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Top 10 Tips for Tasty, Healthy Thanksgiving Meals

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Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season with meals that fill us with memories and warmth. Unfortunately, sometimes an uninvited guest arrives during our holiday celebrations: sneaky salt.


Thanksgiving dinner with family

What makes salt so sneaky during the holidays?

It often lives in our traditional recipes, disguised in dressings or sauces or side dishes. But added sodium in your holiday favorites isn’t a must-have ingredient. Instead, why not cut-down on salt and reinvent these eats into new holiday traditions? Not sure how? Here’s our top 10 ways to help you make the change:

  1. Make your dishes from scratch. You’ll always have more control over the amount of sodium in your food compared to ready-to-eat foods when you prepare your food at home.
  2. Swap salt for herbs and spices. Using sage, thyme, oregano, basil, and other savory herbs are great substitutes. And don’t forget garlic! This bulb, fresh or dried, can perk up any dish. Experiment with different pairings for some new tasty traditions.
  3. Use vinegar or citrus juice to perk up flavors, but add them at the last moment. For example, vinegar is great on hot and cold greens. Lemon and lime juice compliment meats and fruits.
  4. Try to buy your bird fresh, not injected with a sodium solution. Check the ingredients label and look for words such as “broth,” “saline” or “sodium solution.” Sodium levels in unseasoned fresh meats are around 100 mg or less per 4-ounce serving.
  5. Compare nutrition labels and choose foods with the lowest amount of sodium you can find, especially if these items are part of the salty six: breads, cold cuts, pizza, poultry, soup, and sandwiches. This also applies to any pre-packaged seasoning mixes or spice combinations.
  6. If you need to use store-bought broth, go for the lower sodium option. You likely won’t notice the difference, especially by adding fresh herbs and spices.
  7. Drain and rinse canned beans and vegetables. This can cut the sodium by around 40 percent.
  8. Add dried vegetables and fruits like mushrooms, tomatoes, cherries, or cranberries for a burst of flavor. Some vegetables and fruits have a more intense flavor when dried than when fresh. Read the ingredients list to select dried fruits without added sugars.
  9. Choose condiments carefully. For example, soy sauce, bottled salad dressings, dips, ketchup, jarred salsas, capers, mustard, pickles, olives and relish can be sky-high in sodium. Check the nutrition label to find out how much sodium is in your condiment of choice or make homemade condiments.
  10. Taste your food before adding salt. If you think it needs a boost of flavor, add freshly ground black pepper or a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime and test it again before adding salt. Lemon and pepper are especially good on fish, chicken, and vegetables.

And when you fill your plate, keep portion size in mind.

Eating less means less sodium in your diet. It’s all a part of an overall heart-healthy eating pattern. The American Heart Association recommends you focus on eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains; include low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts; and limit red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. To learn more, check out the American Heart Association’s Holiday Healthy Eating Guide and visit our collection of holiday recipes