Thanksgiving is a holiday filled with memories and indulgence. Although many look forward to the decadent meal, it is important to maintain a healthy balance to avoid overeating.
Jennifer Cleveland, registered dietitian with Baylor College of Medicine, gives us tips on how to stay healthy during the holiday meal.
Everyone chooses to eat their Thanksgiving meal at different times of the day but a good practice is to give yourself time to be awake and get some physical activity in during the day before your meal. Having a few hours between your last or largest meal and the time you go to bed is a benefit as well.
To avoid gastric reflux and abdominal discomfort, avoid laying down too quickly after your meal.
Cleveland suggests eating your Thanksgiving meal at a reasonable time – in the afternoon or early evening.
“Maintain your typical meal times beforehand. If your holiday meal is in between mealtimes, consider making the previous meal more of a snack. You don’t want to be overly hungry when you sit down for that Thanksgiving meal and overeat,” Cleveland said.
Moderate walking for 15 to 20 minutes after eating helps maintain the glucose response and triglyceride levels. It also helps with the speed your stomach processes the food, as well as digestion.
If you choose to participate in a Turkey Trot the morning of Thanksgiving, be careful in justifying your food choices based on your workout. Exercise does not warrant overindulging in food and alcohol later in the day.
Consider adding healthier options to the meal with appetizers and sides. Enjoy fresh fruit or a vegetable tray with hummus or tzatziki, or cocktail shrimp, which is low-calorie and a good source of protein. Provide healthier alternatives to traditional side dishes, such as sautéed green beans with shallots as an alternative to the traditional green bean casserole or baked sweet potatoes instead of a sugary sweet potato casserole. Traditional gravy often is high in calories, fat and sodium. To lighten up this menu staple, use a reduced sodium poultry stock as a base and include dry herbs, such as sage and thyme, to increase the flavor.
Substitutions in dessert ingredients also can be made with baking. Instead of baking with oil, substitute apple sauce. Different fruits, such as puréed beets in a chocolate dessert, can take the place of eggs and oil in dessert, which will make the treat less calorie-dense.
“Dessert should still be considered dessert,” Cleveland said. “It’s ok to make healthier substitutions, but still keep it in perspective. Don’t use the substitutions as a license to overindulge.”
The plate method is effective to use, even during the holidays, Cleveland explained.
Half of the plate should consist of non-starchy vegetables. One-quarter should contain protein and another quarter starch. Because this meal is an occasional treat, you also can enjoy a dinner roll on the side.
Alcohol is typically consumed more liberally during the holidays, but be aware that this can lead you to consume more calories. It is very easy to overpour in large wine glasses. Cleveland recommends declining tableside pours, as it makes it hard to keep track of how much you are consuming.
While making cocktails, choose mixers like plain seltzer, which contains fewer calories and less sugar compared to tonic water or soda. It is important to alternate alcoholic beverages with water or a “mocktail.”
“As a host, it’s great to offer an exciting mocktail or an interesting nonalcoholic beverage — something that guests feel comfortable drinking without refilling the wine or cocktails constantly,” Cleveland said.
Moderating your Thanksgiving meal allows for you to enjoy leftovers for a few days, but make sure to not keep them for too long after the holiday. Leftovers should be consumed within three to four days of preparation. Make sure you cool cooked food quickly and do not let it linger on the counter, as foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Do not feel pressured to finish off foods that keep well in the freezer for up to six months, such as meat or a non-cream based casserole. Freeze extra portions and enjoy them in the New Year.
Although you should be mindful of eating habits on Thanksgiving Day, Cleveland said it is reasonable to enjoy occasional indulgences during the yearly event.
“You have these really delicious foods that have emotional ties, and we have to know those foods have a place around our holiday traditions,” she said. “It adds to our culture and sense of family.”