Yes, Your Thanksgiving Meal Can Be Healthy AND Taste Good

Photo credit: lisegagne - Getty Images
Photo credit: lisegagne - Getty Images

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No matter how you choose to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, try not to stress too much about what you should or shouldn’t eat. It’s the holidays after all, and you’re meant to devour some tasty food. But if you’re preparing for an extra healthy holiday season, focus on making your go-to dishes a little more nutritious. Or, if you’re choosing those made for you, opt for dishes that pack a few extra vitamins and minerals to keep you energized for the entire day.

When you’re deciding what to add to the menu or your plate this Thanksgiving remember the words of Roxana Ehsani, R.D., sports dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Honestly, all food is totally fine,” she tells Bicycling. “Thanksgiving is very unique in that we might not be eating these foods all year around. We might not be eating a whole turkey at any other time of the year or having mash potatoes, cranberry sauce, or stuffing.”

So don’t ask, what to eat, but instead ask how to eat. “It’s not just taking a category of food and pointing a finger at it as being good or bad.” Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., creator of Better Than Dieting, and author of Read It Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table tells Bicycling. “You have to look at how it’s being prepared.”

If you’re not the one who’s doing all the cooking this year, Taub-Dix says don’t be afraid to ask how the dish was made. But if you are cooking, keep the following tips in mind.

How Make a Healthy Thanksgiving Meal

> For some, turkey is a must-have on Thanksgiving Day, so if that’s you, go ahead and eat up. But if you’re willing to switch things up, turn to salmon as a main course, as there are many benefits to eating fish. For starters, it’s a great source of protein and it’s filled with omega-3 fatty acids, which can help support your performance as a cyclist, and boost your immune system too. This delicious fish can be steamed, sautéed, or baked and even stuffed. Usually, Taub-Dix says, fish, turkey or ham are leaner than some of the side dishes on the table.

> Hold back on the butter. Chances are some of your Thanksgiving recipes will require butter, like the mashed potatoes, says Taub-Dix, “Think outside the box and use pureed avocado to make your potatoes creamy. That’ll boost the nutrient value and give you that luscious texture you’re looking for from this dish.” You also want to be mindful of your daily intake of cholesterol, especially, if you or your guest have health conditions related to high cholesterol. According to the Mayo Clinic, margarine contains higher levels of trans-fat, which has been labeled as bad cholesterol and should be limited. Try Taub-Dix suggestion or search the supermarket shelves for a substitute that’s trans-fat free.

> Remember the phrase, the more the merrier, particularly when it comes to vegetables. There are tons of ways that you can eat your vegetables this Thanksgiving. Try mixing and matching different kinds—like pairing green beans with tomatoes and squash for a colorful side dish. You can also cook them in various ways, from roasting to sautéing to steaming. Or add them to a meat dish, like turkey stuffed with a spinach mix.

> One of the easiest healthy swaps you can make: Cook whole wheat pasta or brown rice, which helps you get the most nutrition out of your grains. Whole grain options are packed with many nutrients—like carbs, protein, fiber, and minerals—that are good for your overall health. In fact, research suggests that eating whole grains can help prevent type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. On the other hand, a study in The BMJ found an association between eating refined grains and an increased risk of early death and heart disease.

> Stuffing is Thanksgiving staple but be mindful of its ingredients. “Some stuffing recipes can be very high in sodium, and some have lots of butter, ” says Taub-Dix. “Others can be loaded with dry fruits, veggies, and really valuable foods.” So look for or whip up the latter option to get a stuffing packed with nutrient-dense ingredients. If you’re using a boxed kit, look for one low in sodium.

> “Cranberry sauce can be a very wonderful accompaniment [to Thanksgiving meals] and cranberries actually have powerful disease-fighting antioxidants in them,” says Taub-Dix. Having cranberry sauce with real cranberries or dried cranberries as opposed to canned cranberry sauce can help you cut back on the sugar, says Taub-Dix.

> Don’t be afraid to eat dessert on Thanksgiving—it’s a special day and sweets are certainly allowed. But if you feel the need to cut back on sweet stuff, grab some fresh fruit. Or consider swapping out pie for something like cobbler. “A cobbler could be lower in calories than a pie because pie sometimes has the pastry shell below or above, or both—as opposed to a cobbler that just has the topping,” says Taub-dix.

If you don’t plan on cooking this year, you can still stack up a healthy plate to your benefit. Keep the following tips in mind if you’re the guest at someone else’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Other Healthy Tips to Remember This Thanksgiving

> Keep your meals balanced and most importantly, don’t skip any meals. “Eat as normally as possible,” says Ehsani, “When we skip meals in anticipation for this big eating experience, we’re setting ourselves up to overeat.” That’s because we’re so hungry, we tend to eat more than we normally would.

> Portion control is key. Ehsani says you can avoid overeating if you stick to the plate method: Fill a third of your plate with veggies of any type, the other third with a protein (like turkey), and the final third with some type of grain.

> Bring a green dish. “Sometimes at the Thanksgiving table, there’s not a lot of non-starchy veggies, so maybe you can bring a plate of roasted veggies,” Ehsani suggests. That could include broccoli, Brussel spouts, spinach, or kale—or a combo of a couple.

> If you’re going to drink alcohol, then make sure you have water too. “You just have to keep tabs on it—not overdo it,” Taub-Dix says. “Alcohol can be very dehydrating, because it does make you urine a lot.” She suggests having a glass of water or a non-alcoholic drink after every alcoholic drink.

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> Most importantly, listen to your body. “People always feels better when they have some sort of balance,” says Taub-Dix. “Try to keep in mind that balanced eating could really make a big difference even in terms of the way you feel emotionally, not just physically.”

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