My foray into cooking healthy Thanksgiving dishes

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With $40, 90 minutes and three recipes, I had three healthy Thanksgiving side entrees hot out of my oven.

Thanksgiving seems to be a holiday where you eat everything you can and without regrets. This can be particularly true for college students who don’t always get home-cooked meals very often.

One of longevity center Pritikin’s nine tips to a healthier Thanksgiving was healthier sides. So, zucchini, mushrooms and sweet potatoes without the marshmallows were on the menu this week while I tried some slimmer recipes for the upcoming Thanksgiving feast. 

Richard Cuellar, a sophomore communication major from Los Angeles, said he could see his mom making all those veggies, but Thanksgiving dinner is a holiday for the traditional foods of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, rolls and macaroni and cheese.

“If my mom replaced those sides with all those veggies, I would sit at the table with my family but then sneak over to my friend’s house for the good stuff,” Cuellar said. 

Summer Taylor, a freshman psychology major from Denver, said Thanksgiving is a celebratory holiday to treat yourself, but healthier options would be beneficial.

“I never feel guilty after [Thanksgiving] dinner, but I have never struggled with weight either,” Taylor said. “My family does make a lot of salads and veggie sides, and there should be a balance [between healthy and unhealthy foods].”

The recipes aren’t as bad as they sound — the zucchini are baked into crusted strips, the mushrooms are roasted with garlic parmesan and the sweet potato casserole has a maple pecan topping. Pinterest is a wonderful resource to make the not-so-tasty into tasty. 

Parmesan garlic mushrooms

The parmesan garlic mushrooms were the easiest dish to prep and cook. All I had to do was chop the mushrooms up into about half or a quarter chunks depending on their size, toss them with the garlic, parmesan and few other ingredients, and slide it into the oven for 20 minutes at 450 degrees.

Recipe blogger Carole Jones was not lying when she said the mushrooms will shrink significantly, so if you are feeding a lot of people with this side-dish, don’t be afraid to get the Costco-size package of mushrooms.

The mushrooms came out extremely flavorful, had a nice soft texture and would be paired nicely with turkey and a little bit of gravy. You even could make the dish go a little farther by adding green beans, chopped asparagus or other veggies.

Many mushrooms are a good source of the antioxidant selenium, which can help with your heart, reproductive health, act as an anti-aging agent, and help prevent cell damage.

Sweet potato casserole

The sweet potato casserole has the longest prep time but is the next easiest to make. Clean, peel, dice and then boil the potatoes for 20 minutes.

By the time my potatoes were done boiling, they were so soft I could have mashed them all with a regular ol’ dinner spoon, but I didn’t because there was a lot of them. I mashed them up with the rest of the ingredients, transferred them over to a casserole dish, spread the pecan-topping and popped it in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

I didn’t go completely vegan or all natural on the sweet potato casserole. I used regular butter and my roommate’s Kroger maple syrup, but if you are trying to skip the sugary marshmallows and loads of brown sugar on your traditional sweet potato dish, this is the recipe for you.

Sweet potatoes have a lot of vitamins, are fat-free and are orange in color due to carotenoids, which are good for eye health, skin, heart, male fertility and are possibly linked to preventing cancerous  tumors.

Baked zucchini sticks 

The zucchini sticks were easy to prep without a lot of cooking time, but I had difficulty getting them completely coated in the breadcrumb mixture. The zucchini sticks also didn’t brown like I wanted them to, but they still had a good crunch and softened inside.

Zucchinis are high in magnesium, vitamin C, and good source of fiber to help you on your long run after you decide to eat a slice of pie…with ice cream and whip cream.

Cuellar said Thanksgiving is definitely a holiday for binge eating. He said wouldn’t trade out any sides for healthier ones, but he said he would not mind adding them to the table.

“Your eyes just get so big at [Thanksgiving] dinner table,” Cuellar said. “Besides, you get your workout in running through the malls on Black Friday.” 

Kassidi Hughes, a freshman nursing major from St. George, said Thanksgiving is a holiday that has evolved into an overeating tradition, but people should include healthier options.

“With my family, I would rather cook for lots of people who were less fortunate to have it, rather than my own family indulging in a large meal that we don’t necessarily need,” Hughes said.


  • For the parmesan garlic mushrooms, toss everything in the baking dish. This makes the most use of your ingredients and eliminates one extra dish to wash later.  
  • Buy pre-minced garlic. Peeling, crushing and mincing the garlic probably would take the most time in the parmesan garlic mushrooms recipe, and I hate doing all of that myself. So, I dipped my happy little spoon into my bought jar of pre-minced garlic and sprinkled it into the mushrooms. Plus, your hands won’t smell like garlic for days on end.
  • After dipping the cut zucchini sticks in the whipped eats, roll them in the breadcrumb-mixture instead of shaking them in a plastic bag; this might coat them more evenly.