Thanksgiving is a time for family, connection, and comfort. Pain isn’t invited to the table. For the holiday, we’ve created a pain-friendly Thanksgiving meal. These recipes are packed with anti-inflammatory ingredients and foods. Our meal is based around delicious recipes that are easy to make, whether beforehand or with others. While there is some turkey involved, the focus is on warm comforting vegetables since these can reduce pain and inflammation. But, we’ve also included some festive drinks and dessert recipes into the list because what’s Thanksgiving without some sweet?
This list of pain-friendly Thanksgiving meals are ready for your table, or as a side to bring to a celebration. However, avoid any that cause allergies or exacerbate your pain.
The main event
Yep, we’re talking turkey. While this is a Thanksgiving staple, it can be difficult to cook. We say less fuss, more fun. Try these pain-friendly options that are easier to cook and get to the table.
This turkey breast is roasted with citrus and fresh herbs to produce a light and clean flavor. The juices from the lemon and orange here blend with chicken (or vegetable) stock and pan juices to make an instant sauce, with no fuss, no muss.
Lastly, given that the white meat contains fewer calories and fat than its darker counterpart, this preparation is figure friendly too. (It also makes it easier to cook the bird!)
Note: If citrus makes your pain worse, feel free to omit completely and just use herbs for flavoring.
Let’s go even less-fuss for our pain-friendly Thanksgiving! Meatballs might not be the first dish to come to mind when you consider holiday food, but they should! Here’s why: meatballs are simple to prepare, versatile to serve, and people love them.
These meatballs are a lighter alternative to traditional versions as they are made with ground turkey meat and fresh ingredients; essentially a holiday workhorse that you can feel good about eating and sharing with your company alike!
Belly up to some pain-friendly sides
These pain-friendly Thanksgiving sides don’t sacrifice flavor. They’re comforting classics, with small changes to make them as pain-friendly as possible. They rely on great combinations and fresh vegetables to create the most delicious sides.
This time of year, acorn squash is plentiful; pureed, roasted, or stuffed and baked whole, it’s an autumn staple, and an extremely good-for-you one at that! Like its winter squash counterparts (think: buttercup, butternut, delicata, kabocha, pumpkin, etc.), the acorn variety is rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients, such as beta-carotene and omega 3s.
The preparation here is packed to the brim with fruit and herbed quinoa. If you prefer brown rice or another whole grain to quinoa, feel free to sub that in its place. The recipe calls for both dried and fresh herbs to pack an extra flavor punch. Once baked, the whole squash can be cut and divided into pieces and served as a side or plated up as a substantial vegetarian Thanksgiving (or any time) dinner.
Feeling like you need a pick-me-up? Try snacking on a carrot – sometimes referred to as “Nature’s Energy Food” – or try making this easy roasted carrot recipe at home!
Carrots contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals that as a whole can help to improve our vision, strengthen our immune systems, and keep us fueled throughout the day.
This preparation uses metabolism-boosting spices, and a tiny bit of sweetener to bring out the inherent sweetness in carrots.
Creamed corn is exactly that: a mixture of sweet corn and heavy cream that has typically been enhanced with bacon fat, butter and sugar, or some combination thereof. While this soul food staple is delicious, it is also laden with fat.
You can still achieve a similar flavor though by using a milk base instead of a cream one, and omitting all of the extras, to create this baked creamed corn recipe for your Thanksgiving table.
Note: If dairy exacerbates your pain, you’ll probably want to avoid this recipe. It can be made with nut-milks, but may not have the same consistency.
There are certain side dishes that go hand-in-hand with the Thanksgiving turkey: mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes (or yams), stuffing, and green bean casserole. This recipe is for a lighter take on the latter with a cream sauce made from vegetable stock, yogurt, and whole milk.
Green beans contain beta-carotene and omega 3s, which help to fight inflammation as well as numerous vitamins including A, B1, B6, and E. Mushrooms meanwhile boast high levels of vitamin D, and according to certain studies, have been shown to boost your immune system.
And while this dish is comprised of many healthy ingredients, it still tastes very rich and indulgent – just as a holiday side should!
When you think of mashed potatoes, you likely think of eating them swimming in a pool of rich gravy. And while that preparation is indeed delicious, it’s not exactly the healthiest, either.
This pain-friendly Thanksgiving recipe is a great alternative to the former, “fortified” with broccoli to make a scrumptious broccoli mashed potatoes recipe. Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamins, potassium, and dietary fiber.
Small amounts of butter (or ghee or even coconut oil, if you like!) and cheese are added to the potatoes and broccoli, for extra flavor in this broccoli mashed potatoes recipe.
