Tips for a healthier turkey day

Overeating never feels good. These five tips can help you enjoy Thanksgiving without the bloat!

Thanksgiving may only last for one day but it’s the start of a holiday season that is filled with potlucks and hearty, comfort foods that lasts through the New Year. Unfortunately, a lot of those yummy foods come with lots of unwanted, empty calories. But good news – you don’t need to ditch all those delicious comfort foods and sweets. Instead, try making some simple adjustments to make your Thanksgiving a little healthier and avoid the after meal bloat.

1. Eat before you feast!

Many people believe that if they skip breakfast and lunch before a big Thanksgiving dinner, they will be able to eat more later without gaining weight. However, fasting to save calories for later may not be as healthy as you think. In fact, it may be a recipe for disaster! Skipping meals will likely cause you to be over-hungry and studies have shown that when we have an empty stomach, we tend to overeat. Try loading up on the fruits and vegetables before the thanksgiving meal; set out fruits and veggies with low-fat dip or hummus, so everyone can munch on them throughout the day.

2. Remember your portions, follow MyPlate!

It’s always tempting to go back for a second or even third helping of food but this Thanksgiving try to stick to single portions and save leftovers for meals throughout the week. Organize your plate into three areas:

  • Fruits & Veggies- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. There are some staple fruits and veggies that many Americans include in their Thanksgiving spread. Try adding new options or changing the way you prepare an old favorite. Check out a free, downloadable cookbook called Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/day for affordable and tasty recipes for Thanksgiving and every day! Try to vary your veggies. Starchy vegetables, like white potatoes, corn, and peas should be limited and add others into your menu such as salad, broccoli, squash and sweet potatoes.
  • Protein- Leave one quarter of your plate for protein, such as turkey, ham, beans and tofu “turkey”. Other protein options include nuts and seeds and can be included as part of your other dishes, especially if you are opting for a meatless Thanksgiving.
  • Whole Grains - Aim to leave the last quarter of your plate for whole grains. The Whole Grains Council has some great ideas, including recipes, for how to incorporate more whole grains into your Thanksgiving meal! Read more about it at this link.

3. Add some color!

Ever notice that a lot of Thanksgiving foods are in the same color family? Add a variety of color, not only to make the food more visually appealing but also to increase the kinds of vitamins and minerals that your Thanksgiving meal is providing to your friends and family! Green beans, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and carrots are great as the main ingredient or as part of another delicious side dish. They may offer many health benefits, such as providing phytochemicals that protect us from cancer. Instead of topping your turkey with gravy, try topping it with a cranberry relish. Cranberries not only taste great and add beautiful color to the plate, but they can protect you from urinary tract infections and promote heart health. Aim for a ½ cup serving of cranberries, as many are prepared with added sugar and calories. 

4. Enjoy your dessert!

Desserts are a tasty way to finish off a Thanksgiving meal but unfortunately they are often loaded with sugar and empty calories. Remember that moderation is key and it’s okay to enjoy your favorite Thanksgiving dessert. Try to limit the sweets and stick to one serving. If your favorite dessert is pie, skip the crust and opt for the fruit filling! This will save you calories (and the best part is inside, right?!). Another option is to swap the sugary sweets with healthier alternatives, such as fruit or nuts. Fruit offers a variety of health benefits, and pecans offer many heart-healthy benefits as well.  

5. Get moving!

After eating that big Thanksgiving dinner, it’s easy to sit on the couch and do nothing for the rest of the day – but that will just pack on the pounds and leave you feeling lethargic. After your meal, gather the family together and get active! Turn off the game and instead gather your friends and family for a your own backyard football game! . If football isn’t your style, try taking a walk or get the family together for a dance party in the living room. Not only will you be spending quality time with your loved ones but you’ll burn off those calories from your big Thanksgiving meal. 

Michigan State University Extension offers nutrition education classes for people of all ages including specific programs for youth, adults, parents, and seniors. More information can be found on the nutrition webpage.

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