Your Healthiest Thanksgiving Yet - UnityPoint Health

How to Be OK with Indulging This Thanksgiving

Burn off the calories at Thanksgiving

Arguably, Thanksgiving is one of the most-anticipated meals of the year. Between the juicy turkey, creamy sides and irresistible sweets, it’s easy to go overboard. We asked UnityPoint Health dietitian, Allison Hueschen, RD,LD, for her expert advice on how to manage a massive holiday spread, helping this your healthiest Thanksgiving yet.

Best Thanksgiving Recipe Swaps

With a full Thanksgiving feast and endless snacking throughout the day, the Calorie Control Council says the average American consumes roughly 4,500 calories on turkey day. Hueschen suggests modifying your recipes slightly to reduce the heavy calorie load. Here are her simple ingredient swaps:

  • Boost the produce. Add more vegetables, such as chopped celery and onion, to your stuffing to balance the butter and bread cubes.
  • Alter a staple. Sweet potato casserole or canned sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows are a crowd favorite, but you’re better off preparing homemade mashed sweet potatoes instead.
  • Make berries fresh. Canned cranberry sauce may be easy, but so is making your own cranberry sauce or relish from fresh cranberries. Plus, you can always reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe.
  • Cut the casserole. Top steamed, fresh green beans with slivered almonds versus the popular green bean casserole topped with fried onions.
  • Ditch the cream. Substitute cream, sour cream or whole with non-fat milk or Greek yogurt to cut some fat without giving up the flavor.

Best Way to Control Portions

As the saying goes, everything in moderation, and Hueschen encourages eating those yummy, once-a-year dishes. But, she also offers some tips to help keep portion control in mind on Thanksgiving:

  • Avoid the grazing trap. As hard as it might be, try to avoid grazing, and stick to the set meals of the day. Snacking can easily tack on extra calories before you know it.
  • Use one plate. Buffet spreads can be long, but try to use one plate for the entire meal.
  • Select your favorites. Hueschen says, if it’s something you can eat any day, like a dinner roll, skip it, and choose something you don’t get any other time of year.
  • Watch the clock. Wait 15-20 minutes to decide if you’re really hungry before going back for another plate.
  • Plan for temptations. We all have the one dish that brings us to our knees. For example, if you want both pecan and pumpkin pie, take a tiny slice of each, instead of a full serving.

How to burn the calories this Thanksgiving

Best Ways to Use Thanksgiving Leftovers

Getting through the main Thanksgiving meal is one thing, then you have to handle leftovers. Hueschen lists her healthy ways of eating up the remaining dishes throughout the holiday weekend:

  • Dress up your salad. Add turkey and sweet potatoes as awesome additions to a healthy salad the next day.
  • Serve a soup. Use turkey as the base for an easy turkey and wild rice soup.
  • Rise and shine with breakfast hash. Grab your leftover sweet potatoes to make a sweet potato hash in the morning.
  • Stuff some peppers. Feeling as though you’ve had Thanksgiving dinner over and over? Mix it up, and use leftover stuffing in stuffed peppers.

As for the pie? Hueschen say whether you’re choosing between pumpkin and pecan during the main event or when you’re scrounging for leftovers, there’s a clear winner for the healthier choice.

“Pie is pie, but when you look at he breakdown, you really are better off going with a slice of pumpkin versus pecan. An eighth of a piece of pumpkin pie will only cost you about 265 calories, whereas that same size piece of pecan will total just over 800 calories."


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