Healthy Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas

By Kelsey Childs, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to come together and celebrate over a delicious meal. While most look forward to sitting down at the table to begin the feast, few enjoy getting up from the table feeling overly stuffed. Estimates from the Calorie Control Council suggest a traditional Thanksgiving meal may contain as many as 3,000 calories, and once appetizers and beverages are included, the total can climb to a whopping 4,500 calories!

This Thanksgiving, use whole food ingredients in place of processed products to boost the nutrient content of your dishes and lighten the calorie load. Swapping full fat dairy products with reduced fat versions can further cut back on calories without impacting flavor. Check out the healthy Thanksgiving recipe ideas below to see if one of these delicious dishes might have a place at your table this year.

Roasted Green Beans with Cranberries

Instead of relying on canned soups to flavor traditional green bean casseroles, try this recipe made from whole food ingredients. Cranberries, garlic, lemon, and balsamic vinegar combine to pair perfectly with roasted turkey.


  • 2 pounds fresh green beans, stem ends trimmed
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced into quarters
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, from one lemon
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice, from one lemon
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (toasted if desired, see note)


  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil.
  2. toss  green beans with garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar directly on the prepared baking sheet. Roast the beans for 15 minutes, then stir with a spatula to promote even cooking. Continue roasting until the beans are tender, slightly browned and just starting to shrivel, about 10 minutes more. Add lemon zest, lemon juice, cranberries and walnuts and toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and more lemon juice if desired.
  3. Note: to toast the walnuts, bake them on a sheet pan in a 350-degree oven until fragrant, about 10 minutes.

Recipe source: Once Upon a Chef

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Use a combination of reduced fat milk and sour cream as mashed potato mixers to yield a creamy product without the need for large amounts of butter or cream.

  • 2 lbs. (4 medium) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup reduced fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped


  1. Put potatoes and garlic in large pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil.
  2. Drain and return potatoes and garlic to pan. Add remaining ingredients. Mash until smooth.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe adapted from Skinny Taste.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Honey and Cinnamon

Instead of smothering sweet potatoes in butter and brown sugar, try roasting your potatoes. The natural flavor of the sweet potatoes is complemented by the simple coating of olive oil, honey and cinnamon.


  • 4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2  teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Lay the sweet potatoes out in a single layer on a roasting tray. Drizzle the oil, honey, cinnamon, salt and pepper over the potatoes.  Roast for 25-45 minutes in the oven, or until tender.

Recipe source: Food Network

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10 Things a Registered Dietitian Feeds Her Own Kids

By Stephanie Chang, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

As a registered dietitian and a mom, I always try to keep my family eating healthy. When people imagine what a dietitian feeds her kids, most people assume we eat perfectly healthy all the time. However, I also struggle to get my kids to eat enough fruits and vegetables, just like everyone else.

Getting my family to eat healthy starts with the choices that I make at the grocery store. What foods I put in my cart influences the food choices that my family makes at home. Since younger children tend to eat most of their meals with family or at school with lunches they brought from home, I like to make sure there are plenty of good choices at home.

Older children and teens may be eating more meals outside the home with friends. Family has less influence on what they eat at that point so it’s important to teach good choices at an early age. If you feel your teen hasn’t had the chance to make good food choices, don’t worry. It’s better to start now while they still live at home with parents.

These are some of the choices that I try to make when offering food to my kids. Keeping things simple and easy is key, since life is so busy.


Water provides hydration without adding calories and sugar. At CHOC Children’s, we recommend that children drink the number of 8 ounce cups of water equal to their age, with a maximum of 64 ounces for children over age 8. This means your 1-year-old would drink one 8-ounce glass or water, your 5-year-old would drink five 8-oz glasses of water, etc. I found that my kids prefer ice water and will usually drink more if the water is cold.

Low-fat dairy: milk, cheese and yogurt

Low-fat dairy foods provide a good source of calcium and protein. They are also usually fortified with vitamin D. I try to choose lower sugar options when it comes to milk and yogurt. That doesn’t always work, but I want my kids to have good calcium intake rather than arguing about sugar. I can always cut back on sugar somewhere else in their food choices.

Avoid preservatives, additives and high fructose corn syrup

I always read ingredients on any packaged foods I buy. Usually a simple and easy-to-understand ingredient list means the food is less likely to contain a lot of preservatives and added colors. I try to avoid purchasing foods with high fructose corn syrup and keep things as close to natural as possible. The exception would be vitamins and minerals that are added to enhance the food. Those do have chemical sounding names, but are just added nutrients.

