The Ultimate Guide to Portion Control on Thanksgiving

As much as you can, stick to normal, everyday portions.

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On your average Tuesday, assembling a well-balanced meal probably comes pretty naturally. You try to have some type of protein, paired with some type of grain or starch, and accompanied by a generous scoop of veggies. 

But on Thanksgiving, anything you learned from MyPlate goes out the door as soon as you see your aunt’s famous stuffing. You take a little of this, a little of that, and a little more of this—until your plate is piled high with buttered potatoes and gravy-smothered turkey.

That’s fine—it’s only one day, right?—but if you’re tired of post-meal crashes, bloating, and belly aches, one of your best tools is portion control. That means you can still eat your favorite foods, but in portions that won’t give you grief later.

The secret to proper portions on Thanksgiving isn’t really a secret at all: Just apply the same MyPlate recommendations you use for your everyday meals.

1. Dedicate half your plate to fruits and veggies.

Ideally, choose non-starchy veggies such as leafy greens, mushrooms, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, or sweet potato. These veggies are dense in nutrients and low in calories, and they provide lots of fiber to fill you up. Better yet, load up on veggies that have been roasted or sauteed, not fried or coated in a creamy or cheesy sauce.   

Before you stock up on mashed potatoes and candied yams, hold on: These two count as starches.

2. Only 1/4 of your plate should go to starches.

Starches include either grain-based foods (breads, stuffing, rice, quinoa salad) or starchy veggies (potatoes, corn, or sweet potato casserole). 

Whenever possible, choose healthier starches. For example, opt for roasted root veggies instead of buttery mashed potatoes, and pick a whole-wheat dinner roll instead of white.

3. The remaining 1/4 of your plate can go to lean protein.

For most people on Thanksgiving, that protein will be turkey. For any type of animal protein, stick to 3 ounces, or the size of a deck of cards.

Of course, you don’t have to have turkey or ham. Whether your Thanksgiving protein is shrimp, lentils, or tofu, just aim for a quarter of the plate … as long as you’re using a plate that is around 9 or 10 inches in diameter (some plates in the U.S. are as big as 13 inches wide).

4. Be cautious with gravy and other condiments.

Gravy is essentially the fat drippings from cooked meat, so it can add a lot of calories and saturated fat quickly.  It’s easy to pour on a large ladle of gravy on both your potatoes and turkey, but the truth is, a serving size of gravy is only 1/4 cup. If you’re trying to limit fat and calories during your Thanksgiving meal, use even less—or try mushroom gravy instead.

When in doubt, listen to your body. Halting once you’re full will make digestion easier … and keep your calorie count in check. Find out how to use the hunger scale to assess your fullness levels here.

Want more tips on what to serve for a healthier Thanksgiving? Here are low-calorie side dishes for Thanksgiving, and here are hacks to healthify your Thanksgiving meal.