Far be it from me to deny anyone their traditional Thanksgiving favorites on the one day a year they actually get to eat them. I love a goopy green bean casserole topped with packaged fried onions and marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes as much as the next guy! (Although I’m finding that the older I get, the less and less of them I end up eating…) However, you’d be surprised where you can save a few—or a few hundred—calories by making simple changes here and there, yet preserving the same flavor and texture. Let’s take the day from start to finish, setting yourself up to enjoy all your favorites, but without the stomachache at the end.
What better way to negate all those extra calories than to get some exercise beforehand? Running the Turkey Trot downtown, which happens to be the nation’s longest-running footrace, is a no-brainer. The almost-5-mile race attracts almost 15,000 people and is definitely THE place to be on Thanksgiving morning. However, if that sounds like too much to add into your already busy morning, consider the local Turk-EA Trot! The 5k begins at 9 a.m. from the East Aurora Cooperative Market and is free and open to all ages. Participants are asked to bring canned goods to donate to FISH of East Aurora, and costumes are encouraged. If running isn’t your thing, many gyms are open for limited hours that morning, or simply take a brisk walk around your neighborhood.
Many dishes will turn out just as well with half the butter or sugar that’s called for in a recipe! There is a lot less room for error in baking, such as with pies, cakes and cookies, so follow the instructions unless you’ve already experimented with the recipe. However, that sweet potato casserole is prime for paring-down. Consider decreasing the traditional amount of butter and brown sugar by one-third to one-half, and top with fewer marshmallows or plain chopped nuts instead of candied nuts. Mashed potatoes can be prepared the same way; simply add enough butter and milk until the consistency is right, but try not to go overboard. Many people eat their potatoes with gravy, and therefore won’t even appreciate the extras in the potatoes! Consider serving sautéed green beans instead of the traditional green-bean-and-mushroom-soup casserole, and try not to bathe other vegetable dishes in butter as well.
Navigating the Appetizers
Have you ever sat down to a holiday meal, only to realize you’re not even hungry? Mindless snacking before dinner can add up to way more calories than you’d think, and fills you up fast. Instead of circling the snack table while the turkey is resting, grab some seltzer and chat up your aunt on the other side of the room. If you’re truly hungry and the turkey is far from finished, put together a small plate, making sure to load up on items from the veggie tray. Then, practice mindful eating rather than wolfing down the cheese and crackers. Also, often just one or two bites of something is enough to satisfy your desire for that food, so keep appetizer portions very small.
At the Dinner Table
Perhaps the most important words of wisdom for Thanksgiving are: portion control. At what other time of year do we prepare upwards of ten dishes, all for one meal? It isn’t possible to eat the same amount of stuffing as you might if it were being served on any other night. One thing I say to myself over and over again is, ‘If you want more you can have more.’ Unfortunately, I’m a plate-cleaner and I know that I’m likely finish whatever I put on it. It’s important for me to start out with very small amounts of each side dish—maybe only two or three bites worth—so I can enjoy all of them. As Thanksgiving comes but once a year, don’t feel like you need to fill half your plate with vegetables. Instead, take a little of everything you’d like to eat, and don’t be afraid to be choosy; if you know you don’t like your aunt’s stuffing, don’t waste precious calories on it. Lastly, be sure you’re not overdoing it on the booze. Alcohol inhibits our ability to make good choices, and that that goes for food, too.
Pie Pie Pie!
Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for—dessert! We all know Thanksgiving is really just an excuse to eat three or four slices of pie in one day, right? Yet again, I’ll encourage you to enjoy a little of each dessert that you’d like, but keep those portions small. As in, a sliver of pie, not an eighth, or even a sixteenth, of the pie. Another nice option would be to pack up a small slice of one or two varieties to enjoy another day, when you aren’t uncomfortably full. I like to mix a little pumpkin or apple pie with plain yogurt and milk the next morning and blend it into a protein-packed smoothie!