Great Grains: How to Have a Whole Grain Thanksgiving

Whole Grain Stuffed Acorn Squash

This is the seventh post in the series Great Grains, highlighting unusual whole grains and easy ways to incorporate them into your diet. Check out recent posts on teff, barley, and rye.


This time next week, kitchens around the country will be baking pumpkin pies and peeling potatoes, all in preparation for another Thanksgiving holiday. And even though I’ll be joining family in Wisconsin for dinner instead of prepping my own meal this year, I’ve spent the better part of November making all my favorite dishes.


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I love the food, the family, the friends, and the traditions. I’ve watched the Thanksgiving Day parade every year since I can remember. But what I don’t love about Thanksgiving is the post-turkey-mashed-potatoes-food-coma that lasts until Sunday. Every year my brain forgets about the mostly-healthy, high-fiber diet I eat the other 364 days of the year and sends my body into a tailspin. And still, most years I suffer through, all for one heavenly day of gravy and candied yams.


But not this year. 2012 has been the year of whole grains and my year to find new and healthier ways to eat. As I was experimenting with green bean casseroles and pumpkin pies this month I’ve had one question in mind: Can you really serve a healthier, whole-grain meal that still tastes like Thanksgiving?


Answer: Totally possible.


Pumpkin Pie with Whole Grain CrustPumpkin Pie with Whole Grain Crust

 It was actually much easier than I thought it would be to substitute whole grains in place of non-whole grains in favorite recipes, and also to add some new, healthy dishes to the menu. I sketched out my favorite turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie menu on one side of my planning sheet and then re-worked them into whole grain versions on the other side. Turns out with the exception of mashed potatoes (there’s a sanctity to a good mashed potato that I wasn’t willing to mess with!) whole grains fit right into the traditional meal.


So, as you’re planning your family’s Thanksgiving dinner, try out some of these creative substitutions and celebrate your own whole-grain holiday.


Cranberry Apple Whole Wheat StuffingCranberry Apple Whole Wheat Stuffing


·      Cranberry Apple Stuffing – Add a peeled apple and 1 cup of fresh cranberries to a whole-wheat stuffing mix to add extra moisture and flavor.

·      Mushroom-Barley Stuffing – Add 3 cups cooked barley to a pound of fresh portabella or wild mushrooms sautéed with onion, carrots, and bacon.

·      Wild Rice Stuffing – Stuff a turkey with a mixture of 1 cup cooked wild rice and 1 cup brown rice cooked with cranberries, mushrooms, and carrots for a gluten-free stuffing alternative.


Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn SquashQuinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash 


·      Quinoa Stuffed Acorn SquashMix up your traditional squash routine with a cooked quinoa filling, gently sautéed with kale, cilantro, and red onion. Sprinkle with feta and broil until golden brown.

·      Roasted Squash and Wild Rice – Cut a butternut squash into 1” cubes, drizzle with oil and roast until golden brown and tender. Toss with cooked and fully-cooled wild rice, lemon juice, and green onions for a simple salad.



Vegetables and Sides 

·      Broccoli-Cheese Millet – Substitute cooked millet for plain white rice in traditional broccoli cheese casserole. Bake with cheddar cheese and evaporated milk for an extra creamy flavor and texture.

·      Polenta – Instead of corn bread, serve creamy baked polenta with parmesan cheese or sautéed mushrooms.

·      Barley and Beet Salad with Feta – Replace apple/celery salad with a chilled salad of barley, roasted beets, and feta. Toss with red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and olive oil for a simple, hearty salad.

·      Green Bean Casserole – Make this Thanksgiving tradition with a whole grain topping. Use whole-wheat flour to coat onions for crispy baked onion ring. Or top with croutons made from crusty rye bread with oil and garlic salt.


Pumpkin Pie with Whole Grain CrustPumpkin Pie with Whole Grain Crust


·      Whole-Grain Flours – Alternative flours are more readily available now than ever. With some tweaking, whole grain flours can be substituted in nearly every baked good without damaging taste or texture. The key is finding the right flour and the right proportion for your dessert. Most whole grain flours offer a starting suggestion on the package.

·      Pumpkin Pie Crust – Sorghum, amaranth, whole wheat, and ground oats can all be substituted for all-purpose flour in pie crust. This works best for baked pies like pumpkin and pecan, but is still a healthy alternative in pudding or cream-based pies.

·      Oatmeal Crisp – Make a simple crust of rolled oats, brown sugar, and melted butter. Top with peeled apples, frozen blueberries, or another favorite fruit, sprinkle with more oats and bake until bubbly.



Amy Sippl is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good, and Tasty. She grew up in rural Wisconsin, but now calls St. Paul her home. She writes about her successes and struggles to eat and grow local food on her blog: Minnesota Locavore. Her last post in the Great Grains series was Teff -- The Jury's Still Out.