Hard-boiled eggs

Eggs are a good source of protein. The egg white contains most of the protein in the egg and children generally prefer the white over the yolk. Another perk for parents is that hard-boiled eggs are easy to prepare for a family who doesn’t have much time to cook.

Fruit (and hopefully vegetables)

I always offer fresh fruit and a vegetable with each meal. My kids will almost always eat the fruit and only sometimes the vegetable. I feel that it is important to offer these foods every day, but not force them to eat it.

Whole grains and fiber

Foods made from whole wheat flour or other less processed grains and flours provide more fiber in the diet. Sometimes I find it difficult to get my kids to eat the high fiber choice, but when I can, I think it’s well worth the effort for them to learn that breads and grains are not all white.


Sometimes I buy organic chicken and sometimes I buy regular chicken. More importantly, I’ve found that chicken is a good protein source that my kids will eat all the time, as long as it’s prepared in different recipes. Some kids don’t like beef or pork as it may be hard to chew or too dry. I don’t want my kids to eat processed meats (like deli meats, hot dogs and sausage) all the time, so I find that choosing chicken works the best.

Veggie straws or veggie chips

Yes, you read that correctly. I do feed my kids chips when they’re starving between meals. They are high in sodium just like any other chips, but veggie chips don’t usually contain the artificial colors and flavors that traditional chips do. I find that veggie straws make a good car or airplane snack because they can be eaten neatly.

Well-rounded school lunches with emphasis on protein, fruit and vegetables

When packing preschool lunch, I always try to keep it well rounded and make sure to include a protein, fruit and vegetable. I also include a starch or carbohydrate food in the lunch, but I don’t emphasize that as the main part of the meal. Most preschool snacks offered by the school are a starchy or grain food, like crackers or cereal. I let my kids eat the carbohydrate snack with their classmates and eat the other healthy foods for lunch from what I pack from home.

Home cooked meals

During the school and work week, I want my family to eat home-cooked meals. This requires a lot of meal planning, but this allows me to make healthier choices and save money at the same time. We try to limit restaurant food to weekends and only one meal in a day. Get healthy meal prep tips for busy parents.

As you can see from my list, it isn’t perfect. I don’t always buy organic, grass-fed, or the latest trendy health food. My kids do eat junk food and bug me to buy them cookies and candy. However, I feel that these basic and simple choices that I can make daily will improve my family’s health. These choices are available at the regular grocery store and don’t require trips to specialty stores. It’s important to remember that no child is going to eat perfectly all the time. Families are always busy, but making good food choices is important and doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

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How to Make a Healthy School Lunch

By Monika Frauzem, dietetic technician, registered at CHOC Children’s

It’s back to school time and that means thinking about lunches to go! Lunch provides nutrition for your child’s school day. A good nutritional foundation will support learning and deliver the energy needed for play time. The good news is that preparing school lunches does not have to be a chore! You can make this quality time spent with your child and a positive learning experience.

Here are some things to think about when planning lunches and meals:

  1. Get informed

The MyPlate model designed by the United States Department of Agriculture shows the ideal balance of nutrients you should strive for at every meal. Which food group some of your favorite foods fit into might surprise you.

The MyPlate model shows a great visual way to balance our food groups.

2.) Get inspired 

The CHOC Children’s Kids Health blog is filled with healthy and fun recipes that are sure to please kids and parents alike.

3.) Get organized

  • Include meal planning into your weekly schedule. Sit down with your child and agree on a time that will work for everybody involved. CHOC offers healthy meal prep tips for busy parents.
  • Create a menu for the week and make a grocery list.
  • Create a menu for the week and make a grocery list.
  • Create a master list of lunch options to use if time is limited or life gets in your way.
  • Get containers in various sizes and make sure containers are easy to open—especially for younger children. Consider the environment, and remember that reusable containers are better for the environment and cheaper in the long run. There are many innovative options available.
  • Buy produce that is in season in bulk—it’s good for your budget and your body!
  • Create snack stations in the fridge and pantry for easy access for hungry kids after school and when you are in a hurry assembling lunches.

4.) Include your child in the process

When creating meals, it is important to include all food groups. It will help your child feel full longer and have the energy they need to say alert throughout the day. The main idea is to combine protein, complex carbohydrates (such as grains), fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Variety is the key. Remember: Have your child help! If your child participates, he or she is more likely to eat their lunch.

healthy school lunch
Eating a healthy school lunch can help your child have the energy she needs to power through the school day.

