Healthy Thanksgiving Swaps, Portion Control and More

3 people eating a Thanksgiving meal

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. However, UnityPoint Health dietitian, Allison Hueschen offers her expert advice on simple ways to eat healthier on Thanksgiving Day.

Healthy Thanksgiving Swaps

With a full Thanksgiving feast and endless snacking throughout the day, the Calorie Control Council says the average American consumes at least 3,000 calories on turkey day. Hueschen suggests modifying your recipes slightly to reduce the heavy calorie load and create healthier Thanksgiving side dishes. Here are her simple ingredient swaps:

  • Boost the produce. Try filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables. If you’re in charge of the stuffing, add more veggies, such as chopped celery and onion, to balance the butter and bread cubes. Also, read these tips to get your kids to eat more vegetables year-round.
  • Alter a staple. Sweet potato casserole or canned sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows are a crowd favorite, but roasted sweet potatoes can be just as tasty. You could even try incorporating mashed cauliflower into mashed potatoes.
  • 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.
  • Get creative with casserole. Top steamed green beans with slivered almonds versus the popular green bean casserole toped with friend onions for a healthier version of this popular side dish.
  • Ditch the cream. Substitute cream, sour cream or whole milk with non-fat milk or Greek yogurt to cut some of the fat without giving up the flavor.

Best Way to Portion Control

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

  • 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. If it’s something you can eat any day, consider skipping it and choose something you don’t get any other time of year.
  • Watch the clock. Eat slowly and 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 smaller slice of each, instead of a full serving.


Thanksgiving Day Activity Ideas

While napping after a Thanksgiving meal is never a bad idea, taking time to include physical activity can help reduce feelings of sluggishness and be a great way to spend time with friends and family. Here are some Thanksgiving Day activity ideas:

  • Touch, flag or general football. Try starting a healthy Thanksgiving tradition like playing football with friends and family.
  • Thanksgiving-themed 5K. Some communities have holiday-themed 5K walk/runs. Even if your town doesn’t, try starting one for your family and marking out a path.
  • Take a brisk walk. No equipment needed for this fresh air activity.
  • Black Friday shopping. Getting out and about can be a great way to get in some extra steps. (If you’ll be in crowds, don’t forget to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention masking guidelines.)
  • Cleaning. Offer the host some help preparing the space or cleaning up afterward for some added movement. Not to mention, the host will be grateful for the help!

Best Ways to Use Thanksgiving Leftovers

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

  • Dress up your salad. Add turkey and sweet potatoes as festive toppings to a salad the next day.
  • Serve a soup. Use turkey as the base for an easy wild rice and turkey 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.

What about the Thanksgiving Pie?

As for the Thanksgiving pie? Hueschen says 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 the breakdown, you really are better off going with a slice of pumpkin versus pecan. An eighth of a piece of pumpkin pie will cost you about 250 calories, whereas that same size piece of pecan will likely add at least 500 calories."

If you want another alternative for pumpkin pie, try this pumpkin fluff recipe.

Happy Thanksgiving, We’re Here for You

From our UnityPoint Health family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving! Despite the joy this holiday brings, it can be a time of unexpected injury and illness such as cuts and burns, slips and falls, overexertion, heartburn or food poisoning. If that happens, we’re here for you. Make sure you know where to go for care if you need it.

Online Urgent Care - Get care from a UnityPoint Health doctor without leaving home. Your provider can diagnose, recommend treatment and/or prescribe medication for minor illnesses all online.

Walk-In Care - Need to be seen in-person? Check our wait time estimates at an urgent care location near you.

 Other Topics from Our Experts:

Man with his head in his hands

Why It's Important to Take Your Paid Time Off


Enjoy Your Coffee Splurge Without Feeling Guilty

Beer in a glass

Calories in Beer & How to Make Smarter Choices (Infographic)

comments powered by Disqus