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The 9 Best Thanksgiving Foods (With a Recipe for Each)

author image Pamela Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D.
Pamela Nisevich Bede MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a nutrition consultant with Swim, Bike, Run, Eat! LLC, an online nutrition consulting firm. Specializing in nutrition communication and medical nutrition therapy, she is a consultant to food-industry leaders in the areas of product development, marketing and consumer relations. A registered/licensed dietitian and certified specialist in sports dietetics, Bede holds an M.S. in medical dietetics.

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The 9 Best Thanksgiving Foods (With a Recipe for Each)
These are must-have foods to include in your Thanksgiving menu. Photo Credit: Jill Chen/Stocksy

Not sure what to make this Thanksgiving? We've got you covered. With the average diner enjoying more than a whopping 5,000 calories on Thanksgiving Day, you might be wondering how you can enjoy the festivities while not totally derailing your weight-loss efforts. Thankfully, we’ve come up with a list of must-have foods to include in your Thanksgiving menu, along with a recipe for each.

1. CRANBERRIES: Cranberry Orange Relish
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1 CRANBERRIES: Cranberry Orange Relish

While cranberries are an obvious choice to serve this Thanksgiving, did you know that one cup of this traditional favorite contains less than 50 calories? In addition, cranberries contain powerful nutrients called PACs (proanthocyanidins) that play a role in helping to maintain the health of the urinary tract, bones, teeth and immune system. With so many health benefits, it’s nice to know that there are a variety of ways to enjoy cranberries, from cranberry juice cocktail to the following Cranberry Orange Relish dish. CALORIES: 130

Related: Cranberry Orange Relish Recipe

2. PUMPKIN: Pumpkin Morning Muffins
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2 PUMPKIN: Pumpkin Morning Muffins

Ah, pumpkin. No Thanksgiving table is complete until this humble gourd makes an appearance. In addition to putting a smile on your face, pumpkin does plenty for the rest of the body, too. A half-cup of canned pumpkin contains only 42 calories. It also contains nearly four grams of fiber to keep your digestive system healthy and loads of vitamin A and potassium, which is important for heart health and muscle function. So what's a better way to start your day than with our Pumpkin Morning Muffins? CALORIES: 274

Related: Pumpkin Morning Muffins Recipe

3. SWEET POTATOES: Sweet Potato Puff
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3 SWEET POTATOES: Sweet Potato Puff

There’s no need to feel guilty for enjoying this colorful side dish. Sweet potatoes boast the powerful antioxidant beta-carotene, which can play a role in cancer prevention, according to the National Cancer Institute. And an added bonus? The complex carbs in sweet potato are easy to digest and a great source of energy, which might just help you get to the finish line a little faster at this year’s Turkey Trot! CALORIES: 218

Related: Sweet Potato Puff Recipe

4. WHOLE GRAINS: Whole-Grain Stuffing
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4 WHOLE GRAINS: Whole-Grain Stuffing

There’s no need to skip the stuffing this year when it’s made with whole grains. Our recipe ditches enriched white bread for whole-grain bread, which naturally contains essential nutrients like energy-boosting B-vitamins and filling fiber. And studies show that eating whole grains instead of refined grains lowers the risk of many chronic diseases, including Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease. CALORIES 205

Related: Whole-Grain Stuffing Recipe

5. PISTACHIOS: Colorful Pistachio Pilaf
Photo Credit: vladislavnosick/RooM/Getty Images

5 PISTACHIOS: Colorful Pistachio Pilaf

Try adding a little color to your Thanksgiving dinner by topping a traditional side dish with pistachios. Packed with antioxidants, phytosterols and unsaturated fats, pistachios are nature's heart-healthy snack. In addition, one ounce of pistachios (49 kernels) provides approximately three grams of filling fiber and six grams of satiating protein -- all while being cholesterol free. Our pistachio pilaf is cooked with dried cranberries and pistachios. CALORIES: 242

Related: Colorful Pistachio Pilaf Recipe

6. GOAT CHEESE: Goat Cheese and Artichoke Dip
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6 GOAT CHEESE: Goat Cheese and Artichoke Dip

Looking for a tasty topping for the crackers, fresh veggies and pita chips on your appetizer tray? Goat cheese is a unique and flavorful choice. It's low in fat and packed with protein and essential nutrients like calcium. Try it in an herbed spread, by itself or in this delicious dip. No matter how you decide to serve it, it's sure to be a crowd-pleaser. CALORIES: 167

Related: Goat Cheese and Artichoke Dip Recipe

7. CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES: Creamy Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup
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7 CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES: Creamy Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower contain disease-fighting and immunity-boosting phytonutrients. They're full of good-for-you nutrients, including vitamin A, C, folic acid and more. Not sure how to cook them? Toss them into this delicious and creamy low-fat soup. CALORIES: 173

Related: Creamy Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup Recipe

8. TURKEY: Tangy Turkey Rueben
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8 TURKEY: Tangy Turkey Rueben

There’s a reason why Thanksgiving diners everywhere will be enjoying turkey this year; it’s traditional and delicious. Thankfully, it’s also low in fat (hold the skin please!), high in protein (four ounces contain more than 30 grams of the good stuff), and full of essential nutrients like energizing B-vitamins and phosphorus, which is essential for healthy bones and teeth. Try our turkey rueben, which features herb-crusted turkey breast sandwiched between marble rye bread and topped with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. CALORIES: 332

Related: Tangy Turkey Rueben Recipe

9. SPINACH: Autumn Spinach Salad
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9 SPINACH: Autumn Spinach Salad

Here's a Thanksgiving side dish you can feel good about. With less than 10 calories per cup, spinach is packed with iron, potassium and antioxidant vitamins like Vitamins A, C and K. It's also an excellent source of the phytonutrient lutein, which protects the eyes against oxidative damage and harmful blue light, and has been found to be effective in the fight against macular degeneration. Our beautiful autumn salad bursts with baby spinach, pomegranate seeds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. CALORIES: 187

Related: Autumn Spinach Salad Recipe

What Do YOU Think?
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What Do YOU Think?

What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving foods? Do you love any that were included here? What are some of your best Thanksgiving recipes? Share your thoughts and recipes with us in the comments below.

Related: 10 Veggie Dishes to Make This Thanksgiving Super-Nutritious

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