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20 Healthy Blue Zones Recipes to Try This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. For many, this means lots of rich, heavy foods that leave you feeling stuffed and sluggish. But it doesn't have to be that way!

Healthy Thanksgiving Dinner
Source: Arkansas Blog ©2018 Alicia Bruce

This year, have a healthy and delicious Thanksgiving by trying out recipes from the Blue Zones. These are regions around the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. Their traditional cuisines are full of fresh, wholesome ingredients that nourish your body.

In this post, we'll share 20 easy Blue Zones recipes to give your Thanksgiving meal a makeover. They're simple to prepare but packed with flavor. Let's get started!

What are the Blue Zones?

The Blue Zones refer to 5 regions identified by National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner where people live extraordinarily long lives. These include:

  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  • Icaria, Greece
  • Loma Linda, California

People in these communities often live active lives past 100 years old. Their secret? Besides strong social ties, they eat diets full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Their traditional recipes make the most of natural, fresh ingredients.

Blue Zone Research Adaptation
Source: Wikimedia Commons

This Thanksgiving, tap into the vitality of Blue Zones cuisine. The dishes here blend simplicity with nourishing foods that not only taste great but make you feel great too!

Appetizers

Start your meal off right with these light, veggie-packed appetizers. They won't weigh you down so you can enjoy the rest of the feast!

1. Edamame Hummus

This fresh twist on hummus uses edamame, or soybeans, instead of chickpeas. It's creamy, full of protein, and couldn't be easier to make. The bright lemon and parsley give it a vibrant flavor.

Miso-Ginger Edamame Dip
Source: Flickr

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup shelled edamame, boiled
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped parsley for garnish

Instructions:

  1. In a food processor, blend edamame, lemon juice, and garlic until smooth.
  2. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil and process until the mixture is creamy.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Transfer to a bowl, garnish with parsley, and serve with veggie sticks or pita chips.

2. Beet Hummus

This vibrant fuchsia hummus gets its color from nutritious beets. It's a tasty change from classic chickpea hummus and contains blood-pressure-lowering potassium.

Beetroot Hummus
Source: PxHere

Ingredients:

  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cooked beet, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 tbsp tahini
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients except oil and blend until smooth.
  2. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until the mixture becomes creamy.
  3. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.
  4. Serve with veggies, pita chips, or crackers.

3. Guacamole

No party appetizer spread is complete without the creamy green goodness of guacamole. Ripe avocados provide heart-healthy fats. Serrano chiles and lime juice give it a little kick.

Guacamole
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 cup diced tomato
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1 serrano chile, minced
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. In a bowl, mash the avocados with a fork until creamy but still chunky.
  2. Stir in lime juice, tomato, onion, serrano and cilantro. Mix well.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Serve immediately with tortilla chips.

Salads

These crisp, refreshing salads are the perfect lighter start to your meal. Their combinations of veggies, greens, nuts, and fruits make for nutrient-packed starters.

4. Kale Salad with Beets and Oranges

This colorful salad packs a nutritious punch. Vitamin C-rich oranges pair deliciously with earthy beets and crunchy kale. Toasted walnuts add a nice crunch.

Free hearty green salad
Source: Rawpixel

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of kale, chopped
  • 1 15-oz can of sliced beets, drained
  • 2 oranges, peeled and segmented
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. In a large bowl, combine kale, beets, and orange segments.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper.
  3. Drizzle dressing over salad and toss to coat evenly.
  4. Top with toasted walnuts before serving.

5. Apple, Cranberry and Pecan Salad

Sweet and tart flavors come together brilliantly in this gorgeous fall salad. Apples, dried cranberries, and pecans are tossed in a maple vinaigrette for a simple yet elegant appetizer.

Cranberry Apple Pecan Salad
Source: Flickr

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups mixed greens
  • 2 apples, cored and sliced
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. In a large bowl, toss together greens, apples, cranberries, and pecans.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, maple syrup, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Drizzle vinaigrette over the salad and toss until evenly coated.

6. Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Protein-packed quinoa, cucumber, bell pepper, and olives are layered with a lemony dressing in this Mediterranean-inspired salad. It's hearty, refreshing, and super easy to make.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
Source: Flickr

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 cucumber, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/3 cup olives, halved
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Let cool.
  2. In a large bowl, combine cooked quinoa, cucumber, bell pepper, and olives.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice, garlic, and oregano. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Drizzle dressing over salad and toss to coat evenly before serving.

