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Don’t Regret The Gobble This Thanksgiving

By Carly Young, MS student, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Reviewed by Karla Shelnutt, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida, and Gail Kauwell,  PhD, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Florida

We all know that feeling. You’re surrounded by family and friends, sitting on the couch talking about what a great meal you just ate, and then it hits you…“Why did I eat THAT much food?”

With all the joys that Thanksgiving brings, there also comes the urge to make unhealthy food choices. If you struggle to maintain your weight or suffer from health conditions such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure, this holiday and the many other eating occasions around it can be a particular struggle. Whether you are hosting or attending a Turkey Day bash, here are a few tips that may help you enjoy the Thanksgiving feast without the guilt.

Avoid oversized portions: The USDA has created a graphic called MyPlate that shows families how to create a healthy, balanced plate. Following this guide at Thanksgiving will give you a good start toward controlling your portions. Advice includes making half of your plate fruits and vegetables, reserving a little more than one-quarter of your plate for grains, (especially whole grains), and adding lean protein to slightly less than one-quarter of the plate. Oh yes, and don’t forget to include a serving of fat-free or low-fat dairy foods! If you start with this image in mind, you can work towards a healthier holiday plate—not just at the main meal, but on “leftover days” or at other celebrations to come. If you would like to learn more about MyPlate, visit this site.

Substitute: Not all the dishes on the table have to be loaded with fat and sugar. There are many different ways to prepare popular Thanksgiving meals to make them more nutritious. Here are a few simple substitutions to make these foods healthier:

  • Try a dash of cinnamon and trans-fat-free margarine on a sweet potato instead of brown sugar and butter.
  • Replace the bread in your stuffing recipe with wild rice, and add vegetables like celery, onions, and mushrooms. The vegetable and rice mixture will add a tasty new twist to your Thanksgiving, along with added fiber and nutrients.
  • It’s easy to reduce the sugar and fat in desserts while still maintaining a holiday feel. Try this healthier sweet potato pie or cran-apple crisp. Or how about this adorable “turkey” made out of fruit? One of my favorite tips when making baked goods is to replace cooking oil used in the recipe with unsweetened applesauce. I personally enjoy seeing the satisfaction on my family members’ faces when they realize that healthy alternatives can be just as delicious as the original recipes.

Watch what you drink: Even small changes in what you drink can have a big impact on holiday health. Most fruit drinks and sodas have lots of added sugars in them—a major source of empty calories. By swapping juice drinks, punch, or soda for flavored or sparkling water, you and your family members can avoid those extra calories while staying hydrated during your celebration. And for the adults in your household, keep in mind that alcoholic beverages have a lot of calories.

Thanksgiving only comes once a year. Make it a fun and healthy holiday for you and the ones you love! And check out these better-for-you alternatives to traditional Thanksgiving dishes:

Thanksgiving Recipes: Delicious and Healthy Options

Melissa’s Slow Cooker Stuffing

Julie’s Cranberry Chutney

Sweet Potato Casserole

Green Bean and Mushroom Medley

(Photo credit: Thanksgiving by José Maria Silveira NetoCC BY 2.0. Cropped.)