11 Tricks to Make Your Thanksgiving Plate a Little Healthier

This feast doesn’t have to give you a food coma.

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Yep, the statistics you heard on the morning talk shows are true: The average American eats about 3,000 calories just for Thanksgiving dinner (and another 1,500 calories with drinks and appetizers before and after the feast).

If you want to avoid holiday weight gain, keep your blood glucose levels steady, or simply prevent that yucky post-meal bloat, here are ways to have a healthier Thanksgiving plate while still enjoying family, food, and your well-deserved day off work.

  1. Eat off a smaller plate. Ah, the psychology of portion control. You’re simply bound to end up with less food if you have a smaller plate to begin with.

  2. Scope out your options first. Ever load up on green bean casserole only to find an even more appealing sweet potato casserole at the end of the buffet? Scan the offerings before you even begin scooping, and plan out reasonable portions. For example, if you really love Thanksgiving stuffing, consider skipping the dinner roll since you’re already getting your grains in casserole form.

  3. Reserve half your plate for colorful veggies. This is MyPlate’s recommendation for portion control at every meal, so why not apply the same logic to your Thanksgiving plate? Your best bet is a leafy green salad or non-starchy veggies like broccoli or brussels sprouts—preferably not covered in cheesy sauces or butter. (Here’s a sweet potato, apple, and fennel side dish that’s perfect for Thanksgiving.)

  4. Dress salads with vinaigrette. It’s great to start your Thanksgiving dinner with salad, but skip the creamy dressings, which are high in calories and fat. (Here’s how to make your own simple vinaigrette.)

  5. Limit turkey to three ounces. If you eat meat, choose skinless turkey and keep your portion to the size of a deck of cards or smaller.

  6. Go easy on the gravy. Yeah, it makes everything more delicious, but it also adds calories, fat, and sodium. Choose just one thing to add it to—like your potatoes—and stick to just one or two tablespoons.  

  7. Limit casseroles and stuffing to a small scoop. These are major sources of calories and carbs, so it’s best to hold yourself back on this one.

  8. Choose whole-wheat bread. If you’re going to have a dinner roll, try and get a whole-wheat one for the fiber boost.

  9. Have plain baked or roasted potatoes. Mashed potatoes often have butter, sour cream, or even cream cheese already mixed in. By starting with a plain baked potato, you’ll be able to better control the toppings.

  10. Avoid second (or third … or fourth) helpings. Still hungry? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends waiting 10 minutes before dishing up seconds to see if you’re actually hungry, or simply needed time to digest. If you do need more food, stick to high-fiber veggies or a salad on your return trip. Don’t forget: You need to save some room for your grandma’s famous pie later.

  11. Use the buddy system for dessert. See if you can split a slice of pumpkin pie with a friend or cousin, as the Thanksgiving dessert can add hundreds of calories at the end of your meal. Or, if possible, just cut yourself a smaller piece.

Need more tips for your Thanksgiving dinner? Here are three easy tests to tell if your dinner is healthy.