Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful and enjoy delicious home-cooked delights with family and friends but be careful not to overdo it. Believe it or not, it is possible to have a perfectly lovely Thanksgiving dinner without feeling like a stuffed turkey yourself at the end. Check out this helpful guide to avoid over-indulging before the dinner bell rings.

Healthy Thanksgiving Tips

(Adapted from “9 Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving” by MedicalWestHospital.org)

  • Take a turkey trot. Working out before you tuck in at the dinner table will help offset the potential excess calories, helping to prevent unwanted weight gain. Increased activity and getting steps in the weeks leading up to and most especially the day of the big feast will make a difference. And remember, fitness is a family affair! Take a walk together or play an active game to get some cardio.
  • Don’t skip breakfast. Skipping breakfast to save room and calories for later is a rookie mistake that will come back to haunt you. It’s easier to have more control over your appetite if you aren’t starving yourself the rest of the day. Have a small but satisfying breakfast, such as an egg and whole-wheat toast or whole-grain cereal with skim milk. A nutritious meal of protein and fiber will curb the appetite and allow you to make your Thanksgiving meal selections more thoughtfully. 
  • Creative cooking. As a host or as a guest bringing dishes, it is possible to make recipes lighter by using less sugar, fat and calories. Many recipes have extra sugar and fat that won’t be missed if skimmed using lower-calorie ingredients. Try fat-free chicken broth as a turkey baste and gravy agent. Use a healthy sugar substitute such as honey. Swap in plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream in dips, mashed potatoes and casseroles. 
  • Portion Control. Take a moment to enjoy the bountiful display of foods on the table before scooping them onto your plate. Be thoughtful about what are your favorite indulgent foods that you can’t pass up, and then put reasonable portions of them on your plate.

Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy special foods that you don’t typically have year-round. Therefore, don’t pile on a bunch of the more mundane foods that you can get any time, especially those that will fill you up.

  • Consider skipping seconds. It’s a tough call, but limiting yourself to one plate will help avoid over-eating. Besides, leftovers the next day are great too!
  • Slow down. Eating slowly, putting your fork down between bites and mindfully savoring each mouthful is an easy way to enjoy your meal and feel satisfied with only one plate full of food. Vegetables, broth-based soups, salads and other foods with lots of water and fiber will add to the feeling of fullness. 
  • Try not to drink your calories. Alcoholic drink calories can add up fast. Drink lots of water and try to limit sugary drinks like soda and sweet tea.
  • Be health-minded, but realistic. The holidays are ultimately meant for celebration, not stressing over diet. Strive for weight maintenance instead of weight loss during this time. Then, ideally, you will be in a good place to set higher health goals in the coming year.
  • Focus on what is most important. The main event is quality time with family and friends together, catching up, and not what is on the buffet.

Advice from Registered Dietitians

(Quoted from “Registered Dietitians Offer Tips for a Healthier Thanksgiving” on HealthyWomen.org)

  • Have veggie fun.There’s always so much delicious food to eat, but some of it can be pretty decadent. I like to encourage everyone to fill up on crudité as an appetizer. Here’s my recipe for a Turkey Veggie Tray. It’s super easy to make, and I serve it with hummus and guacamole.” – Amy Gorin, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition
  • “Showcase your veggie know-how. There’s a bounty of fresh vegetables right now: greens like kale, collards and Swiss chard; winter squashes like butternut, kabocha and delicata; root veggies like turnips, beets, parsnips and carrots; and so much more. Take advantage of these healthy and seasonal vegetables that taste amazing and can be prepared with ease.”- Jackie Mills, RDN, Culinary Communications Consultant
  • “Use herbs and spices in place of salt. Rub a turkey breast with smoked paprika, sage and extra-virgin olive oil; mince fresh tarragon into stuffing; blend minced garlic cloves into mashed potatoes; sprinkle turmeric powder into sweet potatoes.”-  Victoria Retelny, RDN, The Lifestyle Nutritionist and author of
    Total Body Diet for Dummies” and “The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods.”