Thanksgiving is a holiday of gratitude. Most of us, however, associate it with a large meal complete with all the fixings and then regret stuffing our bellies to the brim with those special indulgences. In fact, the average Thanksgiving meal contains a whopping 3,000 calories.
But it doesn’t have to be, does it? You can enjoy the delicious traditional meal you’ve been waiting all year for without overdoing it. Here are a 10 ways to enjoy your Thanksgiving meal but not pay for it in pounds later on:
- Load up on veggies first. Start by filling your plate with the healthy highlights of your meal and there will be less space for the richer options. If you are going to another person’s home, offer to bring the salad or a veggie tray and then dig in. Next, enjoy a nice serving of low-fat, high protein turkey for a well-rounded meal and a satisfied belly.
- Scale down high-fat recipes. There is no reason to completely avoid your favorite Thanksgiving dishes—but you can certainly find ways to slim them down. Try Greek yogurt in your mashed potatoes instead of sour cream. Fresh, organic green beans sautéed with garlic and olive oil make a delicious side instead of a creamy casserole. Try low-sodium vegetable broth in the stuffing. Use skim milk and low-fat cheese when recipes call for the higher-fat versions. Take a look at your favorite recipes and figure out where you can swap healthier ingredients to reduce your calorie intake and still have plenty of Thanksgiving flavor.
- Exercise first. The holiday is a perfect excuse to get out and get moving long before you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner. “Turkey trot” walks and races are popular on Thanksgiving morning. Or just get out in your own neighborhood on foot or bicycle. Weather permitting, take your kids to a park or even bundle up for some sledding before warming up to a hot meal. You may not burn enough calories to completely wipe out what you inhale at the table, but you can at least make a dent.
- Forgo tradition. There are no official rules on what you can and cannot eat on Thanksgiving. If you are trying to stay away from carbohydrates or high-fat foods, plan a menu that accommodates your lifestyle. Opt for fish, vegetables, and rice instead of the traditional turkey dinner. For dessert, serve fresh berries and whipped cream instead of calorie-laden pumpkin pie. Tailor your menu to fit your food preferences and not the meal you feel like you have to make. Who knows? You may start a new family tradition in the process.
- Think smaller. If you want to eat less, reduce your surface area. Instead of oversized Thanksgiving platters, use smaller plates. You and your guests may need to go back for seconds, but it prevents you from scooping too much on your plate at the outset and overeating as a result.
- Watch what you drink. If you aren’t careful, all the calories you cut back on with your plate will come back to get you in your cup. If you want to toast with alcohol, opt for a small glass of red wine which is relatively low in calories and contains antioxidants. Avoid fruity or creamy cocktails that pack in calories and plenty of sugar. Enjoy water with lemon or lime, 100% apple cider, and herbal spiced tea for some holiday cheer instead.
- Avoid leftovers. The only thing worse than one day of gluttony is several. Most families make much more than they will eat in one sitting. If you are hosting, buy some inexpensive take-home containers for guests and load them up as they are walking out the door. If just your immediate family is sitting down to dinner, really think about how much to make before you start preparations. Think about giving leftovers to any elderly neighbors or those without family nearby to brighten their holiday spirit.
- Prioritize food. Pick your favorite dishes and avoid the ones that are just so-so. Use your calories wisely! If you are a sucker for your family’s sweet potato casserole recipe but could go without green bean casserole, just go with the first one.
- Don’t clear your plate. Even if your mom is watching. When your head (and stomach) give you the signal that you are full, stop eating. Ideally, you won’t have much waste to throw away (see 5 and 7). But even if there is food left, put down your fork when you’ve had enough. Savor each bite rather than mindlessly shoveling forkful after forkful into your mouth, and you’ll register the fullness (and satisfaction) in time to put the fork down.
- Clean up after the meal. Don’t leave the food out buffet-style for the rest of the day after the meal is finished. The sight and smell of the deliciousness will encourage you to keep grazing and the calories will surely add up. Sit down and enjoy a proper Thanksgiving meal—and then clean up the food and walk away from the kitchen.
If at all possible, take the focus off of the food this Thanksgiving. Invest that energy and excitement in your family, friends, and the feelings of gratitude.