Mains

For the main event, choose one of these lighter takes on holiday classics. They focus on lean proteins, lots of veggies, and heart-healthy fats.

7. Herb Roasted Turkey Breast

Skip the fatty dark meat and go for a lower-calorie turkey breast. Simple herbs and citrus add tons of flavor so you won't miss the skin.

Citrus and Herb Roasted Turkey Breast
Source: Flickr

Ingredients:

  • 1 bone-in, skinless turkey breast (3-4 pounds)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp dried rosemary
  • Zest and juice from 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels.
  2. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, thyme, rosemary, lemon zest and juice. Rub the mixture all over the turkey. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Place turkey in a roasting pan and roast for 1- 1 1/2 hours until the thermometer reads 165°F.
  4. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing to serve.

8. Sheet Pan Salmon with Sweet Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts

This fuss-free meal comes together in one pan for easy cooking and cleanup. Salmon is topped with a tangy mustard sauce while veggies roast alongside.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts, halved
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 4-oz salmon fillets
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • Lemon wedges for serving

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes with oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Arrange salmon fillets on top of veggies and season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together mustard and maple syrup. Spread evenly on salmon fillets.
  5. Roast 20-25 minutes until veggies are tender and salmon is cooked through.
  6. Serve with lemon wedges.

9. Vegetarian Lentil and Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie

This meatless shepherd's pie is comfort food at its healthiest. Protein-packed lentils and sweet potatoes make it hearty and satisfying. The veggie filling and mashed potato topping are full of flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup dried green lentils, rinsed
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 cups mashed russet potatoes

Instructions:

  1. Boil sweet potatoes until very soft, about 15 minutes. Mash well and set aside.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and carrots and cook for 5 minutes until softened. Add mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes more. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Transfer veggies to a baking dish.
  3. Return the skillet to medium heat and add 1 tbsp oil. Add lentils and broth. Simmer 20-25 minutes until lentils are tender.
  4. Stir in peas, and thyme and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Pour lentil mixture over veggies then top with mashed sweet potatoes.
  6. Bake at 375°F for 25 minutes until bubbling at the edges.

10. Grilled Veggie Kabobs with Chimichurri Sauce

Skewered peppers, onions, and zucchini are flavor-blasted on the grill. Chimichurri sauce adds an extra punch of herb flavor to really make the veggies pop.

Veggie Skewers
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ingredients:

  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 8 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 mins
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

For Chimichurri Sauce:

  • 1 cup parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. In a bowl, toss peppers, onions, and zucchini with oil and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Thread veggies evenly onto soaked wooden skewers.
  3. Make chimichurri sauce: In a food processor, pulse parsley, cilantro, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and red pepper flakes until almost smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Grill kabobs for 8-10 minutes over medium heat, turning occasionally until veggies are charred and tender.
  5. Serve kabobs with chimichurri sauce for dipping.

Sides

Round out your meal with these nutritious veggie-centered sides. Their mix of flavors and textures perfectly complement the mains.

11. Lemony Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries

Brussels sprouts get a festive twist with the sweet tartness of dried cranberries and a bright lemony dressing. It's a delicious way to enjoy this cruciferous veggie.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add Brussels sprouts and cook for 5-6 minutes until just tender. Drain.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together cooked sprouts, cranberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic.
  3. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or chilled.

12. Green Bean Casserole

This lighter version skips the canned soup and piles of fried onions for a fresher, healthier spin on the classic. Beans get protein from crunchy almonds and creaminess from Greek yogurt.

Green Bean Casserole
Source: Flickr

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs green beans, ends trimmed
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 8 oz mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Steam green beans until just tender, 5-6 minutes.
  2. While beans cook, heat 1 tbsp oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes until softened. Add mushrooms and garlic and cook 5 minutes more. Remove from heat.
  3. In a large bowl, combine green beans, onion-mushroom mixture, Greek yogurt, almonds, breadcrumbs, and remaining 1 tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Transfer to a baking dish and bake at 400°F for 15 minutes until hot and bubbly.

