The Calorie Control Council, an association that represents the low- and reduced-calorie food and beverage industry, estimates that the average American may consume 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat during a Thanksgiving meal and associated snacking. But with a little planning and preparation, it doesn’t have to be so extreme.
Muna Siddiqi, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, shares this advice: “Don’t starve yourself; be mindful of what you’re eating, and enjoy and savor what you eat,” she says. Siddiqi says that by paying attention to portion size, eating more vegetables and making time for exercise, people can plan a healthier Thanksgiving holiday.
Try Siddiqi’s top five tips:
- Make healthy choices when cooking. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, you can make a few simple tweaks to the menu that will make a big difference. First, says Siddiqi, “Make healthier carbohydrate choices.” When baking, she suggests using flours that are made with whole grains, because they will have more nutrients. If using sugar, she suggests decreasing it by half or swapping in a natural sweetener, such as fruit.
- Divide your plate with a plan (and eat your vegetables). Siddiqi suggests filling half of your plate with steamed vegetables (if those aren’t on the menu, bring them yourself as a side dish contribution). Vegetables are packed with fiber, which Siddiqi says is beneficial: “in general, fiber slows down the absorption of sugars or carbohydrates and also cholesterol,” says Siddiqi. Earmark one-quarter of the plate for a starch, like mashed potatoes (a half-cup is a serving), and the other quarter can be turkey or another protein. A helpful shortcut is to portion out your protein approximately the size of a deck of cards.
- Make two meals out of one. “One big dinner is not a good thing. We should divide our calories evenly throughout the day,” says Siddiqi. She tells her patients to eat part of their Thanksgiving meal for lunch and part of it for dinner, in order to space it out. “If you’re a guest at someone’s house, you can always ask to make a plate to go,” she says, “or at least save dessert for later in the day.”
- Don’t forget to eat breakfast. Siddiqi suggests having a small, sensible breakfast, like Greek yogurt and a piece of fruit. You don’t want to feel extremely hungry when you sit down at the table, or you may eat more than you would otherwise.
- Go for a walk. Even though you might feel like the couch is calling your name after the big Thanksgiving feast, go for a walk instead after the meal. Siddiqi says that a 30-minute walk is good for everyone – you, friends, family and the pets!
On Thanksgiving and throughout the holidays, Siddiqi emphasizes that portion control is key. You don’t have to deprive yourself of treats, just approach them with moderation in mind, she says. “Don’t try to lose weight during the holidays,” she tells her patients. Rather, try to maintain your weight, enjoy your food and family and be aware of what you consume. January—and its resolutions—will be here before you know it!”