Healthy Twist on Thanksgiving Favorites

It’s that dreaded belly-busting time of year again, Thanksgiving.  Most people can tell you their favorite Thanksgiving dish, and often struggle to narrow down the choice only to one. This is the one holiday where people openly admit to overeating and if you really want a heated conversation ask someone about their most dreaded Thanksgiving dish – the one they just can’t resist.  I’ll share with you a couple of tips and some quick healthier spins on traditional dishes, without skipping on the flavor or the taste.

On your first trip (because you always go more than once) to the Thanksgiving buffet, fill up on salad and veggies. Once you’re done with that one, have a glass of water, take a few minutes to re-group, and then use your second trip for the higher calorie stuff. I can almost guarantee you won’t take as much as you would have on your first trip. If you’re worried about portion control, use a salad plate over a traditional size plate. Instead of having that larger plate towering with food, you’ll have a smaller one towering with food. And when you want a third option, try these lower calorie stuffing and pumpkin soup recipes below.

Ciabatta Stuffing
(serves 4)


  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock (or low-sodium broth)
  • 12 ounces toasted ciabatta bread cubes
  • ½ cup jarred roasted chestnuts, quartered
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 cups sliced leek
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper


  1. Combine chicken stock and canola oil. Add toasted ciabatta bread cubes.
  2. Bake chestnuts at 350° for 15-20 minutes. Cover dried cranberries with boiling water. Let stand 20 minutes; drain. Sauté leek in olive oil over medium heat 5 minutes. Add chestnuts, cranberries, leeks, salt, and pepper to bread mixture.
  3. Bake stuffing at 350° for 45 minutes in an 11 x 7-inch ­baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Nutritional Information: calories: 205; fat: 4.5g; saturated fat: 0.9g; monounsaturated fat: 2.3g; polyunsaturated fat: 1g; protein: 5.3g; carbohydrate: 36.1g; fiber: 3.1g; cholesterol: 18mg; sodium: 358mg.

Pumpkin and Crimson Lentil Soup
(serves 10)


  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 1/2 cups low sodium vegetable broth, divided
  • 1 cup dried small red lentils
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/4 cup unsalted pumpkinseed kernels, toasted


  1. Heat a large stock pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat.
  3. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 4 minutes.
  4. Stir in 3 cups broth, lentils, and next 4 ingredients (through red pepper); bring to a boil.
  5. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until lentils are tender.
  6. Place the lentil mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Return lentil mixture to pan over medium heat.
  7. Add remaining 1/2 cup broth, 1 cup water, and pumpkin to pan; cook 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.
  8. Stir in ginger and lemon juice.
  9. Ladle 1 1/2 cups soup into each of 4 bowls; top each serving with about 2 teaspoons yogurt,
  10. 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 291 fat: 7.5g; saturated fat: 1g; monounsaturated fat: 2.7g; polyunsaturated fat: 2.2g; protein: 17g; carbohydrates: 37.1g; fiber: 7.8g; cholesterol: 1mg; sodium: 538mg


Chef Richard Plasencia, executive chef at West Kendall Baptist Hospital, joined Baptist Health South Florida in 2011. He is an award-winning chef who is passionate about creating and sharing fresh local and seasonal recipes seasoned with flavor and good health. In addition to an interest in nutrition, Chef Richard has an extensive history in the hospitality industry.

He served as Chef at Town Kitchen & Bar, Jake’s, the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables, the Shore Club, Por Fin, and the Conrad Hotel. He also was part of several teams that received the Mobile 4 and 5 star awards, as well as Cioppino being named to America’s Top 50 restaurants by Esquire Magazine 2005, during his time at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne. Chef Richard Plasencia graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a Bachelor of Science in culinary arts.


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