Thanksgiving Day: Tips and Tricks to a Healthy Dinner


The turkey table can be a real challenge if you are watching your waistline. This harvest feast ranks in unnecessary calories through mindless snacking and miscellaneous extras. By simply cutting back and replacing traditional calorie-laden foods with healthy substitutes, you can enjoy your turkey and fixings guilt-free. With a little pre-planning and commitment to moderation, Thanksgiving doesn’t have to sabotage your healthy lifestyle. Here are a few of my tips for staying fit and healthy without depriving yourself.

Get Active

Make fitness a family adventure; take a walk after dinner or play a game of tag football in the yard with the kids. Give a helping hand around the kitchen, offer to help set the table and clean the dishes after dinner.

Eat Breakfast

Don’t save up on calories by skipping the most important meal of the day; be sure to eat a protein-packed breakfast to hold you over until turkey time. Try a poached egg with whole grain toast, a bowl of oatmeal with nut butter, or Greek yogurt and cinnamon; this will ensure you are not starving when you arrive at the feast.

Lighten Up

It’s easy to experiment and create healthier versions of your favorite comfort foods with less fat, sugar, and calories. Here are a few of my turkey tips for how you can reduce your caloric intake and become aware of your food consumption. All it takes is a little tweaking of your family’s favorite recipes to reduce the ‘bad’ fats and empty calories, replacing them with healthy fats and nutritious, fiber-filled foods.

Thanksgiving Survival 101

Moderation is the key; if you cannot control the ingredients in your feast, simply limit yourself to a smaller portion as many side dishes are loaded with hidden fat and sugar.

1. Use chicken broth in lieu of butter in mashed potatoes.

2. Instead of one whole egg, crack open two egg whites.

3. Cook stuffing outside the turkey to lower the fat content.

4. Substitute nonfat Greek plain yogurt for cream in green bean casserole.

5. Ditch the sweet potato casserole and reach for a sweet potato (eat the skin too). These spuds are full of vitamins, fiber, and flavor…drizzle with honey and top with Greek yogurt and dried cranberries.

6. Skip the butter on veggies and steam them with a drizzle of freshly squeezed lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of ground flax seeds.

7. Replace processed cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries; create your own unique chutney or salsa.

8. Opt for a turkey rub made from olive oil, thyme, and sage instead of butter.

9. Replace white breads and white bread stuffing with whole grain bread and hearty side dishes such as a wild rice pilaf tossed with asparagus, apples and Dijon mustard.

10. Don’t swear off desserts, allow yourself a few bites and keep your portions in check. Choose fruit to safely cure your sweet tooth instead of reaching for your mom’s cheesecake.

11. Substitute agave nectar or stevia for refined sugar.

12. Opt for whole wheat flour over white.

Control Your Portions

Be conscious about what you put into your mouth; sit back and take a sip of water after a few bites to ensure you don’t overeat. Enjoy the harvest flavors; this is what Thanksgiving is all about, it’s more than just food. It’s about gratitude, family, and community. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that you are full, so savor your food, drink water in between bites, and slow down. Give your mind a chance to catch up with your body and stop when you are full.

Overall, when Turkey Day arrives, be sure to have a plan set; make smart choices, eat in moderation and keep moving. Most importantly, don’t forget that Thanksgiving is about much more than Aunt Suzie’s mashed potatoes and Grandma’s pumpkin pie. It’s about community, family and giving thanks; after all, these are the things that stay with us after the turkey leftovers have disappeared.

Get in the spirit of giving meaningful gifts with this step-by-step guide.

Which of these Thanksgiving foods might actually be good for your skin?

Amie Valpone, HHP, AADP is a culinary nutritionist and author of The Healthy Apple,