Thanksgiving Survival 101. How Not To Feel Like a Stuffed Turkey at Thanksgiving!

With crisp fall leaves in the air, holiday meal planning is in the forefront of most of our lives.  As well it should be. Food is a wonderful part of our celebration of thanks, family and friends. Such celebrations, however, don’t have to undo all the healthful choices we have been trying to make.

Since Thanksgiving has a main dish of lean poultry and a traditional dessert made from squash, you wouldn’t think this holiday meal would pack such a wallop.  But it sure can.  An analysis done by the American Dietetic Association found that a typical Thanksgiving feast can easily consist of nearly 4,000 calories and include more than a day’s worth of sodium and nearly 200 grams (four times the limit) of fat. 

Still, there’s lots of potential for making Thanksgiving dinner lighter and healthier.  Turkey is one of the leanest meats around. See how it stacks up against other proteins:

Protein

Calories

Fat (grams)

Saturated Fat (grams)

Turkey Breast

120

1

0

Chicken Breast

120

1.5

0.5

Beef (top loin, sirloin)

180

8

3

Beef (eye round)

140

4

2

Pork (top loin, chop)

170

7

2

Pork (tenderloin)

140

4

1

Lamb (loin chop)

180

8

3

Lamp (shank)

160

5

2

Veal (loin, chop)

150

6

2

Veal (cutlets)

130

3

1

Turkey (drumstick)

140

4

1

*All meats are based on skinless, trimmed of visible fat, 3-ounce cooked servings.

Eating protein with meals is very satiating and helps keep us satisfied longer than carbohydrates or fat alone.  Research shows that dieters who increase protein intake will crave fewer calories because protein does lower appetite-stimulating hormones in the brain.  So be sure to include a serving of turkey with your Thanksgiving meal.

What else can you do to trim some of the fat and calories from the feast without feeling deprived?  Try some of these tips:

1. Save yourself for the holiday treats. Skip those foods you can get all year like ordinary mashed potatoes, nuts, chips and rolls. Save your calories for the food and drink that are special to you at Thanksgiving like grandpa’s special stuffing, the cranberries and your Aunt Betty’s pumpkin pie. 

2. Serve fresh vegetables and cut fruit as appetizers. If you fill up on them before, you’ll be less likely to gorge yourself on higher-fat, higher-calorie foods at the table.

3. Use non-fat milk and skip the butter as you mash the potatoes. Or use non-fat evaporated milk or No-chicken Broth to flavor the potatoes.

4. Prepare sweet potatoes with little or no marshmallow cream, butter or brown sugar.  Try apples and raisins with a little butter spray for flavor.

5. Reduce the calories in pumpkin pie by using non-fat evaporated milk instead of cream in your recipe.

6. Drink water and stay hydrated during the day.  Dehydration often makes us hungry because most foods are high in water and it is one way our bodies have of taking in more fluid.

7. Watch the alcohol!  Remember – alcohol is an appetite stimulant – probably the last thing we want to do is to stimulate our appetite on Thanksgiving!  Enjoy a glass of wine with the meal.  You’ll be less likely to overindulge.  A five-oz. glass or red or white wine contains approximately 100 calories and eggnog can pack up to 400 calories and 20 grams of fat per eight-oz. serving!

8. Take breaks while you are eating to see how full you’ve become. It takes about 20 minutes from the time food hits the stomach to allow the message to get to your brain that you have had enough to eat.  Eat slowly and mindfully so you can bring awareness to this wonderful meal.

9.  Stop eating once you are full – there will always be leftovers tomorrow!

10. Remember how uncomfortable it is to feel “stuffed” after a large meal.   As you’re making your way down that buffet table or find yourself reaching for that second helping, think of how good you will feel if you allowed yourself to enjoy all the fabulous holiday food, without overindulging! 

11. Finally, take a walk outside afterward to digest your meal.  This will make you feel better than crashing on the couch.

12. Eat breakfast! It may seem counterintuitive to suggest adding a meal that you may be inclined to skip, but studies show that eating breakfast helps keep blood sugar and insulin on an even keel, which will help you feel less ravenous at the Thanksgiving meal and less likely to overindulge.  Some good choices include whole-grain, high-fiber cereal; low-fat cottage cheese and fruit; or Greek styled yogurt with fruit and whole wheat toast with a drizzle of peanut butter.

13. Snack before dinner.  Again, it may sound counterintuitive, but a small snack of about 100-200 calories an hour before the feast is a great way to help keep your appetite under control.  You’ll still be ready to enjoy “all the fixing’s,” but you’ll be able to make healthier choices at the same time, especially where portions are concerned.

14. If you’re the cook, fix a “munch-on” plate.  When you’re in the kitchen cooking, it’s easy to lose sight of all those little “tastes” that can really add up over the course of the day.  Fix a plate of fresh vegetables like grape tomatoes, baby carrots, and cut up cucumber to dip in a mixture of low-fat cottage cheese and low-fat ranch dressing that you can munch on while cooking for the day. 

15.  Enjoy a walk, bike ride or jog in the morning before you get too busy.  This will help keep your metabolism revved for the day and burn a few calories to boot.  Try for at least 30 minutes.

Remember what the holiday is truly about and take the time to enjoy family, friends and the abundance of all that life has to offer.