Tips for a healthy thanksgiving feast

One of the greatest parts of the autumn season is the Thanksgiving weekend. With the Edmonton River Valley a beautiful scene of golden yellow and orange, the weather sunny and crisp and the delicious smell of roasting turkey and pumpkin pie filling the house, what could be better? Even though Thanksgiving should be a time of relaxation with family and friends, the extravagant turkey supper can bring about feelings of anxiety for those trying to live a healthier lifestyle or lose weight. According to some estimates the traditional Thanksgiving meal can add up to about 3,000 calories, way over a days worth of calories in one sitting! It doesn’t need to be that way though, here are some easy tips to help you navigate the Thanksgiving table and hopefully come out feeling just comfortably satisfied and not overly stuffed and bloated:

Don’t skip breakfast and lunch

While it may seem like a great idea at the time to skip meals the day of the Thanksgiving feast to save your calories for supper, this strategy will likely backfire. You will be ravenous by the time Thanksgiving supper is served and will more than make up for the calories by gobbling down multiple servings of everything on the table leaving you feeling stuffed and bloated while your body attempts to metabolize all of the food you just ate in one sitting. Start the day off right with a healthy breakfast and don’t skip out on lunch to save yourself from the discomfort.

Still follow the “Healthy Plate Model”

The Healthy Plate Model is so versatile and can really come in handy when it comes to filling your plate at Thanksgiving supper. Half your plate should be filled with a colourful combination of vegetables whether it is a salad, steamed or roasted vegetables. A portion of white turkey meat should cover about ¼ of the plate and the last ¼ can be filled with ½ cup mashed potatoes and ½ cup stuffing. If you are not cooking Thanksgiving supper and you know there will likely not be very many vegetables where you are attending supper, offer to bring a salad or a healthy vegetable side so that you know there will be a healthy and delicious vegetable option for you and the other guests to enjoy.

But…avoid those rich creamy vegetable sides!

While they may still contain a serving or two of vegetables, those candied sweet potatoes and broccoli or cauliflower covered in a rich cheese sauce are filled with way more calories and saturated fat than you probably bargained for and no, you can’t pile loads of butter on your peas and carrots either! Reach for the steamed vegetables, vegetables roasted in a little bit of olive oil and herbs or a salad with a small amount of dressing instead to fill that half of your plate. Here are some healthy Thanksgiving vegetable sides recipes for you to try:

Reach for the white turkey meat

Turkey meat is the best meat choice when you compare it to other roasted meats like ham or roast beef. The white turkey meat is much lower in saturated fat and while the crispy skin may be tempting, avoiding this can save you quite a few calories. Compared to dark meat (found in the turkey legs and thighs) white meat (found in the turkey breast) has about a third less calories and half the fat.

Use a smaller plate and avoid having a second helping

It may sound silly but using a smaller plate can trick your mind into thinking you are having more food than you really are and can make you more satisfied with having less. Eat mindfully and take your time to eat slowly and savor what you have on your plate. It can take 20 minutes for your brain to register you are full so eat slowly and really listen to your body when the extra food is calling to you, you can always have leftovers tomorrow!

Try not to drink your calories

Calories from alcohol, pop and other sugary beverages can add up very quickly. Try to mainly choose water or a calorie-free beverage at Thanksgiving supper. If you are drinking alcohol choose a light beer or wine spritzer and limit yourself to one.

Allow yourself that slice of pumpkin pie

After following the suggestions above it is perfectly fine to allow yourself to enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie, after all you don’t want to feel like you are depriving yourself and pumpkin pie actually has fewer calories and sugar than apple pie or pumpkin cheese cake. Have a little dollop of whipped cream on top and savour every last bite of your slice.

If you are cooking the feast, make a few healthier swaps

Small swaps can make a big difference when it comes to calorie and saturated fat content. For mashed potatoes, use low-fat milk and garlic instead of butter and salt. For baking, maybe try a whole wheat pie crust and low-fat or skim milk instead of evaporated milk and swap out some of the sugar. For appetizers, have raw vegetables and hummus or multigrain tortillas and salsa instead of creamy dip.

Get active!

Thanksgiving isn’t only about the food, it is about relaxing and spending time with family and friends. Make a tradition of going on a hike, playing a game of tag football or simply going for a walk in the Edmonton River Valley to take advantage of the crisp autumn weather and beautiful leaves and scenery.

Don’t let the guilt get to you

So maybe things didn’t end up working out exactly how you had planned and you ended up eating too much and feeling stuffed to the brim, and that’s okay. Try not to let the guilt fester and move on from that meal; don’t let it be a downward spiral. The next day is a new day and a new opportunity to make healthy choices!

Read more about Nutrition.

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