What Nutrients Does My Child Need?

Protein – Growing children need protein because it is an important component for bones, skin and muscles. Foods that are good sources of protein include: cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, yogurt, string cheese, turkey or chicken for wraps or roll ups, eggs (such as hard-boiled eggs or egg salad), tuna- or salmon salad, peanut or other nut butters, tofu, edamame, beans, lentils and hummus.

Grain – Grain provides carbohydrates, fiber, minerals and vitamins. Read labels and choose 100 percent whole grains when possible. Carbohydrates give your children the energy they need to learn and play. Read labels to limit the amount of added sugar and unhealthy fats. Healthy grain options include: whole-grain bread, flatbread, pita pockets, bagels, tortillas or English muffins; crackers, pretzels, cracker bread and rice cakes; cooked brown rice, barley, couscous and quinoa; granola bars; whole grain cereals.

Vegetables – Vegetables are a good source of carbohydrate, minerals, vitamins and fiber. You may include a dip such as low-fat salad dressing, bean dip or hummus. Try to get a variety of colored vegetables as these provide different nutrients. Some options include: broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, jicama, sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, kohlrabi, beets, bell peppers, corn, cucumber, tomatoes and spinach

Fruit – Fruit is a good source of carbohydrate, minerals, vitamins and fiber. Just like with vegetables, serve a variety from all the color groups because they contain different vitamins and minerals. Some ideas include: olive oil, vegetable oils, canola and sunflower oil, avocado, cheese, nuts, sour cream, butter, mayonnaise and salad dressings

Sending your child to school with a nutritious lunch can be a rewarding experience for everyone! With a little planning and organization, it doesn’t need to be a hassle. Pack lunches the night before so they are ready to go before the morning rush.

Include your child in the process. There may be times when they want the same lunch multiple days in a row and times when their taste changes. Just offer a variety of foods and options during the other meals of the day.

Remember: the lunch your child takes to school should be one they will actually eat and not one you want them to eat.

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How to Tell If Your Baby is Getting Enough Milk from Breastfeeding

By Michelle Roberts, registered nurse and certified lactation consultant at CHOC Children’s

Every year in August, we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week. This year’s focus is “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together.” As a lactation consultant, the most common question I get from parents of a breastfed infant is, “How do I know my baby is getting enough?” When we bottle feed an infant we can look at the measurements on the bottle to determine the exact amount that a baby gets. When a mom is breastfeeding, she may be concerned because she can’t see the amount taken. A common reason women give up on breastfeeding is feeling they are not producing enough milk.

Here are 5 key indicators a baby is getting enough milk directly from the breast.

  • Breastfeeding 8-10 times minimum per day. Newborn babies should be breastfed a minimum of 10 times per 24 hours. As the baby gets older and is gaining appropriate weight, they may cut back to 8 times per 24 hours. We recommend keeping a breastfeeding log. Start by downloading a template breastfeeding log.
  • Latches well and maintains latch. Babies should latch and remain latched without coming on and off throughout the feeding. It can be difficult to transfer adequate milk if they are not staying on the breast. For the most part, breastfeeding should not be painful. If you are experiencing bleeding or scabbing, the latch is not deep enough and can lead to low weight gain and low milk supply.
  • Audible swallowing. A baby’s suck pattern and frequency of swallowing will change throughout the first three to five days. When a baby is first born, they will be sucking more often than swallowing but as mom’s milk supply increases, the swallowing should increase too. Mom’s milk usually increases between Day Three and Day Five after giving birth.
  • It is important to track a baby’s diapers to make sure they are producing enough diapers based on their age. Your birth hospital or your pediatrician will provide you with a diaper log that will show you how many wet and dirty diapers are expected based on your baby’s age.
  • Weight Gain. All newborn babies lose some weight shortly after birth. Your pediatrician will determine if they lose too much weight. Once mom’s milk supply has increased in volume, the baby should gain an average of 1 oz. per day.

What do you do if you are not sure your baby is getting enough at the breast?

Your pediatrician is always a great person to help you determine whether your baby is doing well. It is also helpful to reach out to women in your life that have breastfed. Call your mom, your sister, a neighbor or a friend for support. It is also beneficial to be aware of your resources within your community. Most birth hospitals have lactation consultants that can work with you on an outpatient basis. A lactation consultant will be able to determine the amount of milk a baby transferred from your breast to your baby’s stomach by using a breastfeeding scale. They can also assist with supplementing at the breast directly.

