Thanksgiving on a Diet

Give Thanks for Smart Eating

For most of us, Thanksgiving is the one occasion each year where we organize our entire day around food. The centerpiece, of course, is the turkey, but alongside the Butterball are all those dishes that bring your family together: Cornbread stuffing and oyster casserole and that special green bean salad that your mother-in-law grew up eating at her grandmother’s house. Sitting down to a meal — particularly a meal so laden with history and tradition — is a simple way to reconnect with family.

But it’s also a simple way to completely derail your diet.

Whether you’ve been devotedly doing the 30 Day Shred or walking the dog twice a day or just watching your portion size, don’t throw in the towel just because it’s a holiday. You can enjoy the Thanksgiving meal and still eat smart, if you do five simple things.

Eat breakfast. It’s tempting to fast through Thanksgiving day, in order to save your calories for the meal itself. But this is just a recipe for disaster; by the time you sit down to the table, you’ll be so famished that you won’t really enjoy the meal, even though you’ll probably overeat. Start your day with a healthy breakfast: Yogurt or cereal or an egg and toast. Have some protein and a whole grain and a little fat, something that will stick with you until it’s time to serve the bird.

Cook a bigger Butterball. The rule of thumb is one and a half pounds of turkey for each person you are expecting at the table; that number will leave you with suitable leftovers for turkey sandwiches and casserole and soup and whatever other fancy things your family does with the turkey. Knowing that there will be leftovers will help you to moderate what you eat; instead of going back for seconds (or thirds) today, treat yourself to another day of Butterball tomorrow.

Beware the cocktail hour. Many families kick off the Thanksgiving festivities with an early cocktail hour, and while a fancy drink at two in the afternoon can be fun and festive, it can also completely sabotage any effort you are making to moderate your eating. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, which means that all those super delicious hors d’oeuvres will look even more super delicious. Instead of filling up on snacks, hold out for the actual dinner — and wait until you sit down at the table to have a glass of wine or fancy martini.

Serve healthy, low-fat side dishes. Grandma’s sweet potato casserole may be a family tradition (smothered in butter and brown sugar and marshmallows) but that doesn’t mean that the entire meal needs to be quite that over-the-top. Prepare one small pan of the potatoes and supplement them with other healthier sides. Try Zucchini and Black Beans with Chipotle Peppers. And don’t forget to serve a green salad; Thanksgiving isn’t all about the starches, after all! My mother-in-law serves a wonderful mix of field greens and candied pecans and gorgonzola cheese with a homemade vinaigrette; it’s the perfect start to the meal, and a nice reminder that Thanksgiving food doesn’t need to be doused in butter and cream sauce.

Get moving! After dinner, instead of passing out on the sofa, organize a group walk or touch football game or dance party — something to get everyone moving. If no one else is willing to get up and go, offer to do the dishes or clean the kitchen; just keep moving. But don’t reward yourself for walking around the block by eating another piece of pie — the goal is to burn off what you’ve eaten, not make room for more.

If you’re careful about what you eat on Thanksgiving day, you’ll feel better when you leave the table, and you will have enjoyed the meal more. Indulge, but do it right. You’ll be thankful in the morning.

One Comment

  1. Mary Beth Wagman
    Posted November 26, 2009 at 9:05 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you for your web site. Its very handy and helpful 🙂

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