How to (Really) Have a Healthy Thanksgiving

It's that time of year again: Cue the articles and blog posts about staying healthy on Thanksgiving. I'm a Registered Dietitian and even I have to let out a sigh. I'm sure by now you know that pecan pie has more calories than pumpkin, that white meat is leaner than dark, and that sweet potatoes are a better choice than traditional mashed (unless of course they're buried under marshmallows). These tips aren't news. And on a day meant for family, friends and, well, giving thanks, should calorie-counting and portion-measuring really be at the front of your mind?

My philosophy for staying healthy on Thanksgiving is slightly different and easy for just about anyone to follow. Follow these four tips and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

1. Eat What You Want...

Yes, I want you to eat what you want. Thanksgiving is one day and most dishes on the table won't be served again for another 364 days. Love green bean casserole? It's heavy as hell, but feel free to add a scoop to your plate. Live for grandma's stuffing? It's called stuffing for a reason, but go ahead and make some room. Thanksgiving foods represent tradition, nostalgia, family and love. Any other meal you'll be choosing lightly sauteed green beans and fiber-packed whole grains, but this is Thanksgiving. If you want the marshmallow-covered casserole, be my guest, knowing marshmallows have no place on the table any other day of the year.

2. ...But Be a Little Picky.

Eat what you want, but don't eat just anything. If you don't truly love it, it doesn't belong on your plate. I skip the mashed potatoes. I don't dislike them, but I don't go crazy for them. Be a little picky, focus on what you love, and make sure every bite is special.

3. Use Common Sense

There's no need to break out the measuring cups or kitchen scale, but come on, you know when you're full. Take reasonable portions of food and don't feel pressured to finish everything on your plate. Eat slowly, savor each bite, make conversation and take a moment to realize when you're done. Dinner shouldn't be uncomfortable and require elastic pants. Use the same mentality for alcohol. You know when you've had enough.

4. Get Back on Track

Yes, everyone loves leftovers, but the day after Thanksgiving is the day after Thanksgiving and time to get back on track with your healthy eating plan (okay fine, after one killer leftovers sandwich). Stuffing shouldn't be on the menu for the next seven days. Turn your focus back to fresh vegetables, whole fruits, lean proteins and whole grains. There's always next year for your Thanksgiving favorites.

Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving dinner!


I prefer the fresh, homemade stuff, but if canned sauce is your tradition enjoy every super-sweet bite.

I prefer the fresh, homemade stuff, but if canned sauce is your tradition enjoy every super-sweet bite.