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While we appreciate all kinds of food and don’t want to restrict anyone from enjoying one of life’s greatest sensual pleasures, let’s be smart about it. You can be healthy while still having your gravy-drenched sausage dressing and pecan pie. It’s all about strategy, and yes, moderation. But hey, that’s not a trait we celebrate at Thanksgiving. Or is it?

Do you ever wonder how some skinny people seem to eat whatever they want? Unless they have a crazy fast metabolism, it’s likely you’re only seeing them when they selectively indulge. They might have had a healthy breakfast and lunch and then splurged at dinner, which is not a daily practice, but rather once or twice a week. And often when they indulge, they indulge in small amounts of decadent food, or they don’t finish their serving.

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While those delectable pre-Thanksgiving dinner nibbles may be small, they can pack a powerful, calorie-loaded punch. Let’s be strategic on Thanksgiving. Most of us really look forward to turkey, gravy, stuffing, assorted casseroles, and mashed potatoes, as well as the pies. Pick a couple items you really crave and go to town on those. Save your calorie expenditure for what matters most to you. And let’s be honest, when we think of Thanksgiving, we don’t dream of appetizers. So here’s an opportunity to provide something lighter. Yes, we need appetizers to appease guests while we’re still cooking the main attractions. Appetizers are like the opening act: You don’t want to spend all your money on the opening act. Save it for the star of the show.

So with a few simple swaps, you can make healthier versions of your dips, crostini, and stuffed (fill in the blank here), which are usually too many combinations of fried, meaty, fatty, cheesy, creamy, and white carb(y?). Or—you can try entirely new appetizer ideas. Consider some of our healthier hors d’oeuvres.

Slow Cooker Butternut Squash and Red Pepper Soup

There’s no cream in this blended vegetable soup starter, but it’ll feel smooth and velvety. Besides the title ingredients, you’ll be slurping on onions, carrots, and spices such as cumin and paprika. The chickpea garnish will add a tad more heft. There’s a hint of sweetness with a dash of maple syrup. Get our Slow Cooker Butternut Squash and Red Pepper Soup recipe.

Roasted Shrimp with Romesco Sauce

More interesting than cocktail sauce, this dip for not cold, but roasted shrimp is full of flavor and good for you. There are tomatoes, red peppers, olive oil, a little bread, and raw almonds in this Spanish sauce. Get our Roasted Shrimp with Romesco Sauce recipe.

Oven-Roasted Chestnuts

Here’s a really simple, before-dinner snack for Thanksgiving that has a lot of healthy, nutty fat but nothing else. This might be the shortest recipe ingredient list ever. Get our Oven-Roasted Chestnuts recipe.

Pear and Feta Bites

Endive leaves make the best little boats for hors d’oeuvres. Here, the Belgian boats are filled with small-diced pear and feta soaked in lemon juice, olive oil, coriander, salt, and pepper. Get our Pear and Feta Bites recipe.

Buffalo Cauliflower with Blue Cheese Dressing

Swap out the regular sour cream for a low-fat version, and this recipe truly transforms the traditional buffalo hot wing appetizer into something that doesn’t have enough fat to impose upon the main dinner meal. It’s a great appetizer or hors d’oeuvres for watching the game or Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. Get our Buffalo Cauliflower with Blue Cheese Dressing recipe.

Carrot Chips

Traditional deep fried potato chips get a 180 with this idea. Instead of buying a bag of regular chips with who-knows-what in them, make them at home and swap the potatoes for carrots, frying for baking, and canola-peanut-whatever oil for heart-healthy olive oil. They make a great snack. Get our Carrot Chips recipe.

Broccoli-Cheddar Potato Skins

As long as you don’t go too crazy on the shredded cheddar and ranch dip, these potato skins can actually be pretty nutritious and low-fat. Broccoli plus the skin on the potato give you great minerals, vitamins, and fiber. Get our Broccoli-Cheddar Potato Skins recipe.

Spicy Oven-Roasted Chickpeas

What an easy, tasty, healthy snack. All you do is toss your drained and rinsed canned chickpeas in olive oil and spices and roast. So crunchy and zingy. Get our Spicy Oven-Roasted Chickpeas recipe.

Kale and Parmesan Egg Drop Soup (Stracciatella)

Ribbons of sautéed kale soak alongside a tangle of eggs beaten with Parmesan in this brothy soup that’s not your typical starter for Thanksgiving. Unless, maybe, if you’re Italian. Get our Kale and Parmesan Egg Drop Soup recipe.

Zucchini Carpaccio with Feta and Pine Nuts

Instead of starting off your meal with super-fine raw beef, try the vegetarian version using paper-thin zucchini slices brightened with lemon zest and fresh mint or chervil leaves. With the creamy nuts and salty cheese, it’s a combination of flavors and textures that even die-hard meat lovers will enjoy. Get our Zucchini Carpaccio with Feta and Pine Nuts recipe.

Red Pepper Hummus

This dip still uses tahini and garbanzo beans (chickpeas), and then adds roasted red peppers, which you can roast yourself using red bell peppers, or buy in a jar already prepared. Serve it with pita chips or raw vegetables. Get our Red Pepper Hummus recipe.

Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges

When you slice a sweet potato lengthwise, you can make eight even wedges. When you toss those wedges in mustard, herbs, spices and olive oil, you get an appetizer people might be in danger of enjoying so much they risk spoiling their dinners. Get our Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges recipe.

Jalapeño Pumpkin Seeds

This is economical and healthy and tasty all at the same time. It’s cost-effective if you already have a squash that you have to cut and scoop out the seeds from before using. Here’s how to use them. Get our Jalapeño Pumpkin Seeds recipe.

Roasted Eggplant and Walnut Dip

This Mediterranean-inspired dip showcases a powerful combination that’s great with crudités or baked pita chips. Garlic, olive oil, parsley, lemon juice, and a touch of honey are all you need to make this happen. Get our Roasted Eggplant and Walnut Dip recipe.

Ratatouille Crostini with Pecorino

Diced, roasted, garlicky vegetables are dressed in lemon juice and basil before they land on some crispy baguette slices to receive a splash of balsamic vinegar and a shaving of Pecorino Romano cheese. Get our Ratatouille Crostini with Pecorino recipe.

For more great holiday hacks, tips, and tricks, see our Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving, and our Ultimate Guide to Friendsgiving too.

Related Video: Vegan Friendsgiving Cauliflower Meze

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Amy Sowder is a writer and editor based in NYC, covering food and wellness in publications such as Bon Appétit, Women's Health, Eat This, Not That!, Upworthy/GOOD, Brooklyn Magazine, and Westchester Magazine. She loves to run races, but her favorite finish lines are gelato shops. Learn more at
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