Your Checklist for a Healthier Thanksgiving
With the holiday season upon us, you may be wondering how to prioritize your health while still enjoying the indulgences that come with this time of year. We’ve developed a simple checklist to help you keep your well-being at the forefront during the run-up to Thanksgiving and on the big day.
1. Get active
Make a point of exercising consistently in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. It not only will help you deal with stressors like travel, family, and meal prep but feeling your best will allow you to relax and enjoy the holiday without feeling guilty.
On the day itself, one way many people like to incorporate activity into their Thanksgiving celebration is to start the day off with a Turkey Trot 5K. These are held in numerous communities, and you can walk, run, or even bring kids in strollers. If you don’t want to sign up for a formal event, make a point to get moving as soon as you get up. Go for a brisk walk or hike, or complete an exercise video at home to start the day before you get showered and ready. After the meal, rather than sit in a food coma watching football or a holiday movie, gather everyone up for a group walk around the neighborhood. Even if it’s freezing cold in your part of the country, 15 minutes of activity is all it takes to curb insulin spikes after a heavy meal. Instead of shopping on Black Friday, make it Workout Friday. Schedule a long hike, bike ride, or other activity with family, friends, or just you and your dog.
2. Start your day with breakfast
Many people choose to skip breakfast on Thanksgiving so that they can indulge in a huge Thanksgiving spread later in the day. However, skipping breakfast makes it much more likely that you’ll overeat later on, often consuming more than you wanted to. An easy way to prevent this is to start your day with a healthy, balanced breakfast. Eggs with avocado and smoked salmon are quick and easy. If you have houseguests, whip up an impressive yet easy recipe for shakshuka, a traditional middle eastern egg dish. Incorporate lean proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats to keep your blood sugar stable, your appetite satiated, and your energy levels up until dinner time. Keep healthy snack foods available all day, too, like fruits and vegetables, raw nuts, or whole-grain crackers with hummus.
3. Make healthier ingredient swaps
We all have favorite Thanksgiving recipes that we remember from growing up. Whether it was the green bean casserole, the sweet potato casserole, or the loaded stuffing, there are many ways to make healthier versions. For instance, swapping out high-fat milk with non-dairy, unsweetened milk or slimming down buttermilk by adding 1 Tbsp lemon juice per 1 cup of non-dairy milk. You can also cut down on the butter or swap it with olive oil, reduce sugar in recipes, and replace oil in baked goods with applesauce.
4. Celebrate seasonal produce
A wide variety of fruits and vegetables are more available across the country at farmer’s markets and grocery stores. Add a few healthier sides to the table this year with the best of seasonal produce like squash, leafy greens (kale, collards, spinach, and swiss chard), Brussels sprouts, fresh cranberries, pomegranates, apples, and pears. If you are a guest and worried that there wouldn’t be anything diet-friendly to eat, offer to bring a healthy dish.
5. Prioritize your plate and eat a variety of foods in small portions
It’s easy to stuff yourself with sweet potato casserole and stuffing but try incorporating small portions of several foods at the table. Start with turkey and vegetables, and then go for the more indulgent dishes like stuffing and casseroles. You’ll be more likely to eat smaller portions of the latter. Remind yourself that you can always go back for seconds on the dishes you enjoyed the most. Make sure your plate includes more vegetables and protein than carbs. When it comes to dessert, cut your pie slice in half. A small taste is usually all it takes to satisfy your sweet tooth. Sometimes using smaller plates can help trick your mind into feeling like you’re eating more than you actually are.
6. Watch your liquid calories
On a celebration day like Thanksgiving, it’s easy to forget that calories in beverages add up. Take a pass on juice, sodas, punches, and calorie-loaded coffee beverages. Keep an eye on your alcohol intake. It’s all too easy to start with cocktails and slide into wine with the main meal. Not sure what the healthiest wine choices are? Check out this great guide. Sparkling water, particularly the zero-calorie naturally flavored versions, makes a good substitute for cocktails. If you are hosting, create a festive “mocktail” to share with guests. Don’t forget to stay well-hydrated. Drinks lots of water throughout the day and during the meal. Keep pitchers of water circulating at the table.
7. Reduce stress and anxiety
Even if we enjoy Thanksgiving, it can still provoke stress and anxiety, from ensuring all of the food gets served on time to managing tensions between family members. Before and after the meal, incorporate a mini-meditation to promote relaxation, or try a soothing bath or aromatherapy in the evening before bed to help you wind down and sleep better. Need more options? Check out our guide to holistic strategies that are science-backed.
8. Focus on family, friends, and conversations
The focus of Thanksgiving is often placed on the food around the table. While it’s nice to enjoy delicious food for the holidays, it can be even better to switch the focus to the company you’re sharing the holiday alongside. When everyone is done eating, put the food away and enjoy quality time and conversations instead. Thanksgiving can be a perfect time to catch up on one another’s lives in a non-food focused way.
However you choose to celebrate this year, we wish you a healthy, happy, and gratitude-filled Thanksgiving holiday!
Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, and speaker who helps families transition to plant-based lifestyles. She can be found at laurenpanoff.com or on Instagram @chronicplanet.
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