Home Food A Cornucopia of Alternatives to Turkey at Thanksgiving

A Cornucopia of Alternatives to Turkey at Thanksgiving

It may be juicy, tender and traditional, but not everyone wants to eat turkey at Thanksgiving. UF/IFAS nutrition experts say you could eat any of the following as your entrée: protein-packed dishes – with or without meat — plant-based foods and fish.

Andrea Nikolai, a family and consumer sciences agent for UF/IFAS Extension Polk County, suggests lentil shepherd’s pie topped with mashed sweet potatoes.

“Lentils are delicious, they’re great for the heart, they can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, they’re filled with fiber to help you feel satisfied and they’re easy on the wallet,” said Nikolai, who’s also a registered dietitian.

Now, pass the potatoes. While white potatoes and sweet potatoes offer many nutrients, sweet potatoes give you vitamin A, which is great for eyes and skin, Nikolai said.

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Ever thought of stuffed acorn squash instead of meat?

You could stuff the acorn with a whole grain such as brown rice or quinoa, then add a fruit such as dried cranberries or cubed apples and top it with toasted nuts, Nikolai said. According to the Oldways Whole Grain Council, the whole grains help reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. They also can help with weight maintenance.

Meat choices other than turkey

Nelly Nelson, a family and consumer sciences agent for UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County, espouses many choices other than the carved bird.

“Plant-based alternatives can add vibrant, attractive colors to your Thanksgiving meal appeal,” Nelson said. “You’ll find fall colors in butternut squash, toasted nuts, pumpkins, beets and leafy greens.”

If you’re not eating meat, but you’ve got a hankering for its flavor, don’t forget umami, a savory flavor can help enrich the taste of the entrée she said.

Lakisha Crumpler, a registered dietitian with the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program, touts Cornish game hen or pork tenderloin.

With the game hens, you get an alternative to turkey and the option to stuff with bread stuffing or wild rice. It’s less expensive than whole turkey or tenderloin, and it’s a lean source of protein, once you remove the skin. Pork tenderloin contains less sodium and saturated fat than a traditional honey baked ham, says Crumpler.


Laura Acosta, a UF/IFAS registered dietitian in Gainesville, suggests serving salmon.

“With its distinctive orange/pink color, it has an elegant and festive look that goes perfectly with the other fall trimmings and décor,” Acosta said. “As a bonus, it’s also a great source of protein, and rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats.”

As an alternative, Acosta suggests letting hearty autumn veggies take center stage. She recommends a meal centered around butternut squash. Like Nikolai, Acosta suggests stuffing the squash with rice and herbs. Alternatively, pumpkin ravioli, sweet potato risotto or a lentil meatless loaf can serve as the main dish, paired with roasted carrots, green bean casserole and fresh cranberry sauce.

“With some creativity, a meatless Thanksgiving feast can be a rich cornucopia of colors and flavors,” said Acosta, a lecturer in the UF/IFAS food science and human nutrition department.


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