A typical plate of food on Thanksgiving day can have up to 2,000 calories — as many calories, if not more, than what should be consumed in an entire day.
But, experts say, with a little planning and by making good choices, it is still possible to enjoy all your favorite dishes on the one day of the year we probably indulge the most.
Two local dietitians recommend we should always follow the guidelines established by the United States Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate.gov, but especially consider these guidelines on Thanksgiving Day.
ChooseMyPlate.gov suggests while looking at your plate, mentally divide it into halves. Then equally divide one of your halves.
When filling your plate, place lean proteins on one-fourth of your plate; the other one-fourth should be for whole grains; and the remaining half for fruits and vegetables.
“When you go to a dinner like Thanksgiving, whether you’re in charge of the menu or not, I always say to choose more of the best and less of the rest,” said Lisa Gilreath, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes instructor at Mountain States Health Alliance’s Indian Path Medical Center Health Resources Center.
“Fill your plate up with as many fruits and vegetables and lean turkey and lower-fat foods that you can. And then for all the other things, those richer sort of foods, choose these in moderation. Your plate will still look full, but the quality is going to be so much better.”
The good news is the star of every Thanksgiving dinner is actually one of your best options.
“Honestly, I can’t find fault with the turkey. You can fill up a fourth of your plate with turkey. Most people never exceed that because there are so many other good things to choose from,” said Gilreath.
Jennifer Walker, a registered dietitian with Holston Medical Group, agrees that the turkey is a good low-fat, high-protein option, but only if it has been roasted — not deep fried, which is a popular way to cook turkeys t o d a y. “The difference between roasted turkey and fried turkey is almost 200 calories per serving. Six ounces of fried turkey is almost 400 calories and, if you just had maybe four ounces of roasted turkey, it’s less than 200 calories,” Walker said. Steer clear of the casseroles, say both Gilreath and Walker. “Choose roasted or steamed vegetables instead,” said Walker. “If you’re in charge of the menu, instead of casseroles, fix some green beans with almonds sprinkled in or have some broccoli. You could even sprinkle some shredded cheese on your broccoli, making this a much healthier option instead of the ooey-gooey broccoli casserole. Make some grilled asparagus or salads. There are lots of great salad recipes out there that are more than just iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. You can make some really colorful ones that will look so pretty on your Thanksgiving table,” Gilreath said.
The portion of our plates for the grains and starches is where Gilreath says folks often get into the most trouble.
“It’s usually heavily laden with mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, the dressing, the rolls, not to mention the desserts. You can have any of these things, but keep it to a fourth of your plate only. Pick and choose to be healthier. Make your mashed potatoes with a low-fat broth instead of butter. Or choose a whole-grain wild rice, baked sweet potatoes or baked acorn squash instead of mashed potatoes. Choose a whole-grain roll instead of a white roll. Just remember to choose healthy grains or watch your portions,” she said.
When it comes to desserts look for the fruit salads, apple cobbler for lower carbs or baked apples. And it’s easy to lighten up many favorite recipes with just a few simple swaps. Walker recommends using low-fat milk instead of whole milk and light sour cream or plain Greek yogurt in place of regular sour cream. Gilreath says if you’re in charge of making the gravy, use a low-fat broth.
“The fat in the gravy is the biggest problem. If you’ve taken the turkey drippings and you’ve skimmed the fat from the top of them and just made your gravy from the broth, then it’s OK to have a little bit of the gravy,” she said.
And, Walker adds, since you know you will be consuming more calories than usual on Thanksgiving, incorporate some extra physical activity into your day.
“Exercise more. Go for a walk. Just be active,” she said. And try to avoid “seconds,” she says. “Stick to your one plate. This is a holiday and you need to enjoy yourself, but don’t put anything on your plate unless you absolutely love it. Use your calories for those things you absolutely love,” she said.
Never show up to Thanksgiving dinner hungry, Walker says.
“If you’re really watching your weight, you don’t want to be starving when you go through that line. If you eat something light beforehand to just kind of take the edge off your hunger, then you’ll do better,” she said.