Healthy eating and Thanksgiving may sound an unlikely combination, but it can be done. Makenzie Jones offers some suggestions.
One month between Halloween and Christmas, two of the biggest sweet treat times of the year, lies the holiday full of family, friends, fellowship, football, and all the food. What greater way to show thanks than by enjoying all the blessings we have around the table on Thanksgiving? All that food, home cooked or not, and special treats that may only come out of grandma’s recipe book the end of November, may be the highlight of the fall for some, but for those who are worried about their diet, this day may be the last thing they want to think about. Thanksgiving is a time for just that—giving thanks. There is no need to worry about being distracted or “ruining” your health for the holiday’s sake. Keeping in mind a few simple tips can help put your mind at ease this turkey day.
According to research by the Calorie Control Council, a typical Thanksgiving meal can contain 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat, double the recommended daily calories for average, moderately active people. However, mindless eating greatly contributes to this, as munching on appetizers, going for thirds of mac and cheese, and indulging in glasses of your favorite cocktail can add up faster than you can talk to all 15 of your cousins.
It is okay to cut back some in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, but do not dip too low. This can slow down your metabolism and deprive your body of nutrients it needs to function properly. Running is also a go-to activity with all those turkey trots, but that does not give you free reign to eat everything. The 150-pound person only burns about 110 calories per mile (multiply your weight by .75), which is about three ounces of turkey. Before heading out for the festivities, it is smart to eat something for breakfast to help control your appetite.
The healthy plate guideline can help in this meal, too, aiming to make half your plate fruits and veggies. Beware of the “hidden calories” of butter, sugar, oil, and cheese in things like casseroles, mashed potatoes, and desserts. If you have the option to cook your own items, substitute when possible: Truvia for sugar, plain yogurt for sour cream, applesauce for oil, and reduce oil and butter. Taking some of your own items can also put your mind at ease knowing what is in the food you made.
In the specifics of the meal, there are plenty of healthy options if you choose wisely. Of course there is turkey. White meat is lower in calories than dark meat, but it all contains protein, vitamins, and minerals. Cranberries and pomegranates are fiber-rich and have powerful antioxidants. Sauces contain added sugars making them higher calorie, so choose fresh when available. Beets are also low calorie and have nitrates to help deliver oxygen and blood to the muscles. Vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and green beans are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Pumpkin and sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene, fiber, vitamin A, and potassium. On these seasonal staples, be mindful of the butter, brown sugar, and marshmallows, and opt for honey, cinnamon, whipped topping, or Greek yogurt instead.
In more general terms for picking your plate, be picky. How often do you get Aunt Debi’s cornbread, Mamaw’s stuffing or Maryann’s pie? Go for a treat and save the things you can get year-round, like a plain roll or baked potato. With potluck-style meals, it is easy to get carried away with portions, so save room for the things you really want.
Eating slowly to savor the food makes it more enjoyable and allows time for fullness to set in. Another thing that doesn’t even have to do with the meal is to have an activity for everyone to do. In my family, after the meal, we always took a walk around my cousin’s farm and down to the river. Many families play football together.
Above all, it is crucial to remember what Thanksgiving is about. Enjoy time spent with loved ones. Physical health is important, but it should not inhibit these joyful experiences. Unless you have a food allergy or something similar, one day of eating more or differently than normal will not hurt you! In fact, it may benefit both your body and soul. Thanksgiving is about more than the food after all.