While cooking Thanksgiving dinner can be a real pain in the neck, eating it can be an even bigger pain in the behind — just stop to think about where all of those delicious calories are going. Before you sit down to gobble up your turkey on Thursday, consider this: the average Thanksgiving meal contains more than 2,000 calories, and that doesn’t even begin to take into account all the leftovers.
Does that mean we should forgo the turkey and mashed potatoes for steamed broccoli and tofu? Absolutely not, says Stacey Zawacki, registered dietitian and director of the BU Fitness and Nutrition Center at Sargent College. “Thanksgiving can actually be both a nutritious and a satisfying meal if it’s approached in a sensible manner,” she says.
How can we enjoy our Thanksgiving meal without depriving ourselves? Zawacki offers a few tips.
Don’t skip breakfast and lunch so you can gorge at dinner.
“Skipping meals makes you vulnerable to eating more,” Zawacki says. “When you’re really hungry, you crave foods that are dense in energy — in other words, foods that contain a lot of fat and sugar. And when you gorge on energy-dense foods, you’re probably going to take in more calories than you forfeited by skipping breakfast and lunch.”
Dinner is not an all-you-can-eat buffet.
“Fill half of your plate with nonstarchy vegetables, one-quarter of it with protein, like lean turkey meat, and the final quarter with starches, such as potatoes or stuffing,” Zawacki suggests. Why? Vegetables contain lots of fiber and water, and it takes longer to chew them. “You’ll probably still be eating your vegetables when your body signals to you that it’s full,” she says. “If you want seconds, fill your plate with the same proportions.”
Stuff the turkey, not yourself.
“Don’t wear stretch pants at dinner,” says Zawacki. “No one feels good after they stuff themselves. In fact, when people stuff themselves, they almost always feel bad afterward, and those feelings typically lead to a pattern of stuffing oneself and feeling lousy afterward.”
Drink water instead of wine, apple cider, or soda.
“People often forget to count calories in sugary beverages, and they add up quickly,” according to Zawacki. “If you’re trying to watch your caloric intake for the day, consider drinking water at dinner, and that way you can have an extra helping of sweet potato casserole or a piece of apple pie at dessert without going overboard.”
Substitute high-fat ingredients with lower-fat or fat-free ingredients.
“Most recipes make dishes richer than they need to be,” Zawacki says. “So if your mashed potato recipe calls for a stick of butter, use half a stick or a light butter and cut the calories in half. Instead of using butter to soften your stuffing, use vegetable or chicken broth. Leave out the salt — people can always add it afterward. Finally, add more fruit or vegetables than the recipe calls for. That way, you’ll get more nutrition and you can eat larger portions for fewer calories.”
Love those leftovers.
“Enjoy the leftovers,” says Zawacki. “There’s no rule that says you have to eat everything on the table. We feel better by fueling about every two to four hours, so eat until satisfied, and then wait until you’re hungry to fuel up with a piece of pie, cake, or a third helping of turkey and stuffing. And remember, the more leftovers you have, the fewer days you have to cook.”
Exercise before or after dinner.
“Exercise whenever it’s most convenient for you,” she says. “Remember, the more calories you burn while exercising, the more you get to eat at dinner!”
Don’t give in to well-intentioned or pushy relatives.
“Think of your calories as money,” Zawacki says. “If a relative tells you to spend your money on something you don’t want, do you do it? Of course not. But when our relatives want us to spend our calories, we tend to give in. Advocate for your own well-being, and learn to tell people, ‘No thank you.’ And if they question you, tell them your reasons for not wanting to eat as much. They’ll likely respect you for it, and they may even join you in eating less.”
Vicky Waltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.