How to make your meal healthier this Thanksgiving

We’ve waited all year to feast on delicious Thanksgiving dishes. But it’s also important for the food to be safe, ensuring it’s free from harmful additives or pesticides.

Here are some ideas to inspire your Thanksgiving spread while keeping it healthy.


The traditional main course at Thanksgiving, turkey contains selenium and zinc, which boost your immune system. Just be aware of antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in many conventional turkeys. Turkeys given antibiotics are more likely to contain these strains. Opting for antibiotic-free turkey instead can decrease your risk of foodborne illnesses and infections

People love to talk about Thanksgiving leftovers lasting for days, but 35 percent of turkey meat ends up in the trash. Try buying a smaller turkey, such as a heritage bird, to reduce waste.

Check the labels on your turkey for certifications like USDA Certified Organic, Certified Humane, Global Animal Partnership Steps 3 to 5+, and Certified Animal Welfare Approved, which indicate food more likely to be safer for consumptionEWG’s meat and dairy label decoder provides easy-to-understand explanations of what these and other food labels mean.

The way you cook a turkey also affects how safe the meat is, so we recommend this EWG guide to cooking a healthier turkey. 

And since meat is a large contributor to emissions, don’t forget vegan and vegetarian options as a way to lower your carbon footprint. 

Green beans

Green beans are normally a healthy part of the Thanksgiving meal. But canned vegetables can be contaminated with BPA, an endocrine disruptor found in many types of canned food. To avoid exposing yourself to BPA, shop the vegetable aisle for organic green beans.

Or try frozen green beans, but look for whole organic green beans, which contain more nutrients than the cut variety. 


Stuffing is a Thanksgiving favorite, but it’s easy to overindulge with these and other carbs, and then feel lousy afterward. To increase the nutrients in your stuffing, try adding organic apples, celery, cherries, cranberries or carrots.

Mashed potatoes

Potatoes narrowly missed a spot on this year EWG Dirty Dozen™ of produce contaminated with pesticides. Look for organic potatoes, which do not contain pesticide residue. 

And consider making mashed potatoes from scratch, since many frozen and instant varieties are not organic. This also lets you control the butter and salt content.

Cranberry sauce

Cranberry sauce adds something sweet to the meal, but some store brands have more than 30 percent sugar. Homemade cranberry sauce is a simple alternative, with a sugar content you can regulate. Choose organic cranberries, since non-organic ones are often doused in pesticides. 


Most people love gravy on their turkey. But it usually contains empty calories and lots of sodium. Store-bought gravy can contain almost 20 percent of the National Academy of Medicine’s recommended daily sodium intake. Make your gravy at home to achieve a lower sodium content – then resolve to eat it in moderation.

Sweet potato casserole

With their high fiber and antioxidants, sweet potatoes can be a healthy addition to any meal. But once they’re turned into a casserole, with sweeteners and marshmallows added, they may be one of the most sugary parts of a Thanksgiving spread. Instead, try topping your casserole with crushed pineapples, nuts, oats or dried fruit. 

Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin is healthy, packed with beta carotene, vitamins C and E, iron and folate.

But as with sweet potato casserole, pie has its downside – all those other ingredients. Making it from scratch allows you to lighten up on the cream and sugar. If you buy canned pumpkin, look for the brands that say they’re BPA-free.

Safe, healthy and tasty recipes

Healthier recipes do not require sacrificing flavor. You might even be surprised to find out that such recipes can taste better.  When you’re planning your Thanksgiving meal, make sure to consult EWG’s Thanksgiving Food Scores and some of our staff’s favorite Thanksgiving recipes for healthy and delicious ideas. 

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