A Reader’s Thanksgiving Stuffing Recipe Gets a Healthy Makeover

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and we are getting very excited about the upcoming holiday. Thanksgiving has always held a special place in my heart as I’ve always loved getting together with family and sharing a delicious meal, especially considering all the women in my family are amazing cooks. Think pies, turkey, stuffing and everything in between. Let’s just say I don’t leave hungry.

It seems everyone has their own special traditions when it comes to holiday gatherings and recipes are no exception. While passing down recipes such as your grandma’s signature “green marshmallow fluff” does hold sentimental value, more and more people are becoming conscious of their diets and desire real, whole foods instead of fake, processed ones. This is where recipe makeovers comes in.

Hoping to spread a little healthy Thanksgiving cheer, we asked our Diets in Review readers if there were any recipes that had been passed down in their family that they wanted made into a healthier version. One reader, Michelle Merritt Dochat, sent us her go-to stuffing recipe and asked for help! So, into the kitchen we went to give this dish a lighter, fresher spin.

The act of making over a recipe is not as difficult as some may think. Simply swap heavier ingredients for lighter ones and you’ll have a lightened up dish in no time. In this particular recipe we swapped real meat broth for veggie broth, turkey sausage for regular sausage, fresh cranberries for craisins, and whole grain bread for bagged bread cubes to make it a dish you can truly feel good about serving your family this holiday.

Of course, feel free to make any changes to this recipe you like. Stuffings tend to be pretty forgiving when it comes to substitutions so there’s lots of wiggle room for achieving the flavors you prefer.

Healthified Thanksgiving Stuffing
adapted from Michelle Merritt Dochat’s original recipe
yields 2 9 X 13 dishes

2 bags whole grain bread, cut into cubes
4-6 cups veggie broth (will depend on your bread)
1 lb. (1 roll) italian turkey sausage
1/2 bag fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp sugar (optional)
4-5 stalks celery
1 large sweet onion
1/3 cup pure orange juice
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp fresh or dried sage

Method | Place bread cubes in a large bowl to allow to dry. Turn frequently while prepping the other ingredients. In the meantime, brown and crumble sausage in a large skillet and remove from pan when browned. While sausage is browning, dice onion and celery and add to the pan after removing sausage (add olive oil if the pan is dry). Cook veggies about 10 minutes until soft but not browned. Remove from pan.

Add cranberries to the same pan with orange juice and simmer until plumped up. Add sugar at this point if you prefer a sweeter cranberry (we did). Add cooked onions and celery back to the pan and season with salt, pepper and sage. Continue to simmer.

Add cooked sausage to the bowl of bread cubes and mix it in well. Then add the veggies and cranberries and mix well. Slowly pour in the broth  and mix until it seems wet enough – about 5-6 cups. Transfer to a lightly greased large baking pan or two 9 x 13 pans and cover with foil. Set aside until about 1 hour before serving. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and bake for 45 minutes covered, and then uncovered for the last 15 minutes of cooking to brown the top. (Adjust cooking time accordingly if using one large pan as opposed to two as the cooking time may vary). Serve warm and then store covered in the refrigerator for up to several days.

With these little swaps we were able to cut the fat and calorie count down a considerable amount! Check out this side-by-side comparison.

We were able to reduce the calories, fat and sugar while keeping the protein and upping the fiber, not to mention we added plenty of whole grains and fresh fruit to the dish. I’d say this recipe makeover was a success.

The best part? This stuffing turned out so delicious – moist and flavorful with a touch of sweet from the fresh cranberries. A special thanks to Michelle for submitting her recipe and letting us have free reign with it. We hope she – and all of you – enjoy it this Thanksgiving season.

Try More Healthified Thanksgiving Recipes:

Gluten-Free Stuffing

Whole Grain Stuffing with Apples and Toasted Walnuts

Roasted Pear Gravy

Sweet Potatoes and Toasted Sage Dip

Hummus Roasted Turkey

Better Than Mashed Potatoes

Chocolate Pumpkin Brownies


photos by Dana Shultz


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