Thanksgiving, for many, is the time of year to enjoy food, family traditions, and memories.
But the holiday season can also be a time when people worry about weight gain.
To get professional tips on how to enjoy Thanksgiving while keeping up with a healthy eating regimen, we turned to Lisa Sasson, a New York University nutrition professor who’s researched successful dieting strategies.
Here’s her advice for making the healthiest – but still delicious – choices on Thanksgiving Day.
This post was initially published in 2016 and has been updated.
Come hungry, but not starving.
It may seem like a good idea to save your appetite for the main event, but Sasson warned against showing up ravenous for Thanksgiving dinner. When you’re that hungry, your willpower tends to disappear, and you’re likely to eat whatever’s in sight.
Instead, Sasson suggested, eat a satisfying snack before starting your Thanksgiving festivities. Nuts, yogurt, a salad with avocado, or eggs are all good options to consider during the morning before the meal.
Keep your appetizers light.
Instead of filling up on heavy appetizers, go for lighter fare, such as fresh veggies, salads, chips and salsa, or a vegetable-based soup like butternut squash soup.
Make sure your plate is colorful and full of veggies.
A good rule for filling up your plate at any kind of buffet or large meal, Sasson said, is to go heavy on vegetables. If you can, choose an array of fresh, grilled, or roasted vegetables like beets, carrots, Brussels sprouts, or cauliflower.
Turkey is also a healthy part of the Thanksgiving meal, especially if you avoid the skin.
Keep starchy veggies to the size of an ice cream scoop.
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Although it might be tempting to load your plate with mashed or sweet potatoes, try to limit your intake of starch-heavy items.
Avoid heavy traditional recipes when you can.
Many classic Thanksgiving recipes feature hefty amounts of added sugar and cream. Sasson advises people to avoid them if possible, or try out a lighter recipe if you’re the one cooking.
Easy adjustments involve adding more vegetables to your stuffing and plopping fewer marshmallows or brown sugar bits on top of your sweet potatoes.
If you’re not hosting, offer to bring a healthy dish that you enjoy.
- Flickr / jules
If you’re not cooking, Sasson said, “bring what you want to eat.” Consider showing up with a plate of roasted vegetables or a winter fruit salad.
Try not to drink your calories.
It might be tempting to sip on cider or wine throughout the meal. But if you’re looking to trim excess calories, limit the amount of sugary or alcoholic beverages you consume. Try having one glass of cider, for example, and sipping on water or seltzer during the rest of the meal.
Make desserts less crusty.
It’s Thanksgiving, so there will likely be pumpkin pie at your meal. Here’s Sasson’s tip for making (or eating) a bit healthier at dessert: If you’re baking, try cutting down the pie crust so that it’s all about the filling.
For example, an apple cobbler with a crumble on top still gives all the apple goodness with less processed carbohydrates. Though it’s never advisable to waste food, you could also consider leaving the crust behind if you’re not cooking a dessert.
After the meal, move around.
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Once you’ve finished eating, consider taking a refreshing stroll outside or playing a game of football in the yard. If you live or are staying nearby, you could also walk or take public transportation home.
Whatever happens, enjoy the holiday.
The important thing is to have a good time with family and friends. As far as eating goes, it’s important to enjoy the holiday since it’s just one day of the year, Sasson said. That just might mean being more mindful about what you eat on Friday or over the weekend.