Introduction: Healthy Thanksgiving Feast

About: Freelance mechanical engineer from the Bay Area.

Its easy to slip from your normal healthy eating habits during the holidays, thats why I put together some healthy, delicious recipes for a Thanksgiving feast. This meal includes a starter salad with nuts and fruit, whole wheat and oat dinner roles, a smoked and grilled turkey, a hearty quinoa stuffing with nuts and fruit, and a sweet potato pie for desert.

Here are the nutritional facts for a full thanksgiving meal (one serving from the following 5 dishes)

Calories:           850
Fat:                     23 g       25 %
    Sat. Fat:        3.4 g
Carbs:               87 g        41 %
    Fiber:             12 g
    Sugar:           22 g
Protein:             74 g        34 %

While supplying you with the correct percentages of macro-nutrients for a healthy, active adult, this feast also contains just 850 calories, meaning you can eat normally the rest of the day guilt-free, or you can go back for seconds (I went back for thirds)!

Step 1: Cranberry Apple Pecan Salad

This delicious appetizer will supply most of the meal's healthy fats. The turkey will provide some, but most animal fat has cholesterol and contains saturated fat. Olive oil and nuts are two great sources of clean, unsaturated fats, and this recipe contains both. If you want to really chow down on seconds during this meal, this salad is the place to start.

1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
2 Tbs Olive Oil
2 Tbs White Wine Vinegar 
2 Packets Granulated Stevia (Truvia)
1/3 cup Orange Juice (optional)

Romain Lettuce 
Mixed Greens
1/4 cup Chopped Walnuts
1/3 cup Dried Cranberries
1 Granny Smith (green) Apple

Microwave the cranberries for a minute or two until they start to get mushy and fall apart. Pulse them in a food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients for a couple seconds to puree everything together. If you want a sweeter dressing, add 1/3 cup of orange juice.

Spread out the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven at 175 for 10 minutes. Chop the romaine lettuce into small bite-sized chunks, and toss them in a salad bowl with the mixed greens. Slice the apple into thin slices and add them to the salad. Sprinkle the toasted walnuts and dried cranberries on top and add the desired amount of the dressing. 

Nutrition Facts:
Serving Size:    2 cups (1/8 salad)
Calories:            100

Fat:                      6 g
Carbs:                 8 g
    Fiber:            2.5 g 
    Sugar:          3.5 g 
Protein:               2 g

Step 2: Whole Oat Dinner Roles

Everyone loves dinner rolls with their Turkey-Day meal, and the little sandwiches you can make with leftover rolls and turkey are always delicious the next day. This recipe is a basic whole wheat dinner roll recipe* with several healthy modifications like oat flour, sugar free maple syrup, and no butter. Each roll has less than 1 gram of fat and almost 5 grams of protein.

Ingredients:   (Makes 18-20 small rolls)
1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
2 Cups Oat Flour
3 Egg Whites 
1/2 cup Plain Non Fat Yogurt
1/4 cup Fat Free Greek Yogurt
1/4 cup Non Fat Almond Milk
1/4 cup Sugar Free Maple Syrup (choose a brand that uses sucralose instead of aspartame as the sweetener)
2 Tbs. Active Dry Yeast  (2 packages)
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Baking Powder

Prep the yeast by mixing it with a bit of warm water in a small bowl. If it foams up after several minutes, then it's ready to use.
Mix syrup, both yogurts, and almond milk together in a bowl. Microwave for 1 minute. Sift flours, salt, and yeast into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the microwaved mixture into it. Beat the egg whites and add those in as well. Combine the dough until ingredients are fully incorporated. Add additional flour (oat or wheat) until the mixture thickens and balls up, but holds together. Turn out onto a flowered surface and kneed until the dough becomes smoother and more uniform. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator to store. When ready to bake, divide dough into 18-20 balls and place onto a lightly oiled baking pan. Cover rolls in a damp cloth, and place them in a warm place for an hour (in the oven at 100 degrees F works). When the rolls have risen, bake for 20 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size:     1 roll
Calories              80

Fat:                      .2 g
Carbs:               16 g
    Fiber:            1.5 g
    Sugar:          1.5 g
Protein:            4.5 g

* the bulk of this recipe was found here

Step 3: Smoked Turkey

Its time to prepare the centerpiece of the feast, the turkey! 
This is a pretty generic smoked poultry recipe, and since it was already pretty healthy, I just left it the way it was and let my dad work his grilling and smoking magic. 

1/2 cup Packed Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Salt
1 quart Water
1 smallish Turkey! (because it has to fit in the smoker, and ours is sort of small)

(Even though this recipe uses 1/2 cup of sugar and salt for the brine, most of it doesn't absorb into the turkey and just gets poured out with the leftover brine, so you dont have to worry much about high sodium or sugar levels.)

