We know we are going to overeat on Thanksgiving Day. It’s basically a mandatory American tradition. It’s estimated the average person eats 3,000 calories to 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving — two to three times the calories an average woman needs per day.
It’s just one day a year, so what’s the harm in indulging? Likely, nothing if it’s limited to just one day. Unfortunately, though, Thanksgiving can become the start of a month-long feast.
There are the Thanksgiving leftovers you have to eat your way through, then the Christmas candy making and cookie baking begins. Treats start showing up at work, holiday parties get scheduled, and before you know it, your usual healthy diet and exercise program is forgotten. Making a few smart choices and food swaps can help ensure you won’t need to buy bigger jeans come New Year’s Day.
Appetizers: Instead of crackers and cheese, mixed nuts, veggies with ranch dip, and a couple mixed drinks for around 1,200 calories, choose veggies with a low-fat dip, two small glasses of wine, and some fruit with a soft light cheese spread for around 350 calories.
Turkey: 8 ounces of white and dark meat turkey with the skin has about 500 calories. Choose skinless white meat, and limit the portion size to 4 ounces and save 350 calories. Half a cup of gravy made with pan drippings can add another couple hundred calories. Remove fat from the broth and save calories.
Potatoes: Do you need both mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes? 1 cup of mashed potatoes made with whole milk and butter is 300 calories. Make them with low-fat milk and less butter to shave off half the calories, or skip them all together. Candied sweet potato casseroles have around 400 calories a cup. How about a simple baked sweet potato with a little butter, instead? That will save 250 calories.
Sides: A cup of sausage stuffing cooked in the bird can be upwards of 400 calories. Instead, try a meatless stuffing cooked outside the bird and save half those calories. Green bean casserole at 250 calories a cup can be made lighter, or choose 2 cups of steamed green beans for half the calories.
Cranberry sauce is full of sugar and has about 200 calories in half a cup. Use it sparingly, or make your own cranberry salad for fewer calories. A well-buttered roll can have 300 calories or more. And really, if it’s not homemade is it worth 300 calories?
Dessert: One piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream will add around 400 calories. Make that pecan pie with whipped cream and now it’s more than 600. You could eat a smaller piece, skip the whipped cream or don’t eat the crust. This will save half to two-thirds of those calories.
Page 2 of 2 - Think you’ll just eat what you want then burn off the calories with some exercise later? Hope you have plenty of time. You’d have to walk for about 13 hours to burn 3,000 calories; downhill ski for 9 hours; dance continuously for 15 hours; or jog at 6 miles per hour for 24 miles.
Remember the basics to help with holiday calorie control.
Portion size matters. Eat just a little of your favorites. Try to fill at least half your plate with vegetables.
Decrease calories when cooking whenever possible. Use low-fat dairy, cut back on the added fats used, and use less sugar.
Choose only favorite foods. Don’t waste calories on foods you routinely eat. Save those calories for the special foods you only have a few times a year.
Make less food. If your Thanksgiving usually means a ton of leftovers, don’t make so much. Cut out the dishes your families really aren’t crazy about. Bake just some of your special holiday treats or if must go overboard on the baking, share the treats with someone who can no longer do this for themselves, like nursing home residents or elderly neighbors.
Drink plenty of water. Water will help fill you up, keep you hydrated, and hopefully prevent drinking lots of extra calories in things like eggnog, alcoholic drinks and sodas.
Don’t’ graze. It’s tempting to grab a bite or handful of something every time you walk by, but these little bites can really add a bunch of extra calories. Eat regular meals; add a snack in between if you’re hungry, but keep the portions small.
Keep up with your regular exercise as much as possible. The holidays can get hectic and it’s tempting to ditch the exercise to find time to do other errands. But remember, exercise will help reduce stress and give you the energy needed to get everything done.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.