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Thanksgiving Recipes and Not a Pinch of Guilt

AARP's health editors design a holiday menu that will keep all of your vegan, gluten-free and weight-watching friends and relatives happy

l Planning a Thanksgiving menu used to be so simple. Turkey, stuffing, cranberries, green bean casserole, candied yams, pumpkin pie — and voila!

Those were the days.

Now, so many guests have dietary restrictions and food allergies, the task has gotten a lot harder. That green bean casserole? Too high in sodium. The sweet potatoes? Too much sugar. Pecan pie? Yikes, nut allergies. And no way the gluten-free folks are going to eat stuffing.

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Among the eight of us on the AARP health team planning our holiday meal, we count relatives and friends who are gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, vegan, vegetarian, allergic to nuts, allergic to shellfish, diabetic and trying to lose weight.

To make things easier on us — and you — we each have contributed a favorite recipe that could be enjoyed by those with (and without) food issues.

We've included roasted herb-flecked root vegetables for vegans; a low-fat macaroni and cheese, a gluten-free quinoa and black rice salad; smashed cauliflower with Parmesan for vegetarians; an updated lower-sodium version of green bean casserole; a you-won't-believe-it's-fat-free cranberry cake; and a creamy, dairy-free pumpkin pie made with coconut milk and a butter-free crust.

Roasted Winter Vegetables

spinner image Roasted winter vegetables, Thanksgiving Recipes and Not a Pinch of Guilt
Roasted winter vegetables.
Courtesy of Patricia Barry

Contributed by Patricia Barry

This is a dish to suit many dietary needs — vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free — and is delicious eaten on its own or with any kind of roasted meat. Select amounts appropriate to the number of people you're feeding.

  • Olive oil
  • Yams
  • White potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Shallots
  • Garlic cloves
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh or dried rosemary
  • Parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Pour a little olive oil into a large mixing bowl. Peel the root vegetables and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Skin the shallots and, if large, cut them in two or divide into segments. Remove the papery skins from the garlic cloves.

2. Mix the vegetables with the oil so that each piece is thinly coated. Add a shake of black pepper and salt. Add plenty of spikes of fresh or dried rosemary. Mix well.

3. Pour a small amount of olive oil onto a large metal baking tray and place in the hot oven for 3 minutes. Add the vegetable mixture to the hot oil in a single layer and return to the oven. (If you're feeding a lot of people, use more than one tray.)

4. Roast for an hour altogether. But after 40 minutes, remove from the oven and turn the vegetables to brown them evenly. Serve hot, with a scattering of chopped parsley.

Low-Fat, Fiber-Friendly Mac and Cheese

spinner image Mac and cheese with leaves, Thanksgiving Recipes and Not a Pinch of Guilt
Low-fat, fiber-friendly mac and cheese.
Courtesy of Stacy Julien

Contributed by Stacy Julien

For many families, a Thanksgiving spread isn't complete without a dish of macaroni and cheese. Here's how to indulge and feel good about yourself the next day.

  • 2-1/2 cups whole-wheat pasta (penne or elbow is a nice choice)
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon butter spread
  • 1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour
  • 1 can fat-free evaporated milk
  • 4 ounces low-fat yellow cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 4 ounces low-fat white extra-sharp cheese, shredded
  • 4 ounces low-fat Swiss cheese, shredded
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 egg whites

1. Preheat oven to 375° F.

2. Boil pasta according to the package directions, with a pinch of sea salt. Drain and place in casserole dish. Set aside.

3. Melt a teaspoon of butter spread in a saucepan on medium heat. Add flour (enough to make a paste; add a little more if necessary). Add the can of evaporated milk and stir until warm.

4. Add the yellow cheddar cheese to the saucepan to make a cheese sauce. Add pepper to taste and stir well.

5. Pour the cheese sauce over the noodles in the casserole dish and mix well.

6. Stir in the egg whites.

7. Stir in the remaining shredded cheese, reserving one layer to sprinkle over the top.

8. Place on the middle rack in the oven to bake and brown to your liking, roughly 45 to 60 minutes.

Quinoa and Black Rice With Tomatoes, Avocado and Pine Nuts

spinner image Quinoa, black rise and tomatoes, Thanksgiving Recipes and Not a Pinch of Guilt
Quinoa and black rice with tomatoes, avocado and pine nuts.
Courtesy of Gabrielle deGroot Redford

Contributed by Gabrielle deGroot Redford

The quinoa and black rice make a nice base for all sorts of vegetables. This recipe calls for avocado and tomato, but feel free to add your own favorites. This also makes a lovely gluten-free day-after-Thanksgiving meal if you cut up some leftover turkey and add it to the mix.