With additions like that, who needs gravy?
If you are unsure of how to cook vegetables, roasting them is a great place to start!
Roasting tenderizes them, brings out their natural sugars, and – best of all – is an incredibly simple cooking method.
In this recipe, beets are paired with pure maple syrup for an extra hit of natural sweetness (honey would work here too, in place of the syrup!).
Need a side dish that will pair well with any holiday meal? Try this easy-to-prepare braised red cabbage! Braising is essentially a process by which meat or vegetables are seared at a high temperature and then finished in a cooking liquid at a low temperature.
This pain-friendly Thanksgiving recipe cuts out the searing altogether as the cabbage simmers in a bath of apple juice (or cider), water, and spices until tender.
Red cabbage is also an excellent vegetable to eat at this particularly stressful time of year – especially as cold and flu season sets in – as it contains numerous antioxidants that are wonderful for detoxing and enhancing the immune system.
Do you want to be healthier, without sacrificing decadent and rich dishes? Then try this lighter recipe for Alfredo sauce, with spaghetti squash, in place of traditional fettuccine!
Spaghetti squash is low in calories, high in fiber, and loaded with vitamins—including A, B-6, C, and K—and minerals. When cooked, the flesh can be pulled apart to resemble long strands of spaghetti and topped with any sauce of your choosing from basic tomato to this creamy white version. Instead of using heavy cream, this Alfredo recipe uses low-fat milk (you could also use a nut milk like almond or coconut if you’re sensitive to dairy), and minimal cheese. If you want to keep this recipe gluten-free, a brown rice flour will also work to thicken the sauce.
This side dish turns the cruciferous vegetable into a decadent and sweet treat laced with coconut oil, maple syrup… and bacon if you so choose. With less than five ingredients and minimal time required to prepare it, this would also be a simple dish to make for a holiday gathering; even for the most novice cook.
Brussels sprouts are high in fiber, meaning that eating them will fill you up fast while keeping you feeling fuller, longer. In addition, they are loaded with vitamins including B1, B6, C, and K.
Consider these sprouts small but mighty!
What’s a Thanksgiving spread without some festive drinks? If you have to avoid alcohol due to your medications, you can easily enjoy both of these options since they can be made with or without alcohol.
Having company over for Thanksgiving dinner? Set the tone for your guests by greeting them at the door with this spiced caramel apple cider!
This recipe uses a homemade caramel sauce, infused with coconut palm sugar. (Don’t be intimidated—it is super easy to make!) Coconut palm sugar ranks lower on the glycemic index than traditional white sugar, and offers more vitamins and minerals than its white counterpart. The caramel sauce is then warmed with cider and [antioxidant laden!] spices to make a comforting, yet festive drink.
For a spiked version for your pain-friendly Thanksgiving, consider adding a glug of spiced rum to the mix, too!
No celebratory Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without a cocktail (or a mocktail, if you are on medications that should not be taken with alcohol). This one brings holiday flair to the table with its crimson hue and warming ginger flavor.
At the base of the drink is a homemade honey syrup that is muddled with mint and topped with cranberry juice and vodka. You can feel free to omit the alcohol in favor of club soda for a virgin alternative.
Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory and has an overall calming impact on the digestive system. This is one cocktail that you can literally feel good about!
Bring on dessert
It’s the best part of the meal, but too often Thanksgiving classics are laden with sugar and fat. These keep the flavor and decadence without the inflammatory effects. That means less pain when you’re basking in the post-meal glow.
Pie may be the dessert of choice for most holiday celebrations, however, poached pears are an elegant and lighter alternative for a pain-friendly Thanksgiving. Poached in cinnamon tea and a splash of apple cider, the pears take on the spicy flavor of the liquid – as well as the antioxidant power!
Pears themselves are an excellent source of fiber and vitamins B2, C, and E. This recipe is also void of refined sugar, sweetened only by honey. Although a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream certainly adds to the dish!
The pears and sauce can be made a few hours in advance and reheated before serving, making it easy and fuss-free.
In a season full of indulgences, these no bake cookies are a welcome healthier alternative that you can feel good about eating and sharing (cookie swap, anyone?). Their chocolate flavor is derived from cocoa powder and enhanced by anti-inflammatory spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.
While they are a sweet treat, these cookies can do double-duty as an energy source, pre- or post-workout, if necessary.
The pumpkin seeds (or almonds, if you prefer!) in this recipe are ground into a flour to add some bite. Once they have set in the refrigerator, these no bake cookies are rolled in coconut, which is not only delicious, but reminiscent of snow too!
Have we missed your favorite pain-friendly Thanksgiving recipes? Hit the comments to share your favorites!