Eating Well: 7 Ways to Make Your Thanksgiving Healthier

Eating Well: 7 Ways to Make Your Thanksgiving Healthier

The average American eats between 3,000 and 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving. That can make a big dent in your health goals. But, fear not. Rather than erasing creamy casseroles and classic desserts from the menu, dietitians suggest taking a more moderate approach and recommend making tiny tweaks to tradition.

“I like to offer the traditional recipes that everyone expects, but to make ingredient changes to prepare these dishes with less fat, sodium, and calories without sacrificing flavor. By doing so, I don’t feel guilty serving these foods to family members who have chronic medical conditions, especially since they’ll probably be eating the leftovers for a few days after the holiday,” says New York-based registered dietitian Michelle Hyman.

Read on for seven small shifts or substitutes that will give your holiday meal a healthy makeover.

1. Don’t “bank” calories for the big meal.

“Never go in hungry! Treat it like any other meal. You wouldn’t fast all day normally, so why do it on Thanksgiving? Since I know I am going to be enjoying a lot of carbs at dinner, I try to get in some protein, fruit, and vegetables at breakfast so my day is balanced, but I don’t stress if breakfast is a cinnamon roll, either,” says Ashley Reaver, a registered dietitian in California.

2. Sip ample amounts of H2O.

Drink lots of water heading into the meal to help your body balance out the excess sodium you’ll take in eating those deliciously flavorful foods. And drink water with your meal, not wine. It’s easy to consume a lot more calories if you are satisfying your salt-induced thirst with a calorie-containing beverage. Enjoy the food during your meal, your wine during cocktail hour, and your dessert during dessert,” Reaver says.

3. Back off on the butter just a bit.

If you’re in charge of the Thanksgiving side dishes and you’re using classic family heirloom recipes as a guide, you can most likely cut at least a few tablespoons of butter from the menu. “Mashed potatoes and stuffing will still be delicious with the reduced portion of butter,” says Reaver.

4. Check out the scene.

“I survey everything available at the buffet table before I put anything on my plate,” Reaver says. “This allows me to choose what dishes are really special, even if they are high in calories, rather than piling up my plate high with everything available.”

5. Divvy up your plate.

Think of your plate like a pie, and allocate “slices” for everything you love. Hyman generally aims to fill one-fourth of her plate with carbs, one-fourth with protein and half with nonstarchy vegetables at a typical meal. “On special occasions, including Thanksgiving, my plate is closer to one-third of each. I always make sure to put plenty of vegetables on my plate, plus turkey — of course — so I have room to put small amounts of less nutritious, but very delicious, side dishes.”

6. Pace yourself.

“I aim to eat until satisfied — rather than stuffed — chew food thoroughly and put the fork down between bites,” Hyman says.

7. Say goodbye to guilt.

At the end of the day, head to bed with a happy stomach and a stress-free spirit. “Eat the food and move on,” Reaver says. “Don’t try to compensate the following day by undereating or detoxing. Hop back on your regular eating pattern the day after.”

(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at
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