Navigating Thanksgiving

Less than a week from now, I will be close to stuffed like a turkey.  My rule on Thanksgiving Day is to eat what you like and with what–no guilt.  Depending on your background, Thanksgiving is one of the few times out of the year when you get your favorites all in one–cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes AND gravy, you name it.  So the point is to enjoy it, not feel guilty about it, and hold it dear as a time of fellowship with your loved ones–even if it’s centered around a meal that’s on average 3,000 calories strong.  I mentioned “depending on your background,” because I do know people who have Thanksgiving-esque dinners almost every Sunday.  If this is you and your family, perhaps you shouldn’t eat everything that’s on the table.

Thanksgiving Day doesn’t have to sabotage your healthy eating regiment, especially since it’s just one day.  Well of course, if you have left-overs this extends it to more than one day, but even 2 or 3 days won’t matter in the grand scheme of things.  It’s all about the choices you make. Below are 10 helpful tips to navigate the Thanksgiving table and days of cooking leading up to it.  
  1. Portion control.  If you have 6 or more items on the menu, 1/2 cup servings of each item will do.  With all of the choices, there’s no need to eat more than this.  
  2. Leave seconds for the next day.  Experts say that the pleasure from food progressively diminishes after the first bite, which gives even more reason to save seconds for the next day. 
  3. Eat breakfast.  I am certainly guilty of skipping breakfast on Thanksgiving morning to save my appetite for the evening meal.  This almost always backfires as our eyes become much bigger than our stomachs.  Good breakfast ideas include eggs and whole-wheat toast or a bowl of warm or cold whole-grain cereal with fruit.  
  4. Eat slowly.  Cherishing every bite will allow you to enjoy your food and improve digestion.  And likewise, this prevents overeating because your body cues have enough time to kick in, signaling that you are full.
  5. Limit casserole dishes.  Casserole dishes are often filled with extra cheese and fillings that are loaded with unnecessary fats, added sugars, and salt.  You may not even miss the marshmallows on top of the sweet potato dish.  
  6. Drink water.  Not only is water the best replenisher, but replacing water with juices, alcohol, and soda will cut back on these nutritionally void calories.  You can even get creative and flavor the water with fresh cranberries and lemon.
  7. Eat the turkey breast.  The breast is the leanest cut of meat on the turkey, making it a great choice on Thanksgiving.  Removing the skin will also stave off unnecessary fat.  But, if you prefer the thigh or any other more fatty part of the bird, go for it!  Thanksgiving is only just one day. 
  8. Start a new tradition of non-traditional healthier Thanksgiving dishes.  Who says you can’t shake things up at Thanksgiving with a new dish?  A few years back, I started making a three-bean salad which my family has grown to love. This year I will be creative with roasted cauliflower drizzled with a parmesan-pine nut dressing.  
  9. Take a walk.  You can start another tradition by taking a family walk before or after dinner.  This is a wonderful way to get you and your family more active while enjoying more quality time together (besides around the dining room table that is!).  
  10. Lighten things up (well just a little).  Some may consider this taking the fun out of Thanksgiving all together, but in fact small alterations in recipes can make large differences nutritionally, but not necessarily when it comes to taste.  
      • Since the turkey already has fat on it, use fat-free chicken broth for basting or as the base for your gravy.
      • Reduce oil and butter whenever you can and if you don’t already, skip the margarine all together.  Margarine is a major source of artery-clogging trans fats.  
      • Use plain, fat-free greek yogurt or sour cream in creamy dips, mashed potatoes, and/or casseroles.
      • Skip the ice cream or whipped topping on desserts. At the end of the day you won’t be missing much. And besides, isn’t the apple cobbler the best part anyway? WELLL if you’re an ice cream lover, perhaps a smaller amount of cobbler with your ice cream will do the trick.

Although not included in the tips above, the most important thing about Thanksgiving is to be grateful for what is truly important in life–family (even if they get on your nerves sometimes), supportive friends, and good health. Here’s to good food, good times, and good living!

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