Stay healthy while enjoying the yummy this Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving – and all the great food and calories that come with it – right around the corner, we turned to our favorite dietician, Amanda Jacob RD, LDN, who works with our friends at TriStar Southern Hills.

She gave some great advice for getting through the holiday in pretty decent shape and wanted to share with you today.

Thanksgiving – and really the entire holiday season – has a habit of throwing good diets into a spiral. How can folks who are closely counting their calories enjoy the holiday without blowing their calorie budgets?

Simple swaps can really make indulging less impactfull to your diet. For example, opting to making mashed sweet potatoes and adding only cinnamon instead of a sweet potato casserole which contains brown sugar, marshmallows and butter will save you added calories, sugar and fat- but still allows you to enjoy the same food that you love! Other swaps include steamed vegetables over casseroles (think green beans, squash, etc), white meat vs. dark meat turkey (skip the skin too).

Watch your portion sizes! A small helping of a high-calorie dish to get your craving answered may be a better option than filling the void with other “healthier” alternatives. What tends to happen is that we ‘eat around’ the foods that we actually want and end up eating more calories- then often wind up eating the food anyway as we are unsatisfied with the substitutes.

If your family and friends want to meet you out for every meal, suggest meeting at a park for a walk or plan a get-together based around an activity rather than a meal, and organize a walk around the block with you family after Thanksgiving dinner.  Turkey Trots have become popular. See if you can find a local 5k race to run on Thanksgiving morning before putting the turkey in the oven.

Remember that indulging in alcoholic beverages will add additional calories, as well as limit your ability to refrain from eating foods you normally wouldn’t eat. If you plan on imbibing, remember to budget those calories and skip the dessert or appetizer for that meal.

Similarly, folks who are on special diets, such as diabetics, struggle with the holidays. How can people with special food needs still enjoy all the food from the holidays?

Anyone with specific dietary restrictions such as chronic diseases, food allergies or thanksgivingvegans/vegetarians tend to have it a little more difficult at the holidays due to traditions and the mentality of going “all out” around the holidays. Those with new limitations may find this harder, as they have already formed habits around the holidays that they may have been able to avoid at other times of the year.

So long as you keep your portions small, no foods should be completely “off the table.” For diabetics, foods containing carbohydrates such as breads, grains, desserts and sugar-sweetened beverages are the foods that need to be monitored most. If you normally eat just one type of carbohydrate at meals, for example,  fill up a quarter of your plate with rice for dinner, use the same size plate and same portion to fill up with various small amounts of carbohydrates, such as a few spoonful’s of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and a small portion of a dinner roll. The rest of your plate should be divided with one-quarter protein and the remaining half as non-starchy vegetables such as salad, broccoli, carrots, or your family favorite. You’ll get the variety and keep your blood sugar in check!

Don’t be afraid to start new traditions! For those that have specific needs, get creative. I make a Veggie “Turkey” every year, and last year I tried out Turkey Cheeseballs. Now my family looks forward to what new creations I bring to the table.


For those with special needs (diabetics, gluten-intolerant, etc.), what are some of the hidden dangers? They probably know about breads, pies, etc., but are there things they may consume unawares?

We often caution those with specific dietary needs when eating out, but we don’t think about what our relatives may have put into their dishes in regards to added ingredients such as sugar and salt. For diabetics, this could mean extra carbohydrates in dishes such as yams made with brown sugar, cranberry sauce, and the ingredients used to make stuffing. Other cautions include sodium or salt for those with heart or kidney issues. Salt can be hidden almost anywhere in your thanksgiving feast. Be cautious with dishes made with canned foods such as green bean casserole, as well as sauces and gravies, and any savory sides. If this is a concern, request that guests bring dishes without adding extra salt and provide a salt shaker at the table for those who desire.

For those with celiac or gluten intolerance, be aware that not everyone is up to date with all foods containing gluten. Breadcrumbs can be added to casseroles, pies and pie crust may contain flour, turkey stuffing is made from croutons.

To be sure that you do not consume foods that are questionable to meeting your specific needs. You can request guests bring their recipes—not only to take check on dietary requirements—but also so that they can be replicated!  turkey2

What are some of your favorite substitutes for classic Thanksgiving dishes? It can be entire dishes or key ingredients in certain dishes.

As mentioned above, I love my veggie turkey. When the whole family is waiting on dinner, I tide everyone over with a spread of fresh fruits and raw vegetables with low-fat dips and hummus. I often use standard or premade seasoning packets (look for low sodium) but instead of sour cream , I use non-fat plain Greek yogurt. The taste is so similar to sour cream no guest will know the difference, until their pants still fit them next week!

I also love making a variety of steamed and sautéed vegetables.  Some may miss the green bean casserole, but if there are three or four other vegetable options including steamed green beans, guests will be too busy deciding what they want to put on their plate to notice that the fried onions were missing.

Roasted Rosemary and Garlic Sweet potatoes are a favorite of mine. Instead of using added butter, brown sugar and marshmallows, I opt for rosemary, olive oil, and minced garlic. Once it comes out of the oven, you have a sweet and savory dish that is sure to satisfy, sans the sugar high.

What are some of your best tips to simply not overdo it, food consumption wise?

Watch your plate size. An oversized plate allows for an oversized meal. Opt for using 9-inch plates and try to avoid going back for multiple servings.

Fill up on fruits and vegetables. Aim for half of your plate to be filled with greens.

Wait a few minutes once your plate is full before going back up for seconds. Do you really want an extra helping, or can you be satisfied without it? Remember, there are always leftovers, and if you want to indulge in some dessert, you don’t need to filled to the brim to do so.

It tends to be a busy day for the cook. Any tips that might get children involved in helping prepare Thanksgiving dinner, but in a way that doesn’t make mom or grand mom stress out?

One challenge while preparing dinner always seems to be how others can help without taking up precious space in the kitchen. Giving tasks such as folding napkins, setting the table, or passing out appetizers to guests can be helpful if space is limited.

Age considered, they can also help mixing dips, mashing potatoes, decorating cookies, or help read recipes and add ingredients to dishes that you are preparing. Get them involved ahead of time by letting them choose between different recipes for sides and desserts.

Finally, be honest. You are going to have some pecan pie, aren’t you?

Well, not pecan pie—because it’s not my favorite. But I will definitely be having a sliver of pumpkin pie and a glass of hot cider out of the crockpot before the day is done!