Guilt-Free Thanksgiving Feast

Hillcrest South dietitian Nasrin Sinichi, MS, RD/LD joins us on the blog today to talk about how you can enjoy Thanksgiving without the guilt.

Thanksgiving only comes around once a year, so why not go ahead and splurge? Gaining weight during the holiday season is a national pastime. Year after year, most of us pack on at least a pound (some gain more) during the holidays and keep the extra weight permanently.

However, Thanksgiving does not have to sabotage your weight. With a little know-how, you can satisfy your desire for traditional favorites and still enjoy a guilt-free Thanksgiving feast.

Be Active

Create a calorie deficit by exercising to burn off extra calories before you ever indulge in your favorite foods.  Eat less and exercise more is the winning formula to prevent weight gain during the holidays. Increase your steps or lengthen your fitness routine the weeks ahead and especially the day of the feast.  Make fitness a family adventure. Take a walk early in the day and then again after dinner. It is a wonderful way for families to get physical activity and enjoy the holiday together.

Eat a Small Breakfast

While you might think it makes sense to save up calories for the big meal, eating a small meal in the morning can give you more control over your appetite. Start your day with a small but satisfying breakfast such as an egg with a slice of whole-wheat toast, or a bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk, so you won't be starving when you arrive at the gathering. Eating a nutritious meal with protein and fiber before you arrive takes the edge off your appetite and allows you to be more discriminating in your food and beverage choices.

Lighten Up

Whether you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner or bringing a few dishes to share, make your recipes healthier with less fat, sugar and calories.

There is more sugar and fat in most recipes than is needed, and no one will notice the difference if you skim calories by using lower calorie ingredients.

Some suggestions:

Use fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy.

Use sugar substitutes in place of sugar and/or fruit purees instead of oil in baked goods.

Reduce oil and butter wherever you can.

Try plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream in creamy dips, mashed potatoes, and casseroles.

Portion Control

Thanksgiving tables are bountiful and beautiful displays of traditional family favorites. Before you fill your plate, survey the buffet table and decide what you're going to choose. Then select reasonable-sized portions of foods you cannot live without.  

Don't waste your calories on foods that you can have all year long.  Fill your plate with small portions of holiday favorites that only come around once a year so you can enjoy desirable, traditional foods.

Skip the Seconds. Try to resist the temptation to go back for second helpings.  Leftovers are much better the next day, and if you limit yourself to one plate, you are less likely to overeat and have more room for a delectable dessert.

Choose the “best bets” on the Buffet. White turkey meat, plain vegetables, roasted sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, defatted gravy, and pumpkin pie tend to be the best bets because they are lower in fat and calories. If you keep your portions small, you can enjoy whatever you like.

Slowly Savor

Eating slowly, putting your fork down between bites, and tasting each mouthful is one of the easiest ways to enjoy your meal and feel satisfied with one plate full of food. Choosing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, broth-based soups, salads, and other foods with lots of water and fiber add to the feeling of fullness.

Spread out the food and fun all day long. Schedule dessert after a walk or while watching a movie together.

Eat midday, and instead of another meal at dinnertime, continue the feast with dessert a few hours after the main meal.

Go Easy on Alcohol

Don't forget those alcohol calories that can add up quickly.

Have a glass of wine or a wine spritzer and between alcoholic drinks, (or) enjoy sparkling water, this way you stay hydrated.

Be Realistic

The holiday season is a time for celebration. With busy schedules and so many extra temptations, this is a good time to strive for weight maintenance instead of weight loss.

Shift from a mindset of weight loss to weight maintenance. You will be ahead of the game if you can avoid gaining any weight over the holidays.

Tips for keeping Thanksgiving healthy and stress-free this year:

Take advantage of your stovetop

Does lack of oven space leave you anxious about what to prepare for the big day?  There are plenty of delicious and healthy ingredient options that free up the oven, using just the stovetop. Wild and brown rice are nutritious stovetop options giving you a boost of fiber, as well.  Adding festive ingredients such as dried cranberries and pecans or green and red pepper really perk up the holiday dish, not to mention boost nutrition, too.

Load up on veggies

Stir-fried veggies, such as Brussels sprouts, are great prepared on the stove. Don't underestimate the delicious buttery flavor of the nutritional quick and easy stir-fry, a perfect side to any meal.  Sautéed in a little olive oil, onion, salt, and pepper.  Brussels  sprouts are low in fat, calories, and cholesterol, very low in sodium, and a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate.

Remember to freeze

A great way to save time is to make recipes ahead and freeze. Some dishes freeze better than others, but most of your classic casseroles are great options. From sweet potato casserole to your cornbread dressing, making these dishes ahead of time on your own schedule and freezing them will help to minimize your cooking on Thanksgiving Day.  For successful frozen meals, be sure that food is at room temperature before freezing, be sure to always allow a frozen dish to come up to room temperature before putting it in the oven.

Use the correct containers

It is important to freeze your foods in the proper container to prolong their shelf life and avoid freezer burn. Air and moisture are the two major culprits in causing freezer burn. Choose moisture-proof and airtight food containers, including plastic freezer containers or freezer plastic zip-top bags. Don't fill to the top as food will expand as it freezes.

Focus on Family and Friends

Thanksgiving is not just about the delicious bounty of food. It's a time to celebrate relationships with family and friends. Besides sharing time with family and friends over food, the primary ingredient not to be overlooked is, of course, gratitude. Take a moment to consider what you're truly thankful for, and share it with those you love.  Be thankful for what you have. Be creative. Be innovative. Think differently and positively. I wish you all a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!