The Night Before Thanksgiving:
To prepare the brine, find a pot that your turkey will fit into, and pour in the water, sugar, and salt (dont put the turkey in yet). Heat the pot on the stove on medium heat and stir until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Once it has cooled moderately, place your turkey into the brine. If the water doesn't cover the turkey, add more water until the turkey is submerged or begins to float slightly. Place a lid or plastic wrap over the pot and refrigerate overnight.

Early Thanksgiving Morning:
The longer the turkey smokes, the better it will taste. 6-7 hours is reasonable, and it will need to grill for 3 to 4 hours after that, so plan ahead according to what time you want to eat. We decided on eating around 4 pm, so that meant starting the smoking process around 5 am.
That being said, at 5 in the morning, turn on the smoker, add some wood chips, and place the turkey in the smoker.
Continue to add wood chips every hour or two so that smoke is always being produced.
(You can pour out the brine now)

Several Hours Before The Meal:
Now its time to grill. Place the turkey on one side of the grill and turn on the other side to low heat. This will cook the turkey slowly because its being indirectly heated. If you want more smokey flavor, add a box of wet wood chips on top of the heated side, and prop the grill hood open an inch so that you get some airflow through the grill. Again, replace the wood chips every hour or so.
Grill for 3-4 hours, or until the inside of the turkey is 165 degrees F.

When you are ready to eat, slice and serve warm!

Nutrition Facts:
Serving size:       6 oz. 
Calories:               270

Fat:                       5.5 g
     Sat. Fat:          1.8 g
Carbs:                     0 g
Protein:                 51 g

Step 4: Hearty Quinoa "Stuffing"

This dish isn't exactly stuffing, but it's a filling carbohydrate dish, so thats what I'm going to call it. This dish has a quinoa base, which not only has a ton of low-glycemic carbs, but also has a full protein complex. The pine nuts add some healthy fats, and the apples and cranberries add a really great flavor and texture to the dish without adding any unhealthy aspects except some natural sugars.

Ingredients:  (serves 6-8)
2 cups Quinoa (washed)
1 Granny Smith (green) Apples
1/2 cup Dried Cranberries
1/2 cup Pine Nuts 
1 cup Low-Sodium Low-Fat Chicken Broth (or your favorite broth)
3 cups water
1/2 Tbs. Olive Oil

Chop apples into little 1/4 inch cubes. In a pan, heat the oil and add apples first, and pine nuts several minutes later. Sauté for several minutes until pine nuts start to brown, then remove from heat quickly. Cook the quinoa in a pan with the broth and water, adding extra water if needed. When the quinoa is done and has dried for a bit, fluff with a fork and mix in the dried cranberries, apples, and nuts. 

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size:     1 Cup
Calories:             270

Fat:                        9 g
Carbs:                42 g
    Fiber:             4.5 g
    Sugar:              9 g
Protein:             9.5 g

Step 5: Oat Crust Sweet Potato Pie

For dessert, sweet potato pie! (switching out the sweet potatoes with pumpkin will also work). Sweet potatoes are basically a super food. They not only have tons of low-glycemic carbs and fiber, but they are also super anti-inflammatory and have a complete protein complex. Also, they taste great! (which is something you can't say for many 'super-foods'). Besides sweet potatoes, the rest of this dish is mainly greek yogurt and eggs, both supplying you with tons of protein. Did I mention the crust is butter free? This desert is so healthy that you could eat it for dinner! (in fact, I'm definitely doing this in the future)

Ingredients:  (makes an 8-9 inch pie)
1 cup Oat Flour
1/3 cup Fat Free Greek Yogurt 
1/2 tsp Salt

1 or 2 Large Sweet Potatoes (2 cups mashed)
3 Large Egg Whites
1/3 cup Sugar Free Maple Syrup
3/4 cup Fat Free Greek Yogurt
2 Tbs. Granulated Stevia (Truvia)
1/2 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg

preheat over at 350 degrees F
Sift together the flower and salt, and combine with the yogurt in a food processor. You may need to add a little bit more yogurt if the dough doesn't ball up in the food processor. Kneed the dough until it's well mixed, then roll it out in a circle and press it into a pie tin prayed with some cooking spray. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees to harden the crust.

Wash and scrub the sweet potatoes, then microwave them one at a time for 5 minutes or until cooked all the way through (poke a knife through the skin and see if it hits anything hard, if it does, microwave more). The skin should peal off easily after they are cooked. Once the skin is removed, mash in a bowl with all the other ingredients. Baking mixers will help with this process. Once the filling it smooth, add the filling into the pie crust, sprinkle the stevia evenly over the pie. I sprinkled some cinnamon and nutmeg over the top as well, and drizzled a little more sugar free syrup on it too. Bake for about 50 minutes to an hour at 350 degrees (or until a toothpick comes out clean).
Serve warm with a dollop of stevia-sweetend greek yogurt, or just enjoy it plain!

Nutrition Facts:
Serving Size            1 Slice (1/8 Pie)
Calories                        100

Fat:                                 1 g
Carbs:                          20 g
    Fiber:                          3 g
    Sugar:                        5 g 
Protein:                          8 g