almonds, too.

2. Curtail the sugar in your cranberry sauce.

Cranberry sauce is already a great vegan dish, but there’s so much potential to break away from the (seriously sweet) norm on this one. Bust out your food processor and roughly pulse cored Granny Smith apples, whole blood oranges and fresh cranberries. Use a ratio of 3 parts cranberry, 2 parts orange, and 1 part apple. Add salt and pepper to taste; let it chill overnight to macerate, and enjoy. It’s a tart, bright, and superstar raw plant-based side.

3. Seek out spices and fresh flavoring agents.

“When trying to approximate a meal with animal proteins, it’s so important to layer flavors in a thoughtful way,” says Ucan. Use vibrant ingredients like tamarind or miso. To replicate the taste of dairy, try using nutritional yeast in place of cream or butter in your mashed potatoes or cauliflower.

4. Try a turkey alternative.

A great main to offer your vegetarian guests as an alternative to turkey is a vegan shepherd’s pie. It’s hearty and can stand on its own as the main entree. The important thing when you substitute a plant-based entrée for a meat-based one is that it’s filling, satisfying, and doesn’t compromise on flavor.

5. Make mashers sans potatoes.

No Thanksgiving is complete without mashers. To squeeze in some extra veggies (and fiber), try mashing together steamed cauliflower and coconut oil with a little salt – we promise, it’s still deliciously rich and indulgent.


More vegetarian ideas and recipes


6. Give in to mushroom gravy.

You don’t need to use turkey organs to achieve a well-rounded, rich gravy. Dried mushrooms are magic for use in a gravy in place of meat: they’re packed with savory umami flavor and taste delicious sans saturated fat.

7. Try a new bread roll topping.

Instead of an egg wash, you can add shine, color, and flavor to bread or rolls by brushing them with a 1-to-1 mixture of coconut milk and maple syrup before they go in the oven. You can sprinkle chopped herbs on top or into the bread, too.

8. Substitute for dairy in desserts.

Silken tofu is a great replacement for cream cheese, eggs, and dairy; coconut milk is a deliciously creamy ingredient that you can use in place of heavy cream.


Real Simple magazine provides smart, realistic solutions to everyday challenges, like healthy, vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner tips! More online at www.realsimple.com.

© 2021 Meredith Corporation. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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