  • 1 cup red or tricolor quinoa, rinsed well
  • 1/2 cup black or wild rice, rinsed well
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 small onion, chopped finely
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon chives
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Cook the quinoa according to the package directions. Set aside.

2. Cook the black rice according to the package directions. Set aside.

3. Toast the pine nuts in a 350° F oven for 5 minutes. Set aside.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion, and saute until the onion is translucent, 8 to 10 minutes.

5. Add the cooked quinoa and rice to the onion mixture, along with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Mix well, then stir in the cumin, cilantro and chives. Remove from the heat.

6. Slice the avocado into 1/4-inch pieces, then slice the cherry tomatoes in half, and fold the vegetables into the grains. Add salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze lemon juice over all. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Mashed Cauliflower

spinner image Mashed cauliflower, Thanksgiving Recipes and Not a Pinch of Guilt
Mashed cauliflower.
Courtesy of Candy Sagon

Contributed by Yolanda Taylor

Love mashed potatoes but aren't crazy about white potatoes? Cauliflower has much the same texture and boasts a slew of antiaging, cancer-fighting antioxidants.

  • 1 cauliflower head, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter spread
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

1. Steam the cauliflower. When soft, drain and place in blender with butter, salt and pepper.

2. When fully mashed, place in bowl and stir in rosemary and Parmesan cheese.

Green Bean Casserole Redux

spinner image Green beans in a red collander, Thanksgiving Recipes and Not a Pinch of Guilt
Green bean casserole redux.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Agnvall

Contributed by Elizabeth Agnvall

Green bean casserole made with canned soup may be the Thanksgiving recipe many love to hate — our own Candy Sagon proposed dumping the "mushy 1950s-era corporate concoction" — but it wouldn't be Thanksgiving in our house without the casserole Mom had on her buffet for decades. Here, we've adapted a fresher, healthier, BPA-free vegetarian version from blogger Plum Pie at Food52.

  • 1-1/2 pounds French green beans, ends trimmed
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 cup shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons flour, divided
  • 8 ounces mushrooms (shiitake and baby bella or mixed), sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 cup half-and-half

1. Preheat oven to 375° F.

2. Wash and trim green beans. Blanch in boiling, well-salted water. Immediately transfer to ice water bath and set aside.

3. Heat 1 to 2 inches of vegetable oil in a deep, medium skillet.

4. Pat shallots dry, then toss with 1 tablespoon flour. Season with salt and pepper. Fry shallots in oil (in batches) until golden brown, then transfer to a plate to drain on a paper towel.

5. Melt butter over medium heat in a medium pan or cast iron skillet. Add mushrooms and saute until mushrooms are golden brown.

6. Add garlic and nutmeg and cook for another minute or two. Add 2 tablespoons flour and cook for a minute.

7. Slowly add white wine, cook for a minute, stirring to break up any flour lumps. Slowly add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Boil the mixture for another 2 minutes, then turn the heat down to medium-low.

8. Add half-and-half and cook, stirring, until mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat.

9. Add green beans to mushroom mixture. Add 1/4 cup of the fried shallots. Mix to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer green bean casserole to a 9-by-9-inch baking dish or bake in cast iron skillet. Sprinkle remaining shallots on top or around edges of casserole.

10. Bake for 20 minutes until green beans are warmed and mixture is a little bubbly.

Dairy-Free Pumpkin Pie

spinner image Pumpkin pie slice, Thanksgiving Recipes and Not a Pinch of Guilt
Dairy-free pumpkin pie.
Courtesy of Candy Sagon

Contributed by Candy Sagon

This creamy pumpkin pie is made with coconut milk, which gives it a rich-tasting filling that's guaranteed to please pie purists as well as the lactose-intolerant. The crust skips the butter and uses canola oil plus a touch of baking powder, which makes it extra flaky.


