If you’re following a specific eating plan—whether it’s veganism, ketogenic, Paleo, or something else entirely—you’ve probably got this thing down. You have your go-to recipes bookmarked and saved, and you know exactly which grocery store never runs out of cauliflower pizza crust and alt-milks.
But there’s nothing like Thanksgiving to throw all of that clockwork routine a little out of whack. The traditional dishes—turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes—aren’t always ideal for meatless or low-carb diets. And that makes menu planning tricky: If you’re a guest, you don’t want to stress out your host by making a ton of specific menu requests, or be ~that person~ who refuses practically everything on the table. And if you’re a host, you don’t want to make food only some people can enjoy, or impose your dietary restrictions on the rest of your guests. But in both scenarios, there’s a way to build your Thanksgiving plate where it’s crowded with amazing food—that still fits your health goals.
Here, healthy food experts share healthy Thanksgiving menu ideas for their eating plan of choice. Use their picks as a guide to make your own plate—especially if you’re the one doing the cooking.
Keep reading to see how to make a yummy Thanksgiving plate for your eating plan of choice.
The vegan Thanksgiving plate
“Veganizing your Thanksgiving plate is much easier than you might think,” says Best of Vegan creator Kim-Julie Hansen. “Most side dishes and stuffings can be made vegan with just a few adjustments, by using cashew cream instead of dairy, for instance.”
When she hosts Thanksgiving, Hansen serves homemade tofurky, and when she’s dining at someone else’s house, she fills her plate with roasted veggies, like sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. “Enjoy the same traditions, the compassionate way,” she says. “I promise you won’t miss a thing!”
The Paleo Thanksgiving plate
“These days a Paleo Thanksgiving plate can look pretty much like a traditional Thanksgiving plate, except everything is made with real food ingredients,” says Nom Nom Paleo‘s Michelle Tam. If she’s hosting the meal, she serves turkey, garlic cauliflower mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin, coconut, and maple custard cups instead of pie for dessert.
If you’re invited to a non-Paleo Thanksgiving dinner, “offer to bring something that you can eat, like roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon,” Tam says. “Your host will love that you’re helping out and you won’t be left hungry so it’s a win-win. Also, if you stick with turkey and the veggie sides, you’ll be fine!”
The pegan Thanksgiving plate
Dr. Hyman, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and author of Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?, favors a Paleo-vegan diet—aka peganism. “I essentially combined what I liked about veganism and Paleo to create a diet that worked for me,” he explains of the eating plan that’s low-glycemic, anti-inflammatory, and high in plant foods, healthy fats, and protein (which yes, can include some meats).
On Thanksgiving, turkey is still the star of his plate, but it’s a small portion because he also makes room for omega-3 rich fish, served with warmed butternut squash. Other veggies on his plate: kale salad and roasted carrots seasoned with coriander. And don’t think his spread is void of sweet potatoes—he uses the tuber in a quick bread recipe. For dessert, he gets his pecan pie fix with Paleo chocolate maple pecan tarts.
The Whole30 Thanksgiving plate
The Whole30 diet is one of the strictest to follow, but Melissa Hartwig, the CEO and co-founder of the diet, says it definitely does not require any skimping during Thanksgiving. “Your Whole30 Thanksgiving plate looks a lot like the plate you’re used to… we’re just swapping out a few ingredients,” she says. “Your turkey is animal welfare certified from ButcherBox, your gravy uses arrowroot powder instead of flour to thicken it. Your potatoes or cauliflower are mashed with ghee and coconut cream, and your tart cranberry sauce is lightly sweetened with orange juice.”
Also on Hartwig’s Whole30-approved spread: a side salad, sautéed green beans with mushrooms and caramelized leeks (in place of green bean casserole), and gluten-free stuffing. (Pro tip: Eat it for breakfast the next day with an egg on top.)
“Remember that Thanksgiving is about making memories and celebrating traditions with family and friends,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what’s on your plate, as long as you’re experiencing the connection and warm feelings the season has to offer.”
The vegetarian Thanksgiving plate
Nao Wellness founder Niki Ostrower works with clients of all eatings plans and she offers up this advice to vegetarian eaters: “Just because you’re vegetarian doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving meal. What I personally think is best, is to try and stick to all the yummy sides that are on the table!”
Ones to reach for: salad or green beans, roasted Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce, for a sweet finish. If you’re cooking the meal, Ostrower recommends working nutritional yeast into a few key dishes to get a serving of vitamin B12.
The ketogenic Thanksgiving plate
Thankfully, Thanksgiving already offers plenty of keto-friendly protein and healthy fats on the menu—starting with turkey. Perfect Keto founder Anthony Gustin, DC, MS, also adds Brussels sprouts with bacon, mashed cauliflower, and green bean casserole to his plate.
Snap Kitchen‘s lead dietitian Sam Presicci, RD, suggests a few more keto sides like prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, cheesy sausage and cauliflower stuffing (hold the bread!), braised kale, green bean casserole, and pumpkin cream cheese fat bombs for dessert. Now that’s something to be thankful for.
If you know you want to eat healthy but aren’t sure which eating plan works for you, check out this glossary of all the healthy diets, from A to Z. And if you’re looking for more healthy holiday inspo, check out these seven recipes which will put your spiralizer to good use.
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