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How can I serve a healthy Thanksgiving dinner?

Nov 19, 2013

Marissa Tafuri
FT East Greenwich


"The average American will consume 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day according to the Calorie Control Council.  Which begs the question, how can you enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner while keeping it healthy?

"An option is to serve only white turkey meat as it contains less calories then dark turkey meat and only serving vegetables as sides.  However, this is not always an option as many of us go to our friend’s or family’s homes to eat Thanksgiving dinner and we have no control over what they serve.

"What do to do?  Well no matter where you are there is one thing that you can control: your portions!  You can have a little bit of everything without overdoing it.  You only need to have one plate of food instead of two or three.  This way you still get to taste some of your favorite Thanksgiving treats without all of the calories.

"Thanksgiving is a great day to wake up and get a workout out in.  Burn some calories earlier in the day to alleviate some of the guilt that can come with eating later on in the day."

Robin Ball
FT East Greenwich


"I took a different spin on the question, as many readers are not hosting and can't control what is being served.

"Moderation is the key to success. Here are a few ideas to help you enjoy Thanksgiving without sabotaging your weight loss efforts.

"Using a smaller plate instead of the average-sized dinner plate can cut up to 500 calories out of your meal! Instead of trying to make your portions smaller, just make your plate smaller.

"Be aware of what you're drinking. Limit yourself to one beverage of your choice, and then switch to water. Making sure that you stay hydrated throughout the day can help your brain to differentiate between actual hunger and dehydration.

"Put down your fork between bites. Wait to prepare your next bite until you've finished the last one. This will help you to pace yourself, eat slower, and be more aware of the signals your body is sending you which will prevent over eating.

"Make yourself wait a full 20 minutes before you reach for seconds. During that time, be aware of what's going on in your body. What's telling you to reach for more? Is it your mind and your taste buds attempting to overrule the "I'm full!" signals your stomach is sending? Or do you truly have room for a few more small bites? Take a break to re-evaluate before diving right back in.

"My philosophy has always been to exercise for what you are about to eat, not what you already ate. With that said, add three more cardio workouts the week before Thanksgiving."

Josh Bate
FT East Greenwich

"While it may seem impossible to some, or more like cardinal sin to others, it is possible to serve a Thanksgiving dinner that won't have the buttons on your pants flying across the room.

"We'll start with the core of every Thanksgiving meal, the turkey! Obviously we will go with the classic oven-roasted turkey. No frying here. Turkey is low in fat, carbs and high in muscle-building proteins! A complete protein source providing all of the essential and non-essential amino acids along with minerals. White meat is your best bet here, but a little dark meat won't set your fitness efforts back at square one. Go skinless.

"While white potatoes are not the devil they can be made out to be, they are not your better source of carbohydrates. To keep insulin and blood sugar levels pleased with you on this special day opt for sweet potatoes for your mashed potatoes. Use low-fat milk, and find a recipe that calls for less butter.

"The vegetables are all freebies! No, not green bean casserole.  But plain steamed or roasted vegetables.

"As for the desserts, there are plenty of healthier options when it comes to classics like pumpkin pie. A few substitutions can make this calorie-laden dessert a treat for the taste buds and the waistline. Swapping table sugar for sugar substitutes or stevia can make a big difference in calorie count. Nothing beats a bowl full of fresh fruit and some low fat whipping cream, either!

"All that's needed this holiday is a little creativity and some simple research.  Enjoy and be safe!"

Gwen Beckcom
FT Mission Hills


"Make classic recipes light!  You can make your mashed potatoes creamy with naturally low-fat buttermilk, evaporated skim milk or fat-free sour cream. For extra flavor, stir in roasted garlic and herbs. For added nutrition, add pureed cooked cauliflower, parsnips or turnips.

"Gravy is one of the biggest calorie culprits on the table. If you use turkey drippings to add flavor, use a gravy separator to skim off the fat.

"Bake the dressing in a casserole dish rather than in the turkey, where it absorbs fat from the turkey as it bakes. It's hard to slim down a stuffing recipe, so take a small serving if it's your Thanksgiving favorite.

"Most of the fat in a pie comes from the crust. Try a reduced-fat graham cracker crust. Or forget all about the crusts and bake your pie filling in small ramekins for mini soufflés instead.  

"Keeping all this in mind, portion control is still a must on Thanksgiving Day. You will feel much better if you don't overeat. And remember those tennies so you can take a nice walk after your meal to help burn off some of those calories.

"Happy Thanksgiving!"

Bruce Kelly
FT Media


"Serve water with lemon or lime slices for flavor; minimize alcohol. Alcohol isn't health food no matter what the wine industry says. And egg nog, even without alcohol, is a calorie bomb! Same goes for the various "punch" drinks people serve for the holidays.

"Be careful with side dishes; some tables have five or six sides which adds calories quickly even if you are just sampling a little of each.

"When making side dishes try to make them as "naturally" as possible. For example, mashed sweet potatoes are awesome.  But if you add a lot of brown sugar and marshmallows then you have sabotaged your own dish. Same with favorite side dishes like cranberry sauce and stuffing.

"Get your activity in before noon as forget about it after that time. You are fooling yourself to think you will do something between football games, and that comes from someone who is an "exercise nut."

"Don't fret if you go a little overboard. Get back on track with your eating the next day. One day shouldn't blow your eating plan but five or six weeks certainly will!"

Sue Teoli
FT New Canaan


"Thanksgiving dinner can be healthy if people use smaller plates and just have one helping instead of three or four! It is OK to have a little stuffing and a little mashed potatoes. Use smaller plates and try to do some kind of exercise in the morning to make up for the extra calories you may consume."

Stacy Adams
FT Central Georgetown


"Thanksgiving dinner has always been one of my favorites to cook for my family.  The general staple dishes of Thanksgiving can easily be converted into delicious, healthy meals with the abundance of healthy recipes available.

"One of my favorite ways to make a delicious, healthy Thanksgiving Dinner is using one of my favorite magazine, Clean Eating Magazine.  Every Thanksgiving, they provide a complete Thanksgiving dinner and it's always delicious.  A lot of these recipes will replace butter, sugar, and cream with healthier alternatives such as greek yogurt, stevia, almond milk and chickpeas.

"One of my favorite things to make are pumpkin bars with chick peas, rather than eggs and butter.  Not only are these bars very enjoyable, but they are also free of wheat gluten, eggs and dairy.  There's nothing better than having an enjoyable meal with your family and feeling like less of a "stuffed turkey" at the end of the day!

"Happy Thanksgiving!"

Billy Beyer
FT Basking Ridge


"Healthy eating is all about making the proper food choices.  And we strongly believe that you can still enjoy a delicious yet health -conscious Thanksgiving meal.

"Our advice is to stick to the basics and "clean it up." Some simple and effective examples would be eating only the white meat of the turkey, enjoying delicious sweet potatoes without the butter and marshmallows, and choosing some of your favorite vegetables.  Try going easy on the stuffing and keep desserts to a minimum and you have yourself a tasty, well-balanced meal."

Dr. Janet Brill
FT Nutritionist


"With all the great Thanksgiving dishes to taste, chances are you will eat far more calories on Turkey Day than at a typical dinner. Have a light breakfast and lunch or snack, then dig into a lighter version of the big meal which has less than half the calories and a quarter of the fat of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. With a few simple changes to the classic Thanksgiving menu, Nutrition Together’s healthy Thanksgiving version -– which still includes turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green beans –- saves 565 calories over the traditional one!"

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