Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I love spending the day with my family and cooking with my mother every year. However, I have never understood the mentality that Thanksgiving is a marathon eating day. Here are some healthy tips to help you enjoy your Thanksgiving favorites with moderation, from cooking in the morning to digesting the meal at night.
How to Make Your Traditional Dishes Healthier…
Turkey – All it needs is herbs and spices and bath in its own juices. Skip the butter rub.
Gravy — Refrigerate the gravy to harden fat. Skim the fat off. This will save a whopping 56 gm of fat per cup.
Stuffing — Use a little less bread and add more onions, garlic, celery, and vegetables. Add fruits such as cranberries or apples. Cut down on bread and meats in stuffing. Moisten or flavor with low fat low sodium chicken or vegetable broth and applesauce.
Green Bean Casserole — Cook fresh green beans with chucks of potatoes or use evaporated fat free milk instead of cream soup. Top with almonds instead of fried onion rings.
Sweet Potatoes – Skip the butter and added sugar and use evaporated milk and crushed pineapple for sweetness.
Mashed Potato — Use skim milk, chicken broth, garlic or garlic powder, and Parmesan cheese instead of whole milk and butter. Try blending half potatoes with half pureed cauliflower.
Desserts — Make a crustless pumpkin pie or find low-fat crust recipes. Replace butter and eggs with fruit purees or egg whites. Replace heavy cream with evaporated skim milk in cheesecakes and cream pies or use low-fat milk or in other recipes. Top cakes with fresh fruit, fruit sauce, or a sprinkle of powdered sugar instead of fattening frosting. Reduce the butter and substitute in some oil instead for less saturated fats.
How to Prepare for Yourself for Thanksgiving dinner:
Exercise that morning! Make sure to go for a long walk or do a workout routine, yes even if you are cooking. This will help you to burn off the extra calories for the day. Exercise also helps you to feel better about yourself, leading to healthier choices.
Move when you are cooking. Put on the radio to dance to or stop or do bicep curls with canned foods. Every calorie burned off helps!
Eat sensibly the rest of the day. Choose a light healthy breakfast like eggs and fruit and a salad for lunch, for example, to keep your caloric intake low before you go. Don’t skip meals!
Don’t go hungry. Make sure to have a small snack before you go so you are not ravenous when you get to the party or restaurant and see/smell tempting food.
If the party requires you to bring a dish, bring something healthy. Offer to bring the salad, lean protein like fish or chicken, or make a healthy and light dessert option, such as angel food cake or fruit salad. Doubtful you will be the only one eating it and most people appreciate having the option to eat healthier at a party.
How to eat less at the holiday meal:
Most importantly: Before you start eating anything, think of your meal like a budget and determine how you want to spend your calories. Do you want an extra roll with dinner or a glass of wine? Alcohol or dessert? Make healthy substitutions to fit into your “budget.” Do you want stuffing or potatoes? Stick to your favorites and try to make your plate ½ full of vegetables, ¼ plate lean proteins, and ¼ plate starch.
Serve up or choose healthy appetizers to start instead of the usual suspects. Healthy party starters include protein, fiber, and fruits and vegetables. Here are some ideas for Thanksgiving starters or at any holiday party:
Chicken or fish skewers/kebobs, such as chicken satay
Salsa with crudités or sliced vegetables
Vegetables and 1 tbsp of dip
1 tbsp hummus or other bean dips with whole wheat pita
Bruschetta with lots of chopped vegetables
1 small palm full of mixed nuts
1 tbsp of guacamole with vegetables or whole wheat pita
When you finally sit down for dinner:
Start with a hearty vegetable soup or salad. Fiber keeps you full!
Scope out the options before you choose anything. Your best bet is to fill ½ your plate with vegetables, ¼ with lean protein and the last ¼ with your favorites. but stick to one plate full or you can always go back for more veggies!
Leave serving dishes in the kitchen instead of on the table. If you don’t see it you won’t eat it, or at least it will take more effort to eat more.
Use smaller plate (9” plate) and serving spoons throughout the meal.
Use smaller wine glasses and larger water glasses.
Limit high calorie alcoholic beverages. Choose wine, straight hard alcohols, mohitos wine or vodka spritzers, and low calorie alcohol options like Skinny Girl Margaritas. Separate drinks with club soda or water and limit yourself to 1 drink maximum for women, 2 drink maximum for men.
Space out your alcohol with lots of water and sparkling water
Offer to your guests and serve yourself a variety of vegetable dishes and less starchy dishes
If you try something and you don’t like it, don’t waste your calories. Stick to your favorites and try to only have 1 plate full.
When you go back for second, fill up your plate with vegetables too.
Eat slowly! Make your main meal last at least 20 minutes.
Cut your pie or cakes into smaller slices and serve a fruit salad as well. Again, fiber keeps you full
Share options. Everyone can grab a spoon and have a bite of dessert.
Take the focus off the food. Enjoy great conversation and the company and you will want to eat less.
After the meal…
Try not to sleep right after the meal! Instead, keep on moving. Go for a walk after or play football to burn more calories.
Don’t stress or feel guilty about your food choices. Relax and enjoy your small indulgence. There is no such thing as a good food or bad food, only sometimes treats and everyday foods.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
Amy Santo, MS RD CDN