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What Kind of Yogurt Should You Feed Your Kids?

By Laura Clapper, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Yogurt consumption has increased dramatically in recent years, especially Greek yogurt, for good reason. It contains important nutrients such as protein, calcium, potassium, and some are fortified with vitamin D for additional bone health. Current dietary guidelines recommend children consume 2-3 cups of low-fat dairy per day.

Many cultures around the world have consumed yogurt for over 2,000 years, but now the yogurt industry is taking over the dairy section of today’s local grocery stores. A few years ago, the yogurt choices were fruit on the bottom or mixed. Now, it can be overwhelming with so many options!

Some are packed with sugar, and some have more nutritional value than others. How do you know the right kind to buy for your family?

Plain Yogurt

Made by heating milk, cooling it, adding live cultures (or probiotics, which are considered “good bacteria”) and letting the mixture ferment until lactic acid is formed and the product gains a thicker consistency. This process is the base for many other yogurts. It retains liquid whey, which is high in calcium. It also is the mildest form of all the yogurts, which makes it an appealing option for children. Look for a seal on the label that says “Live and Active Cultures” to ensure the product was manufactured with a minimum of 100 million cultures per gram. These can be beneficial to the gut and immune system.

Greek Yogurt

Made using the same process as plain yogurt, but most of the liquid whey is strained away. Nutritionally, Greek yogurt has more protein, less lactose and fewer carbohydrates than regular plain yogurt. Manufacturers will often add back calcium which is lost with the whey. It is thicker, creamier and has a more tangy flavor than regular yogurt.

Skyr Yogurt

Pronounced Skeer, and commonly referred to as Icelandic yogurt, special Skyr cultures from Iceland are used to ferment nonfat milk. Water is strained away for a thick and creamy texture, leaving a high-protein product that has the same flavor as Greek yogurt, but a milder flavor and mouthfeel.

Kefir Yogurt

Kefir is a tart and tangy drinkable yogurt, using grains of a yeast starter to begin the fermentation process. It can be an acquired taste for some people, but those who prefer this kind enjoy the carbonation and thin consistency. People with lactose intolerance might be interested in giving this one a try, as it contains a very low amount of lactose.

Swiss Yogurt

Also known as stirred yogurt, this type of yogurt is thinner and creamier than Greek yogurt. It is made from cultured milk that is incubated and then cooled in a large container. Watch out, though: Swiss yogurt can have almost double the sugar and carbohydrates than Greek yogurt!

Organic Yogurt

According to the USDA, what you do get from organic dairy products is the benefit of knowing that no growth hormones or antibiotics were used on the animals that produced the dairy. It contains no pesticide residue from added fruits, and no GMOs.

Grassmilk Yogurt

It refers to yogurt made from the milk of cows that have been grazing on grass, with no grain, corn or soy as part of their diet — good for the cows, and good for us. It’s a nutrient-dense yogurt which is rich and higher in omega-3s.

Be aware of added sugars in yogurt

Within each of these categories you can choose nonfat, low-fat or full fat versions, creamy, whipped, soy milk, fruited flavors, or added fibers. But whichever one you choose, take time to glance at the label. All yogurt will have sugar listed because all yogurt naturally contains the milk sugar lactose. Expect around 7-15 grams of naturally occurring sugar for a six-ounce serving. The new labels starting to come out this year differentiate between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. Skip the added sugars by adding your own sweetness with fruit, cinnamon or a touch of honey.

Drinkable and squeezable yogurts are often marketed to kids but contain added colors, sugars and artificial flavors. Look at the added sugars in this nutrition label of a popular tube yogurt for kids:

yogurt for kids

Yogurt can be used in a variety of ways and at any time of the day. For breakfast, try it as a spread on toast or as part of a smoothie. For lunch or dinner, use in place of sour cream, heavy cream, or mayonnaise in recipes for pasta, tuna or potato salad. Mediterranean dishes feature dips and sauces such as raita, tzatziki and labreh made with yogurt and spices. For dessert, try freezer-mold popsicles with equal parts yogurt, nonfat milk and fruit. Or for a parfait, layer yogurt with fresh fruit, berries, or angel food cake and top with a sprinkle of high fiber granola and serve in clear containers. Any way you serve it up, your kids will love this delicious, healthy treat.

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