How to Survive the Thanksgiving Buffet

Thanksgiving doesn't have to be a stuff-your-face-fest. Here are nutritionist tips to survive the day (and week).

thanksgivingThanksgiving buffet photo via Shutterstock

The holidays are upon us, and one of the biggest eating occasions in the U.S. is next week. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average American eats about 4,000 calories on Thanksgiving Day. That’s twice the average person’s calorie needs for one day. Think of Thanksgiving as a barometer for healthy eating this holiday season. If you can moderate your calorie consumption, while still enjoying yourself, you can set a healthy eating tone for the rest of the holidays. By the time the New Year is here, you are ready to carry the healthier eating habits into 2013.

Kerri Hawkins, a Boston-based dietitian and blogger at Dietitian Drive, shared her tips for how to enjoy the holidays this season without the holiday bulge. What’s top on her list? Use a smaller plate. “A simple change from a 12-inch plate at dinner to 10-inch plate could mean a 22 percent reduction in calories at a meal,” Hawkins says. “If your typical Thanksgiving dinner plate was 2000 calories, a two inch reduction would equal 400 calories saved for that meal.”

Once you have armed yourself with a smaller plate, you are ready to hit the buffet table. Usually packed with the standard favorites like turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and multiple pies, a buffet makes it hard to resist piling a mound of food on your plate. Hawkins recommends choosing turkey breast meat that is baked, not fried. You can add a little bit of gravy to keep the meat moist and enjoyable. Next, she says, choose one starch. If it’s sweet potato casserole you love then pass on the stuffing, or get a half portion of each if you can’t decide. Better yet, try making this healthier potato casserole from Cooking Light.

Next, find some veggies and fill the remainder of your plate. Opt for simply cooked vegetables like roasted carrots, steamed green beans, or a crisp salad. Remember, most casseroles (like green bean casserole) can be high in calories and fat, which turns those previously good for you beans into a calorie-laden mistake. When it’s time for dessert, opt for pumpkin pie over pecan pie. The average slice of pecan pie can pack up to 500 calories and more than 30 grams of sugar. Pumpkin, however, typically runs around 300 calories and the natural sweetness of the pumpkin typically means less sugar in the pie.

Next, it’s time to get moving. “Finding ways to incorporate exercise into your Thanksgiving weekend puts you in a healthy mindset, leading to better choices throughout the day,” Hawkins says. When asked if you want to join the flag football game outside with the family, say yes, even if you’re too full to move. If you’re gym is closed, try one of these open studios.

And remember, Thanksgiving is a holi-day, not a holi-week. “Don’t carry the Thanksgiving eating over into the following days or weeks,” Hawkins says. “Enjoy yourself on Thanksgiving, but return to your healthy eating habits the day after.”

After all, that weight gain throughout the holidays is not a result of eating on one day; it’s a result of eating too much every day in between.