8 Steps Toward a Healthy Thanksgiving Meal
How to prepare, serve and eat your dinner on Turkey Day.
The Thanksgiving holiday evokes memories of time spent with loved ones and home-cooked meals using treasured family recipes. But this feast often leads to bloated stomachs and packing on a few extra pounds.
Your first helping from the traditional menu of turkey, trimmings, potatoes and pie adds up to about 4000 calories—twice the recommended daily amount—according to chef and dietician Sarah Krieger. Her company, Dining Cents, assists individuals, families and companies in tailoring their meals to meet their dietary needs.
Some good advice for making this American holiday a little less unhealthy includes adding whole grains to your rolls and skipping the fat-saturated turkey skin. Plus, you can load up on antioxidants with cranberries and stockpile vitamins A and C, beta carotene and potassium by eating sweet potatoes.
In addition to these common suggestions, here are some other useful tidbits to help you have a healthier Thanksgiving.
1. Don’t fast before you feast
Many Americans skip their lunch before sitting down with their families for Thanksgiving, though this practice actually causes them to eat too much. “The hormone that tells you you’re full is a little bit slower at this point,” says Krieger. So don’t begin the meal with your stomach gauge on empty. Instead, try to have a light meal three to four hours before sitting down for dinner.
2. Eat with fewer people
Whether you realize it or not, you tend to down more for dinner as the size of your company increases. Eating with just one other person increases the amount of food you consume by a third. And studies show that, compared to dining alone, this consumption rate increases by 47, 58, 69, 70, 72 and 96 percent for meals shared with two to seven other people. This will certainly challenge many Americans on Thursday.
3. Downsize the dining ware
Eating from smaller plates and taking food from smaller serving bowls helps to limit the amount of food you eat. Studies by Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of the book “Mindless Eating,” found that people randomly given ice cream in 24-ounce bowls consumed 27 percent more than those served in 16-ounce bowls. And in a separate study by Wansink, participants during a Super Bowl party took 53 percent more food that was served in large bowls and consumed 56 percent more calories than those who obtained their snacks from smaller bowls.
4. Eat slowly
Don’t rely on your body to tell you when you’re full. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to digest the first bites of food and the small intestine to absorb the nutrients into your blood before you finally start to feel satisfied. This means if you keep eating while waiting for your body to hit the brakes, you will keep eating for 20 minutes too long. So enjoy your Thanksgiving feast and don’t gobble the gobbler. Since you can’t accelerate how fast your body processes food, you can at least limit the amount of food you eat that your body ultimately doesn’t need. If you’re unsure if you’ve eaten enough, wait 20 minutes to see if the hunger returns.
5. Eat your fruits and vegetables
Fruits and veggies have half the calories as fatty foods, according to Pennsylvania State University nutritionist Barbara Rolls. High fiber and water content in fruits and vegetables lowers cholesterol levels and helps to fill you up without weighing you down in calories. As a result, you can eat the same amount of celery sticks and pepper slices as some fat-laden food, but only bear half the caloric burden. So trade in your chip-and-dip appetizer for a platter of sliced fruits and vegetables. Add extra celery and onions to your stuffing. And use apple sauce in your rolls recipe instead of oil.
6. Don’t eat the dark meat
Eat white meat instead of dark meat, and you’ll get the same amount of protein but only half as much saturated and total fat.
7. Remove fat and calories—the cool way
By refrigerating your gravy or soups before dinner, the fat will harden and rise to the top. Simply remove this congealed fat with a spoon. If you’re pressed for time, drop some ice cubes inside the broth or turkey drippings. The fat will solidify around the cubes, which you can remove promptly before they melt. This extra effort is worthwhile since every tablespoon of fat you remove from gravy or pan juice subtracts about 120 calories and 13 grams of fat, according to the American Dietetic Association.
8. Pick pumpkin, not pecan
And for dessert, serving pumpkin pie rather than pecan pie can easily dock 100 to 200 calories, says Krieger. Hold off on a dollop of whipped cream, and you’ve just saved another 25 calories.
As a bonus, now you can have even more of that healthier Thanksgiving goodness waiting for you in the fridge on Black Friday. Oh, the joy of leftovers.
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