When it comes to Thanksgiving, I’ve always been in charge of one thing — the dessert! The finale of the meal is mine, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. After all, no turkey day celebration is complete without something sweet at the end, even if you barely have room for it.
Year after year, I’ve continued my tradition of making a pumpkin cheesecake for my family to enjoy. I truly believe that having it as we sit around our Thanksgiving table makes it taste that much sweeter. A time when the word “thankful” truly comes to life as you see the faces of those sitting around you. And while food is the center of everyone’s attention, the day quickly becomes about so much more than just what you’re eating — a feeling that nourishes you from the inside out.
Throughout the years, this cheesecake has definitely evolved with me. There was the year of the big crack in the middle, the year of a too-soft texture, and the year of a swirl on top. As my knowledge of food and nutrition evolved and expanded through the years, so did my Thanksgiving cheesecake. Today, it takes the form of cheesecake pops, with a healthy spin!
Whether your house is divided between pumpkin or pecan pie for dessert, I guarantee everyone can enjoy these healthy pumpkin cheesecake pops.
How to approach your Thanksgiving meal
Even as a dietitian, I get easily overwhelmed with all the different food choices there are at Thanksgiving, especially when it comes to dessert. The good news is, there are healthy ways to approach dessert making and eating that will allow you to enjoy what you want without the guilt.
Here are my three tricks for keeping Thanksgiving desserts in check:
1. Consider the ingredients
Traditional pies, tortes, and baked goods are often made with multiple sweeteners, oils, and preservatives (if store bought). If you have the time for it, remake your favorite desserts in your own kitchen, and consider swapping out ingredients for a healthier option. My favorite swaps include using pumpkin puree in place of oil and butter in baked goods, using granola as the crust for pies, and swapping sour cream and cream cheese for Greek yogurt — like I’ve done in this recipe below.
I choose to use whole milk Greek yogurt in this recipe instead of cream cheese and sour cream that’s typically found in cheesecake because it doesn’t compromise the taste, but has a very different nutritional profile. In this case, even though high in calories, the fat is satiating, which will make you full from eating less.
2. Make it mini
Since there’s typically more than one dessert on the Thanksgiving table, it’s important to keep portions in check. Making mini versions of your turkey day favorites is a great way to still have something sweet at the end of the meal, but keep you from feeling uncomfortably full — and sleepy! Often times you’ll find you don’t need the full slice of pie or plate of baked goods to satisfy your sweet tooth. Practice moderation, not deprivation!
3. Stick to small plates
No, I’m not taking a tapas style Thanksgiving. I mean the actual size of your dessert plates! Research shows that the size of your plates and utensils can affect how much you eat. Sometimes, it’s all about what the eye sees — so opt for a small plate and fork to eat your dessert with, and your brain just might think your portion is more than it really is.
Pumpkin cheesecake pops recipe
So, this Thanksgiving try my healthier take on a classic with these pumpkin cheesecake pops. Not only are they fun to eat, but they’re a great way to enjoy fall flavor in a nutritious way. The best part is you won’t have to spend all day in the kitchen making them, and your guests will be impressed at just how delicious they look!
Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 12 pumpkin cheesecake pops
- 1/2 cup pumpkin purée
- 1/2 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
- 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 2 cups white chocolate chips
- 1 tbsp. coconut oil
- 2 to 3 of your favorite cookies, crushed
- pinch of salt
- 12 (or more) dessert sticks
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine whole milk yogurt with pumpkin purée. Mix until combined.
- Add in graham cracker crumbs. Continue mixing until cookie dough-like texture forms.
- Roll into balls about the size of 1 tbsp., and insert dessert sticks into the top.
- Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- In the meantime, heat white chocolate over a double broiler until melted. Stir in coconut oil.
- Remove cheesecake balls from the freezer and dip into the chocolate until covered.
- While the chocolate is still hot, sprinkle cookie crumbs on top.
- Refrigerate and enjoy! Can be kept in a sealed container in the fridge for up to one week.
Maggie Michalczyk is a registered dietitian and the voice behind @onceuponapumpkin. Her blog and Instagram are dedicated to all things pumpkin, all year long. Maggie received her BA in dietetics from Michigan Sate University, and completed her dietetic internship with Aramark in Chicago. With experience in nutrition communications, Maggie loves sharing nutrition messages to help others live healthier lives. When she's not in the kitchen making healthy desserts, Maggie’s out trying a new workout class or drinking kombucha.