The average American consumes an astounding 4500 calories for a Thanksgiving meal. What is so astounding about that? The fact that most adults only require 500 calories per meal or less! And as most of us are well aware, anything over that amount gets stored as fat. There are several different ways to stack the deck in your favor and avoid holiday weight gain: 1) we use healthier foods in our recipes, making them healthier and less laden with calories; 2) we control our portions; 3) we create a negative calorie balance in our bodies by preparing a week or two ahead of time. Let’s get started!
Portion control & healthy choices
Portion control may be the simplest and most effective way to eat healthier, reduce calories, and lose or maintain weight. The principle is simple – large portion, large number of calories, small portion, smaller number of calories. And here is where being careful pays off – your potatoes probably don’t look or taste much different between 1 or 2 pats of butter, but there are 36 calories in 1 pat and 72 calories in 2 pats (1 pat = 1 teaspoon). Or, if you aren’t paying attention and end up with a tablespoon of butter? That’s 102 calories. What if you use a tablespoon of butter on your dinner roll, your potatoes, and your cornbread? That’s 306 calories, and that’s just on butter, so you aren’t even starting to get full yet!
Here is an example of a Thanksgiving meal portioned out to equal 1473 calories. Yes, 1473 is still three times the calories of a usual healthful meal, but quite an improvement from the average of 4500. This is accomplished by using portion control. For reference, ½ cup is equal to 1 ice cream scoop. Here is the breakdown, along with additional tips to cut calories from each dish.
Turkey: 3.5 ounces of white meat with skin = 177 calories
There isn’t much we can do to decrease the calories in turkey meat, although adding fats like butter during cooking will add calories. Choosing dark meat adds 29 calories, subtract 30 calories for removing skin
½ cup stuffing = 195 calories
Stuffing, along with the next three items, has a lot of carbohydrates due to the bread. Increasing the ratio of vegetables to bread will subtract carbs and calories. Adding your favorite herbs, such as thyme, sage, and rosemary will add flavor without increasing sodium or fat.
1 cup mashed potatoes = 237 calories
There is no cutting carbohydrates out of potatoes, but we can decrease calorie content by replacing some of the milk or half and half with broth. Instead of adding cheese, mash in a roasted head of garlic for flavor without the fat and calories. Add herbs for flavor to decrease the need for excess butter and gravy.
3 x 3 inch square cornbread = 198 calories
Again, cornbread is made up of carbohydrates, so we can’t change that. Consider adding jalapeño peppers or another flavor you enjoy to decrease the need for butter or other high calorie topping.
4 ounces candied sweet potatoes = 187 calories
The last of our high carbohydrate items, sweet potatoes have natural sugars, but these have added sugar to make them extra sweet. Consider reducing the sugar in the recipe – it may taste just as good with half the sugar! Another option – replace the sugar with sugar free maple syrup or sugar free sweetener. Or – and this is my favorite – dry roast the sweet potatoes on a pan lined with parchment paper, sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little oil. Delicious!
This is the last of the high carbohydrate items. Consider choosing a couple of your favorites from this group instead of all four. Also note that a dinner roll is not included in our list of items. This is another high carbohydrate item. Choose these wisely.
½ cup green bean casserole = 227 calories
This favorite is high in fat calories due to the use of cream soups. Search the internet for healthier ways to make green bean casserole, and you will find many – its just a matter of finding a recipe you enjoy. A whole cup of green beans has only 30 calories and there are plenty of ways to enjoy them.
5 ounces wine = 125 calories
Red or white. And the more you drink, the more you eat. Best to limit.
¼ cup cranberry sauce = 102 calories
Cranberry sauce recipes have a lot of added sugar because cranberries are tart. Why not see if you can embrace the tartness and cut out half of the sugar? Or even a fourth? Artificial sweetener would also work here. Also, consider adding these ingredients to trick you taste buds into not needing the sugar: orange, lemon, or lime zest, cloves, or cinnamon.
¼ cup gravy = 25 calories
Gravy is made up of fat, there is no way around it. Use it like you would use butter – sparingly. And the 25 calories here is for store bought gravy; our homemade gravies may be quite a bit higher in calories.
Grand total: 1473 calories for one Thanksgiving dinner
Creating a negative calorie balance
When we have a negative calorie balance, we are burning more calories than we consume, either leading to weight loss, or making room for a high calorie meal like Thanksgiving dinner. Here we go!
One week before Thanksgiving:
Begin a daily walk. Walk for 30 minutes at a moderate pace = – 115 calories x 7 days
Skip desserts and sugary items, including soda, cakes, cookies, Little Debbies = – 150 calories x 7 days (the equivalent of eliminating one can of soda per day)
Grand total: – 1855 calories saved by exercising and watching the diet.