Contributed by Jenna Isaacson-Pfueller

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  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅓ cup canola oil
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons water

1. Preheat oven to 400° F.

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2. Add flour, salt, sugar and baking powder to food processor and process for a few seconds to blend. (You also can do this with a fork or whisk in a bowl.)

3. In a separate small bowl, stir together oil and water, then pour over dry ingredients. Pulse in food processor, or stir with fork, until dough sticks together.

4. Press dough evenly into 9-inch pie plate across bottom of pan and up sides, using your fingers. Line crust with waxed or parchment paper, fill with metal pie weights or dry beans to cover bottom.

5. Bake for 15 minutes until light golden. Remove from oven. When cool enough, remove paper and weights or beans.


  • 2 cups canned pumpkin puree (100 percent pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • Powdered sugar, for serving

1. Beat together the pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, spices and salt until well mixed.

2. Gradually add coconut milk, mixing until well blended. Pour filling into prepared crust and bake at 400° F for 15 minutes, then turn down heat to 350° F and bake for 35 to 40 minutes longer or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (To keep crust edge from overbrowning during baking, cover crust with foil circle or with metal pie edge protector.)

3. Place pie on rack to cool completely, then refrigerate for an hour or two before serving. Sift powdered sugar over top of pie before serving.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Round

spinner image Pumpkin cranberry desert, Thanksgiving Recipes and Not a Pinch of Guilt
Pumpkin-cranberry round.
Courtesy of Sylvia A. Smith

Adapted from Soy of Cooking by Marie Oser; contributed by Sylvia A. Smith

If you use the egg replacer instead of the egg, this is vegan and fat-free.

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup soy flour
  • 1-1/2 cups light brown sugar or Sucanat
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/4 cups drained lite silken tofu, extra firm
  • 1/2 cup prune puree*
  • 1 cup drained baked butternut squash (or canned pumpkin, or a combo)
  • 1/4 cup honey (or liquid FruitSource)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 lightly beaten egg (or 1 tablespoon egg replacer lightly beaten in 1/4 cup water)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or lite soy milk)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Sift together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Add the vanilla and egg (or replacer) to the milk and place in blender or food processor with the tofu.

3. Add the squash/pumpkin and blend until incorporated.

4. Add the honey and prune puree and blend until incorporated.

5. Pour the wet mixture into the dry one and fold just until combined. Fold in the cranberries. Pour into a tube or Bundt pan. Bake 50 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Cool in pan 20 minutes. Then remove from pan and cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar.

* Prune Puree

To make the prune puree, blend 1 cup pitted prunes, 6 tablespoons water and 2 teaspoons vanilla in a blender or food processor until gooey.

Clementine Cake

spinner image Clementine cake, Thanksgiving Recipes and Not a Pinch of Guilt
Clementine cake.
Courtesy of Patricia Barry

Contributed by Patricia Barry

Here's a yummy cake, made without flour or dairy products, that is based on clementines — those small, sweet, bright orange and usually seedless citrus fruits that appear in stores in November.

  • 4, 5 or 6 clementines depending on size — about 12 to 121/2 ounces total weight
  • 6 eggs (medium size)
  • 9 ounces slivered almonds, without skins
  • 8 ounces white granulated sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

1. Place the clementines in a pan of cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours. Drain and cool.

2. Prepare a springform baking tin, 9 inches wide by 21/2 or 3 inches deep. Lightly grease it with butter or margarine, line it with foil and then grease the foil. Preheat the oven to 375° F.

3. Grind the almonds finely in a food processor and transfer to a bowl.

4. Cut each clementine in half and remove any seeds. Pulp the clementine halves — peel, pith and fruit — in the food processor until they become a smooth puree.

5. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the ground almonds, sugar, baking powder and clementine puree. Mix well. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan.

6. Cook in the top half of the oven for an hour, until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out dry. (If it doesn't, cook a little longer.) After about 40 minutes in the oven, place a sheet of foil or greaseproof paper over the cake to prevent burning.

7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. When cold, take the cake out of the tin and carefully remove the foil. If the top is a bit too brown or has sunk in the middle, just turn it upside down onto a serving plate.

8. This cake is best eaten a day after it has been made. Serve as it is, with icing dribbled over it or with a fresh fruit salad — such as segmented oranges and grapefruit.

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