13. Mashed Cauliflower with Chives

Buttery mashed cauliflower makes a healthier stand-in for potatoes. When blended, cauliflower becomes perfectly smooth and creamy. Simple chives add fresh flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large head cauliflower, cored and chopped
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp chopped chives
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. In a pot fitted with a steamer basket, steam cauliflower until very tender, 15-20 minutes.
  2. Transfer cauliflower to a food processor and add Greek yogurt and oil. Puree until completely smooth.
  3. Stir in chives and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

14. Maple Roasted Carrots with Thyme

Roasting carrots caramelizes their natural sugars for sweet, flavorful results. Maple syrup adds even more sweetness while thyme provides earthy notes.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. On a baking sheet, toss carrots with oil, maple syrup, and thyme. Spread in a single layer and season generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast 20-25 minutes, stirring halfway, until carrots are deeply golden brown and tender.
  4. Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.

Desserts

You can still enjoy something sweet without overdoing it. These lighter desserts focus on fruit, yogurt, and other treats that satisfy your craving without weighing you down.

15. Baked Apples with Walnuts and Cinnamon

Warm, cinnamon-spiced apples feel special but are actually light enough for dessert. Topped with crunchy walnuts, they're almost like apple pie!

Ingredients:

  • 4 large apples, cored
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp raisins or dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp butter

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place apples in a baking dish.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together nuts, cinnamon, maple syrup, and raisins. Spoon into the center of the apples.
  3. Dot apples with butter and bake for 35-45 minutes until tender.
  4. Serve with Greek yogurt if desired.

16. Sweet Potato and Fig Bread Pudding

Chock full of vitamin-rich sweet potatoes, antioxidant-packed pecans, and iron-containing figs, this bread pudding is almost good for you! It's layered with comforting flavors for an easy crowd-pleaser.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups cubed whole wheat bread
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup nonfat milk
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/3 cup chopped figs
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg

Instructions:

  1. In a large bowl, combine bread, sweet potato, eggs, milk, pecans, figs, maple syrup, vanilla and spices. Let sit for at least 15 minutes for the bread to absorb the custard.
  2. Transfer to a greased 8x8 baking dish. Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes until set.
  3. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

17. Grapefruit Panna Cotta

Light and silky panna cotta gets a vitamin C boost from grapefruit juice and zest. It's a fresh, fruity twist on the classic Italian dessert.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup nonfat milk
  • 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup grapefruit juice
  • 2 tsp unflavored gelatin powder
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp grapefruit zest
  • 1/2 cup nonfat whipped cream

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over grapefruit juice and let soften for 5 minutes.
  2. In a saucepan, warm milk, yogurt, and honey over medium heat until steamy but not boiling. Remove from heat.
  3. Stir in bloomed gelatin and grapefruit zest until gelatin and honey have dissolved.
  4. Pour mixture into 4 ramekins. Refrigerate for 4 hours until set.
  5. Before serving, top panna cotta with whipped cream.

18. Greek Yogurt Parfaits

Layering vanilla Greek yogurt with antioxidant-rich berries creates a restaurant-worthy dessert with a fraction of the calories and fat. The possibilities are endless for combinations.

Breakfast Parfait
Source: Flickr

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups mixed berries
  • 2 tbsp chopped nuts (optional)

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, mix together yogurt, honey and vanilla.
  2. In 4 parfait or wine glasses, alternately layer the yogurt mixture and berries.
  3. Top with nuts if desired. Chill until ready to serve.

19. Skillet Apple Crisp

This classic fall dessert comes together easily in one pan. Apples get caramelized before being topped with a crunchy oat topping and baked until golden.

Ingredients:

  • 3 apples, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter, softened

Instructions:

  1. In an ovenproof skillet over medium heat, cook apples, cinnamon, and water for 5 minutes until apples begin to soften.
  2. In a bowl, combine oats, nuts, brown sugar and butter.
  3. Sprinkle topping evenly over apples and bake at 375°F for 15 minutes until the topping is crisp. Serve warm.

20. Chocolate Avocado Mousse

Silky smooth and full of healthy fats, this mousse is a decadent treat. Avocado gives it a rich texture without weighing it down. Top with berries for more nutrition.

Chocolate Avocado Mousse
Source: Flickr

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium ripe avocados
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup nonfat milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions:

  1. In a food processor, blend all ingredients until completely smooth.
  2. Scoop mousse into small ramekins or glasses.
  3. Chill at least 2 hours before serving. Top with berries.

That's a delicious wrap!

There you have it—20 lighter Thanksgiving recipes to try out this year! Focus on fresh ingredients, lean proteins, and smart cooking methods for a holiday meal that nourishes your body and satisfies your taste buds. Pick and choose a few recipes to integrate into your own menu. Have a happy and healthy holiday!

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