10 Rules for Smart Eating at the Thanksgiving Table


Smart Eating

Thanksgiving is almost here and we know you’re getting yourself ready to take part in the festivities with your family and friends. Part of that includes the big Thanksgiving dinner. And even though this is a grand day, it shouldn’t be a day of overindulgence. Thanksgiving can feel like a diet-buster, and if you eat and drink too much, you might feel like you’ve gained weight the next morning, get discouraged and fall off the healthy eating wagon. We asked three dieticians their rules for approaching the Thanksgiving table mindfully. Here’s how to stick to smart eating at the Thanksgiving table and still enjoy it.

Rule #1: Start off the day with a high fiber and lean protein breakfast.

high fiber lean protein breakfast

If you starve yourself early in the day, you’ll overeat high-calorie foods later on. So, nosh on a smart breakfast first thing. “Making yourself an omelet with whole grain toast will not only boost your energy in the morning but it will keep your appetite and blood sugars in check all day long so you’re not feeling ravenous by the time you sit down to feast,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD.

Rule #2: Snack on healthy foods before you hit your party or dinner.

snack on healthy foods

You don’t have to eat a full meal by midday, but keep some healthy foods on hand in case you feel hunger pangs. “If you know the holiday dinner will be carbohydrate-heavy, try to have a side of veggies as a snack before heading to the party,” says Barbara Linhardt, RD. “Or eat a filling healthy snack, like an apple with peanut butter, so you don’t feel super hungry when you arrive.”

Rule #3: Keep water at your side like you would your cell phone.

hydrate with water

Don’t confuse hunger for thirst. “The average adult should be drinking at least 60 ounces of plain fluids each day, and when you don’t, symptoms of dehydration can make you feel hungry and more likely to eat excess calories,” Moskovitz says. In addition, eating high-sodium foods, cooking all day long, and drinking more alcohol on Thanksgiving might contribute to dehydration–and have you potentially overeating at mealtime.

Rule #4: Count your caloric beverages.

Cut Down on Holiday Beverages

If you drink a beverage other than water, make sure you count it as an indulgence for the day. “Consider forgoing alcohol to save on calories,” Linhardt says. “For instance, a five-ounce cup of eggnog with bourbon can give you an extra 500 calories.” Yikes! But if you do decide to drink, Linhardt suggests only to do so after you’ve had some food, so you don’t lose inhibition and eat too much. (Besides, drinking alcohol on an empty stomach doesn’t often mix.) “Finally, make sure to follow each alcoholic beverage with a glass of water to stay hydrated,” Linhardt says.

Rule #5: Step away from the hor’dourves and mingle.

family party games

Yes, Thanksgiving is about the food, but it’s also about your family and friends. “Instead of hanging out near the buffet table and mindlessly munching–have fun engaging in conversations, watching movies, or playing games with family you haven’t seen in awhile,” Linhardt says. Sounds silly and obvious but a lot of us are glued to the food!

Rule #6: Make compromises.

make food choices

One way you can approach the Thanksgiving table is by making choices up front. “Choose only one or two foods you will indulge in,” Linhardt says. “If you know you have to have a slice of apple pie, then try to go without the ice cream on top. If you love dinner rolls, skip the stuffing.”

Rule #7: Use the rule of ones.

stick to one serving

Another approach you can take is that you can have anything you want if you follow the rule of ones. “Decide you are going to just surrender and eat what you like, but you can only have one serving of each dish, and it all has to fit on one dinner plate,” says Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet. “You can also have just one dessert. So, whatever’s there on your plate at the time–you can’t go back for more.” That way you get to taste everything, but not break the calorie bank and overdo it.

Rule #8: Make low-cal substitutions.

low calorie substitutions

If you’re cooking, you can make smart substitutions if you like, especially if you know guests will appreciate a healthier version of favorites. “Use low-fat dairy instead of heavy cream, cook with low-sodium chicken broth instead of oil or butter, and make at least two lower calorie veggie side dishes, such as a salad and roasted brussels sprouts,” says Moskovitz.

Rule #9: Or don’t worry about it, and get back on the wagon the next day.

Counter Your “Splurge Days”

No matter what happens on Turkey Day, decide that you are getting back on track the next day. “Approach it mindfully, knowing you won’t bust your diet with just one day.” Gans says. That means, you’re back to smart snacking, whole foods and exercise the next morning.

Rule #10: Forget the leftovers.

no leftovers

At the end of the evening, if you’re watching your weight, you’re going to want to avoid those leftovers. “If you’re dining at someone else’s place, leave empty-handed. If you’re making dinner, send everyone home with leftovers,” Gans says. If it’s not in your fridge, you won’t be tempted to feast the next day (and the day after that) until the indulgences run out.


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