Thanksgiving Strategy for Healthy Eating

In our humble opinion, Thanksgiving is superior to any other day of the year. In an effort to make this year's feast the best of all time (sorry, Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe), we're bringing you the recipes, how-tos and decorating ideas to help you become a Turkey Day pro.

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Photo by: lorraine kourafas

lorraine kourafas

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love cooking and I love planning the perfect feast for my family to share, especially since I became a nutritionist and started getting paid to think about food ALL. THE. TIME. I’ve given a lot of thought to how to design the perfect Thanksgiving dinner (and weekend) so that it’s a meal you feel good about. So if you love Thanksgiving, but don’t love feeling overly stuffed, follow these eight tips:

1. Treat Thanksgiving dinner like the meal that it is — a feast. Thanksgiving dinner is not just a dinner that’s accompanied by breakfast, lunch and other snacks. The Thanksgiving meal is more like linner or dunch. It’s two meals rolled into one, which means you need to be really abstemious with the other stuff you put into your body. See rule 2.

2. Have a modest breakfast. Enjoy a bowl of oatmeal cooked with milk and a chopped apple, a bowl of nonfat cottage cheese (surprisingly delicious) topped with blueberries and sliced almonds, or even one of Aunt Edna’s pumpkin muffins with a glass of milk. The key is to get something that’s filling enough to curb all-morning snacking, but to leave room for feasting later on.

3. Veggify your hors d’oeuvres. Step aside, cheese and crackers and chips and dip. This holiday is about the Thanksgiving meal you’re going to be having pie, stuffing and gravy. Do you really need potato chips too? To avoid getting overstuffed, chomp on raw veggies with a lighter dip (something made with nonfat Greek yogurt would be a good choice).

4. Embrace spritzers. There's no need to waste calories on bottomless glasses of wine or apple cider. Mix your favorite (wine, cider, juice) with seltzer for a fizzy drink that’s naturally low-cal.

5. Go easy on the starches. I know, the very essence of Thanksgiving is starch upon starch flanking turkey, but that is a formula for overstuffedness and lethargy. What you need to do is tweak what you put on the table and/or what you put on your plate to rein in the starch effect. Start by thinking about your favorite starches — which ones must you have, which ones are you willing to skip? For me, I love stuffing and that is way more Thanksgiving-y than potatoes in any form. After years of lobbying, I have successfully (at times), gotten potatoes fully off the menu. For other people, mashed potatoes are not to be missed, so they’re the ones that get to stay. “How can I choose between two great loves?!” you might ask. In that case, have both. Just take smaller portions of each to start, and continue with the rest of the rules.

6. Load up on the veggie sides. Your plate should be colorful. Make sure you have something green and something orange (ideally bigger portions than all the brown stuff on your plate). I know you’re thinking that veggie sides can also be calorie-dense. This is true, especially if you’ve braised your Brussels sprouts with bacon and butter, and you've candied your yams. So I urge you to make some of the Thanksgiving dishes lighter to help balance out your plate overall and keep you from feeling overly full.

7. Don’t feel compelled to eat it all at one meal. If you think about Thanksgiving dinner as a guilty pleasure and something that comes but once a year, then you might be tempted to gorge yourself on all your favorite things at that one meal. But one of the best things about this dinner is leftovers. Start off with smallish portions of everything you want to sample. Savor it. If you still have more room (meaning, if you can eat something more without getting uncomfortably stuffed), have another small helping of whatever you liked best. But remember: If you loved that stuffing, those roasted yams, whatever, chances are you can still have some tomorrow or the next day.

8. Have dessert. It’s Thanksgiving. Someone (and possibly more than one person) took good effort to make a pie. Have a slice and enjoy it.

Kerri-Ann is a registered dietitian and nutrition coach who writes on food and health trends. Find more of her work at kerriannjennings.com or follow her on Twitter @kerriannrd or Facebook.

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