You may have heard that the average American consumes 4,500 calories at Thanksgiving dinner alone (more than twice the daily caloric needs of the average adult). I do believe in enjoying a bit of holiday indulgence guilt-free, but if you’ve ever stepped away from the Thanksgiving dinner table and wondered if you would even be able to make it over to the couch, you’ve probably experienced the type of “Thanksgiving food coma” that I encourage you to avoid. Here are my top 7 tips for prioritizing health – without feeling deprived – on Thanksgiving:
- Pick and choose your carbohydrates. Between the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, rolls, pies, and alcohol, the traditional Thanksgiving meal has a perfect amount of carbohydrates … if you’re planning to run a marathon every day of the following week! To limit the insulin spike (and subsequent crash) from eating a meal so high in carbohydrates, I recommend choosing mashed potatoes or sweet potato casserole. Better yet, try a baked sweet potato or roasted sweet potato slices – you can save up to 400 calories and 60 grams of sugar by enjoying a small baked sweet potato instead of a helping of sweet potato casserole! With all of the carbohydrate-heavy options, does anyone get that excited over a simple roll? I suggest eliminating the rolls all together – no one will miss them, but your overall carbohydrate intake will be easier to manage.
- Fit in produce. Thanksgiving tends to be what I call a “beige meal” – a meal devoid of the healthy, vibrant colors that represent the phytonutrients and antioxidants our bodies need. So, do what you can to fit in vegetables and fruits. Serve a green bean casserole (with fresh green beans!) or a Brussels sprout dish (Google “Lyons Share Cranberry Brussels Sprouts” for a delicious holiday side dish!). Offer a simple side salad to get greens on the plate. Sneak some celery, apples, leeks, carrots, or cranberries into your stuffing. Offer baked whole apples sprinkled with cinnamon as a dessert option. Just fit it in however you can!
- Divide your plate into thirds. I recommend filling 1/3 of your plate with turkey, 1/3 with produce, and 1/3 with carbohydrate-heavy options. This way, you get to enjoy a bit of everything without feeling deprived, but you maintain balance. It’s a lot harder to overdo the sweet potato casserole and the stuffing and the mashed potatoes if they all have to fit onto 1/3 of your plate!
- Alternate water with drinks. If you start cooking (or watching football) early in the day, and the alcoholic drinks keep flowing until long after the last bit of pie has been swept from the table, you’re likely getting in more calories from alcohol than you realize. I recommend alternating each alcoholic drink with a glass of water. Not only will this keep you hydrated (which will improve digestion and keep you from feeling lethargic), but it may also slow down your alcohol intake, which is a good thing.
- Choose your dessert wisely. By the time dessert rolls around, many people feel so stuffed that they don’t really even want the Thanksgiving dessert. Still, because it only comes around once per year, they make room for several slices of pie, just because “they can.” I recommend choosing only one dessert option. Changes are that there will be leftovers, so if you miss out on one, you can enjoy it the next day, without feeling overstuffed. You can also choose dessert wisely: choosing pumpkin pie over pecan pie can save around 200 calories (and add in many nutrients). If you’re baking, try some healthy baking swaps. Did you know that you can substitute half the oil in a recipe for mashed banana, canned pumpkin, or unsweetened applesauce? How about trying whole wheat or quinoa flour instead of white flour, or using plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream?
- Get moving! The Dallas Turkey Trot is one of my favorite all-time races, but many cities have fantastic Turkey Trots – they provide a great way to spend time with family while getting your heart pumping before the feast. Whether you run a Turkey Trot, go for a walk around the neighborhood, hit the gym, or create a mini bootcamp for your family members, you will certainly feel better if you fit in some movement before settling down to dinner.
- Don’t throw in the towel on the entire season. If you don’t exercise on Thanksgiving morning or end up going a little overboard at the dinner table, no problem! Do not adopt the attitude that “I wasn’t healthy yesterday, I might as well just wait until New Year’s to start over.” Instead, wake up the next morning and treat it as a brand new start! In the grand scheme of things, one day is really not that important, but several weeks in a row of less-than-healthy behaviors do add up!
For more Thanksgiving tips, check out my Healthy Thanksgiving Recipe Round-Up, my Fit-It-In Turkey Day Workout, or my Top 7 Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving Happily and Healthily!
Now it’s your turn… What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish? What’s one thing you will commit to doing to make Thanksgiving a bit healthier this year?