For most of us, a major part of the Thanksgiving celebration is a big meal on the table.
As the start of the holiday season, Thanksgiving dinner is, unfortunately, often the first step on a path of indulgent eating from now until the new year.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
By choosing fresh, healthy ingredients, using our tips for lightening up some traditional dishes, and keeping portion sizes under control, you can enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner without overdoing it.
Turkey is a healthy protein choice, but many traditional Thanksgiving side dishes are rich and loaded with excess fat and calories.
There are ways to lighten things up and keep from eating a day’s worth of calories in one sitting.
For example, use whole grains for rolls or stuffing and fat-free broth for basting and making gravy.
Another tactic is to use spices and herbs instead of salt and fat to flavor dishes while upping the antioxidant content.
Shape magazine offers these tips for reducing the fat and calories in your Thanksgiving favorites:
Turkey – white meat and dark meat have about the same number of calories per ounce (44 calories for white versus 53 for dark), so eat whatever color you prefer. Just make sure to remove the fatty skin.
And don’t buy a self-basting turkey that has been injected with fat. Rather, baste it yourself with broth, juice, or wine.
Stuffing – Whether you call it stuffing or dressing, cook it in its own dish. Cooking it inside the turkey adds fat drippings and raises the calorie count.
Use whole grain bread, or substitute whole grains like cooked barley or quinoa. Add vegetables and fruit to raise the nutritional content.
Mashed potatoes – Use milk instead of heavy cream, and go easy on the butter and salt.
Leaving the skins on means you retain more nutrients.
Or try roasted potatoes instead of mashed.
Sweet potatoes – Nix the marshmallows and other sweeteners. Instead, use cinnamon or ginger to add flavor.
Green bean casserole – The best swap is to eat your green beans plain with just seasonings.
If you love the creamy casserole, use plain or Greek non-fat yogurt in place of sour cream or fat-free cream of mushroom soup in place of regular.
Pie – Skip the pecan, which is high in calories and sugar. Have a small piece of pumpkin or apple, but try it with low-fat frozen yogurt instead of ice cream or whipped cream.
You can lighten up pumpkin pie using fat-free evaporated milk and egg substitute. Or skip the crust altogether, since it’s often a source of saturated and trans fats, and bake individual servings of your pie filling in custard dishes instead.
Another strategy to keep from overeating on Thanksgiving is to practice portion control.
You can follow the government’s guidelines, found at ChooseMyPlate.gov, filling your plate half full of vegetables and fruits, the rest with lean turkey and whole grains.
Or stick to small portions of those special holiday foods that you don’t eat the rest of the year.
Eat slowly, drink plenty of water, and stop when you start to feel full.
Enjoy those special dishes you love; just practice moderation.
And if you overindulge a little, that’s okay. Thanksgiving only comes once a year!
Visit our Healthiest Best Foods homepage for more great ideas to get you and your family eating healthier.