Thanksgiving dinner: 5 tips for saving calories

We live in a country of abundance. At so many points in American’s lives, food has been our best friend, and at times our worst enemy. With most planning to indulge and enjoy Thanksgiving, it’s as important to remember the values of sharing a meal as it is to practice portion control.

According to research, the average American may consume 4,500 calories or more on Thanksgiving. But, if you feel like eating stuffing, then do it! We should not deprive ourselves of the delicious holiday foods, but be mindful of the amount you consume.

Want to cut corners and still eat well? Here are five recipes that will help you enjoy a healthier holiday dinner:

Cauliflower stuffing 

Cauliflower is all the rage right now, and a little-known fact is that it’s a very flavorful and healthy alternative to traditional stuffing (it’s a great alternative to mashed potatoes too). By using cauliflower as the base to your stuffing, you’re eating about 30 percent less calories. Check it out:

Traditional Stuffing: 350 calories for a 3 oz. serving

Cauliflower Stuffing: 250 calories for 3 oz. serving

Total Time: 40-45 minutes

Serves:  6-8


  • 1 head of fresh cauliflower
  • 1 cup of chopped celery
  • 2 Tbsps. of olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • Bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs


  1. Chop onion, garlic cloves and celery and then in a sauté pan, heat olive oil and sauté until onions are golden brown
  2. Take fresh cauliflower and break into small florets
  3. In a large mixing bowl, place the cauliflower and then the cooled onion, garlic, and celery mixture.
  4. In a separate mixing bowl, beat eggs and chicken stock and then mix into the large bowl.
  5. Place final mixture in a baking dish.
  6. Top with bread crumbs and cover (I recommend mixing in just a bit of the bread crumbs to maintain the consistency of traditional dressing, but with less calories).
  7. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes.

Preparing and stuffing your turkey

People often stuff their turkey with bread stuffing or even bacon and sausage. It’s also common for cooks to dose the bird with butter on and under the skin. But for my bird, the only in-bird stuffing that I recommend are herbs, oranges, and lemons, stuffed only under the skin to increase flavor.

If you really want to stuff your bird with stuffing, for optimal food safety, cook the stuffing separately from the turkey to avoid irregular food safety temperatures inside the bird. Your Thanksgiving turkey should be flavorful and safe. Cook the bird to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees, measuring this in the meatiest area of the bird. For health purposes, it can be very dangerous to put the stuffing inside the turkey as you are running the risk of food poisoning/salmonella if the bird is not cooked through fully. In fact, this can even splash harmful bacteria around the kitchen, which can lead to cross-contamination with other foods.

For an extra tip, I also make a healthier gravy dish. Traditionally, a roux, which is butter and flour, are cooked and added to turkey drippings to make gravy, but it’s equally delicious and healthier to pulverize oatmeal and use that as the gravy thickener, instead of flour. There is also no big flavor change. It’s a win-win.

Traditional Turkey Gravy: 250 calories in a 1/2 cup serving

Turkey Gravy With Oatmeal: Less than 150 calories in a 1/2 cup serving, plus healthier ingredients without using refined and processed flour

Cook Time: 8-10 minutes/ Serves:  8-10


  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 2 ½ cups turkey drippings
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Strain your turkey drippings in to a medium or large sauce pan.
  2. Bring drippings to a rolling boil.
  3. In a food processor, place 3/4 to 1 full cup of quick cook oats.  Pulverize the oatmeal until it’s the same consistency of flour.
  4. Add 1 tbsp at a time to the drippings and whisk.
  5. Add chicken stock if it becomes too thick.
  6. Add salt and Pepper to taste.

Healthier mashed potatoes

Skip the heavy cream and use chicken stock to make creamy mashed potatoes. Also, if any of your dishes require beef, skip it and use mushrooms. Cooking is all about having fun and being creative so don’t be afraid to try new things. Yukon gold potatoes are the creamiest potato when mashed and they have a wonderful potato flavor. They also don’t need to be completely mashed. If you get a small chunk, it makes the dish a bit more rustic and adds texture. This is the simplest, and easiest way to prepare a healthier version of mashed potatoes, but yet still get all the delicious flavors.

Traditional Mashed Potatoes: 275 calories per 1 cup

Yukon Gold and Stock Mashed Potatoes: 160 calories per 1 cup

Cook Time: 20-25 minutes/ Serves:  6-8


  • 4 lbs. yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 tsp unsalted butter
  • ½ to 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Peel and boil Yukon gold potatoes (1 medium potato per person, or 2 small potatoes per person).
  2. Boil for 20-30 minutes or until you can easily pierce the potatoes with a knife.
  3. Remove from the heat and drain the water.
  4. Place the potatoes in a mixing bowl, and add 1 tsp of unsalted butter.
  5. Add ½ tsp salt and mash with a form.
  6. Add chicken stock or vegetable stock and continue to mash until creamy.
  7. Top them with fresh ground black pepper.

Healthy egg nog

Holiday drinks count! Drinks can add calories to your meal, but you can still make make great drinks with small substitution. For example, you can use almond milk rather than heavy cream, and coconut sugar or pure maple syrup as alternatives to refined white sugar in egg nog. This egg nog recipe is a great substitute to traditional egg nog and has all the flavor and only about half the calories.

Traditional Egg Nog: 400-425 calories

Healthy Egg Nog: 200-225 calories

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes

Serves:  6-8


  • 2 bananas
  • 2 Tbsps. pumpkin puree
  • 3 cups almond milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. chia seeds
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. maple syrup
  • ½ tsp. Nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup Rum


  1. Mash 1 banana, adding almond milk, and whisk until the banana is fully incorporated .
  2. In a processor or blender, add pumpkin puree, rum, vanilla, and chia Seeds, pulse 2 or 3 times .
  3. Add cinnamon, maple syrup, and nutmeg. whisk until all ingredients are mixed well and thick.
  4. Refrigerate for 2 hours and serve with a dash of cinnamon on top. 

Crust-less pumpkin pie

Can you really have desert? Yes! Save calories by skipping the crust with your pie. This is a great way to still eat the filling and enjoy the flavors. You can also substitute refined white sugar with coconut sugar and get the same sweetness that guests may crave. Coconut sugar also contains a fiber called inulin, which may slow glucose absorption.

Traditional Pumpkin Pie: 300 calories per slice

Crust-less Pumpkin Pie: 200 calories per serving

Cook and Prep Time: 45 minutes/ Serves:  8-10


  • 15 oz. pumpkin puree
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 Tbsps. maple syrup
  • ½ cup coconut sugar
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon


  1. In a large mixing bowl, place pumpkin puree, eggs, almond milk, maple syrup, coconut sugar, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon and mix well using a hand mixer.
  2. Place the mix in ramekins (4-8 depending on size).
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.
  4. Cool for 4 hours and top with a small dollop of whipped cream or a decoration and enjoy! (if you must, you can make small decorations using crust for the top).

Jacob Bustos is a chef, cooking coach, and author of ‘When food is your Frenemy’. He beat his battle with morbid obesity and has set out to make a positive impact on people. For more information on Jacob and his company, Portion Your Plate LLC, visit