Good Nutrition for a Happy Thanksgiving!                                            By Nicolle Cucco, MS, RD, CDN

Good Nutrition for a Happy Thanksgiving! By Nicolle Cucco, MS, RD, CDN

Note: With Thanksgiving on the horizon, we tapped the Witherell’s registered dietician, Nicolle Cucco, to offer this advice on how to eat healthy and still enjoy Thanksgiving’s bounty.

When it comes to the holidays, unless you have specific dietary restrictions, there is usually no need to avoid any foods! Consider this: the average weight gain for Americans during the holidays is only about 1-2 pounds. That said, it’s still important to be mindful of portion sizes; especially when tempted by high-fat foods like casseroles, potato dishes, and yummy desserts. A good rule of thumb is to fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (Brussel sprouts, green beans or leafy greens) and allocate the rest for a little of everything else. Be sure to keep an eye on your water intake, too. The body can easily mistake the feeling of thirst for the feeling of hunger.

Try these healthful spins on Thanksgiving classics:

  • Swap half the mashed potatoes for mashed cauliflower to scale back carbohydrates, sugar, and calories.
  • Replace up to half of all-purpose flour in baked goods with whole-wheat flour for more fiber, zinc, potassium, and magnesium.
  • Eat seasonal produce that’s at its nutritional peak! November/December is the best time for pomegranates, winter squash, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, parsnips, beets, pears, and many citrus fruits.

For seniors, these Thanksgiving foods offer a healthy boost:

  • Cranberries are a good source of fiber and vitamin C, and they have natural antioxidant properties.
  • While white meat turkey is lower in fat and calories, and higher in protein; dark meat contains a little more iron.
  • White or sweet potatoes, roasted or mashed potatoes (with the skin on!) deliver essential vitamins (especially vitamin C and potassium), minerals, and fiber.
  • Green beans are low-calorie and deliver fiber, vitamin K and chlorophyll, a pigment that may help protect against certain cancers.
  • Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds are delicious and full of antioxidants and nutrients like copper, zinc, vitamin K, manganese and magnesium.

Here’s a recipe for a delicious salad to add to your table:

Thanksgiving Quinoa Salad

Serves 4-6 people

1 cup uncooked quinoa

1 small Butternut Squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (approx. 2-3 cups)

2 cups Brussel sprouts, halved

2 cups baby kale

1/3 cup dried cranberries or cherries

1/3 cup roasted pumpkin seeds

¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Olive oil

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste


¼ cup olive oil

3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 Tbsp honey

1-2 Tbsp Dijon mustard

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

Pinch of paprika


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Spread butternut squash and Brussel sprouts evenly across two sheet pans. Drizzle with olive oil salt and pepper and toss until coated.
  3. Roast in oven for 20-25 minutes or until veggies are golden-brown and fork-tender.
  4. While veggies are roasting, cook quinoa according to package instructions.
  5. When finished, transfer quinoa to a large bowl, keep warm
  6. Combine all ingredients for dressing in a small blender and mix until combined. If you don’t have a small blender: place all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until combined or place all ingredients in a 12-ounce Mason jar, seal lid tight and shake until combined.
  7. Add roasted vegetables to bowl with quinoa, add cranberries, pumpkin seeds and fresh parsley. Pour dressing over salad and toss until all ingredients come together and are evenly coated.
  8. Season with olive oil, salt, pepper to taste; can be served warm or cold.

*To roast pumpkin seeds (or nuts, if desired): after preheating over to 400 degrees F, prior to roasted vegetables, spread evenly on a small sheet pan, toss with a drizzle of olive oil and roast ~3-5 minutes or until lightly browned and fragrant


*Quinoa can be substituted out for rice, barely, or riced cauliflower

*Butternut squash can be substituted out for sweet potato, carrots or other winter squash

*Baby kale can be swapped out for fresh spinach, chard, arugula or baby spring mix

*For a pop of freshness, swap cranberries out for fresh pomegranate seeds

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