Autumn has arrived! Temperatures are cooler, pumpkins are popping up and football season is in full force along with the holiday countdown. Like most Americans, you are probably busy focusing on the preparations, traditions and celebrations, but the one thing that should stay at the top of your to-do list is your health.
According to the Calorie Control Council, the average American consumes more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving Day. That’s 2.5 times the recommended calories and 3.5 times the fat. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, most Americans gain at least one pound during the holiday season—which doesn’t seem drastic. However, with 70.7% of American adults being overweight or obese, a pound a year for 20 years certainly contributes to these rising numbers.
So with your plate already full this Thanksgiving, feast on these five tips to keep your health in check.
- Begin with breakfast. If you’re anything like this Nebraska grown dietitian, Thanksgiving is your favorite meal. It’s so much your favorite that the thought of breakfast eating up some of your allotted daily calories is appalling. But, just like your mom used to say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s important to space out your meals and kick start your metabolism in order to prevent you from being ravenous once your favorite meal hits.Since you may be busy prepping for the main meal or enjoying family, consider arranging breakfast the night before: cut up fruit, prep a breakfast casserole or try overnight oatmeal in a slow cooker. Your best bet is to just keep it simple and satisfying. (we should link this to the HC slow cooker oatmeal recipe)
- Appetizers are not so appetizing on the waistline. Just when you think you’ve got this gobble-wobble under control, Uncle Phil arrives with a plate of deviled eggs and then there’s Grandma with her famous spinach dip. The temptation sinks in. It’s estimated that 1,500 calories come from drinks and appetizers alone. Here are a few rules for owning the appetizers.
- Don’t graze like animals. When we stand by the snack table, we tend to fall victim to mindless eating. Be sure to set out small plates for appetizers and encourage guests to sit and snack.
- Plate your food. By putting your food on a plate, it helps you visualize how much you’re actually
- Don’t be a cheese head. Avoid the creamy dips and the meat and cheese trays. These typically pack the most calories. One ounce of cheese (the size of your thumb) packs 114 calories and 9 grams of fat.
- Fill up on fiber. The app table is a great place to set up all the colors of the rainbow. Get the kids involved to make fruit kabobs with a yogurt dip. Add some crunchy veggies with hummus or dip. Just be sure to swap out the ranch with a Greek yogurt based dip.
- The Main Meal It’s time to step up to the table, which is beautifully decorated with name tags adorned with grandkids’ stickers and messy handwriting. The biggest thing to remember is this is not the last time you will get to enjoy your favorite foods, so don’t eat like it is. Although it’s a special occasion, the basic dietitian rules still apply. Balance your plate: ½ for fruits and veggies, ¼ for meat and ¼ for starchy sides. You heard me right, not ¾ of the plate for mashed potatoes and gravy. Here are a few things to keep in mind during the main event.
- Choose the bird, not the pig. Turkey and chicken tend to be leaner than the holiday ham. Shave off a few calories and fat by going skinless and choosing the breast meat over the dark meat. Don’t forget your turkey size: 3-4 ounces (the size of your palm).
- Don’t be stuffed. Keep the stuffing and mashed potatoes to ¼ of your plate, which is about a cup (the size of a closed fist).
- Don’t forget the veggies. If you’re in charge, avoid the green bean casserole and try something new: roasted Brussels sprouts, cooked carrots or sautéed green beans. If not, offer to bring the vegetable dish.
- Stay out of the second’s line. Remember, this is not the last time you’ll see the stuff, you’ll likely indulge in leftovers tomorrow!
- Stay hydrated. Often, our bodies think we are hungry when we may be thirsty. If you are still hungry after your apps and dinner, drink a glass of water to help fill you up.
- Enjoy indulgences. Don’t deprive yourself of the strawberry pretzel salad, cranberry sauce or pies. But, choose to have a smaller portion of each.
- Sip Smartly Remember that 4,500 calories we touched on earlier? It’s not just from food. Often times we forget about the calories that get slurped down. Even on Thanksgiving, it’s still important to drink enough water. To make this less of a task, try cutting up citrus fruits, berries or fresh herbs to make fruit infused water. Avoid any sugary drinks like soda or sweet tea, they pack on calories quickly.
Finally, don’t discount the alcoholic beverages. A 12-ounce glass of beer has about 150 calories, a 5-ounce glass of red wine 125 calories and a 1.5-ounce shot of gin, rum, vodka, whiskey or tequila 100 calories. Enjoy a toast, but don’t get too toasty with these alcoholic beverages.
- Be present. Be active. Lastly, don’t forget the true meaning behind these holiday festivities: enjoying the time together and counting your blessings. Spend less time eating and more time chatting. Being present and active will help you avoid the usual gobble wobble and allow you to overindulge in the important things. Take the family for a walk post dinner and keep that great conversation flowing in the fresh air outside. Cheers to a healthy Thanksgiving!
By Katie Heacock-Rodysill, RD, LD, clinical dietitian with Morrison Healthcare at Roper St. Francis Healthcare