7 Tips For a Healthy Thanksgiving Dinner


Americans love Thanksgiving, and we show it by piling our plates high with turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and other holiday staples. And for many Americans’ Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday. Here are a few tips to make this a healthier Thanksgiving.

The average number of dinner guests for Thanksgiving dinner is eleven!

Americans consume between 2,500 and 4,500 calories at the Thanksgiving table. That’s the equivalent of eating between four and eight Big Macs in a single sitting, and significantly above the daily recommended calorie intake for adults 21 years old and older, they should consume anywhere between 1,600 and 3,000 calories per day. (1)  It’s good to have a sense of the calorie count in the foods you eat and to be aware of how the calories in your favorite foods add up. Those numbers can help guide your decisions about what to eat and what to avoid and save for another day.

Start Thanksgiving with a Healthy Breakfast

While you might think it makes sense to save up calories for the big meal, experts say eating a small meal in the morning can give you more control over your appetite. Start your day with a small but satisfying breakfast — such as an egg with a slice of whole-wheat toast, or a bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk — so you won’t be starving when you arrive at the gathering.

And when mealtime arrives focus your plate on white turkey meat, plain vegetables, roasted sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, thin gravy, and pumpkin pie. These tend to be the best bets because they are lower in fat and calories. However, if you keep your portions small, you can enjoy whatever you like.

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Seven Tips to Avoid Overeating on Thanksgiving

We reached out to Georgia Giannopoulos, RD-AP, CDN, CNSC, manager of health & well-being at New York-Presbyterian, shares tips for a few tips for a healthy Thanksgiving:

Take a Trot:

Go for a walk, turkey trot, or bicycle ride outdoors on Thanksgiving morning if the weather is nice. If your physical activity is limited, consider sitting outside for a few minutes or sitting by a window to enjoy the fall foliage.

Pack a Snack:

If you are traveling, bring healthy snacks with you for the road and/or plane to save time (and money) and ensure that you do not have to go long periods of time without food. Fresh fruit is a great choice along with trail mix, nuts and popcorn.

Substitute Salt:

To reduce the amount of sodium in recipes, use herbs and spices instead of salt. For example, parsley, rosemary, thyme and/or sage pair well with turkey. (2)

Counting Carbs:

For fewer carbohydrates, opt for a baked sweet potato instead of the common  marshmallow smothered sweet potatoes, which are often made with added brown sugar. And a single cup of stiffing can contain almost 400 calories.

Watch the Labels:

When it comes to foods that may have been sitting in the refrigerator or pantry for too long, be mindful of food safety guidelines. No one wants to get food poisoning any day, especially on a holiday! Not sure if a food is still safe to eat? Check the expiration date, and when in doubt, throw it out.

What if I’m a Vegetarian?:

Many of the Bs and Cs are in season in November, and make wonderful additions to a Thanksgiving meal including broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and three of my favorites: beets, brussels sprouts and collard greens.

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Gluten-Free Options:

Thanksgiving staples like turkey, sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts are naturally gluten-free, but sometimes they’re mixed with gluten-containing ingredients or prepped in a kitchen where there’s cross-contamination. For a safe gluten-free option, bring your favorite gluten-free dish to share!

Bonus tip- Don’t waste your calories on foods that you can have all year long. Fill your plate with small portions of holiday favorites that only come around once a year so you can enjoy desirable, traditional foods. And don’t forget those alcohol calories, they can add up quickly. Have a glass of wine or a wine spritzer and between alcoholic drinks, enjoy sparkling water. This way you stay hydrated, limit alcohol calories, and stay sober.

If having guests to your home, be sure that people follow the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer. Its a common myth that people gain an average of five pounds from Thanksgiving, but the truth of holiday weight gain is that it’s not that much. People do gain weight during the holidays, but for most it is less than a pound according to a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Thanksgiving is a time to share with family and friends, so don’t stress just enjoy the day!

(1) How Many Calories Should You Eat in a Day?
(2) Are Salt Substitutes a Healthy Way to Lower Your Sodium Intake?


Cara Lucas

InnoVision Health Media reports on health content that is supported by our editorial advisory board and content published in our group of peer reviewed medical journals.

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