Tips for a Healthier Thanksgiving

Elderly Mother & Daughter preparing a turkey

Whether heading over the river and through the woods, or staying home and hosting family and friends, Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful and celebrate the many gifts of family, friends, and health, even if that means having to endure Uncle Horace’s same corny jokes shared year after year or Grandpa’s loud chainsaw-like snoring at the table before dessert is served.  

Thanksgiving is the beginning of the holiday season’s whirlwind of gatherings, parties, and reunions. In recognition of this, we kick off our endless lists of holiday tasks, causing us to frenetically devise somewhat unrealistic schedules. We do this in hopes to meet out our idealistic expectations, all while neglecting ourselves and our healthy lifestyle.  

Putting healthy habits on the backburner during Thanksgiving and the subsequent holidays that follow can be a slippery slope, leading to regret, remorse, and unwanted weight gain come New Year’s Day.  

Here are some steps you can take toward having a healthier holiday season with your family that correlates with the greatest gift of all: good health. 

Thanksgiving Nutrition Tips

Thanksgiving, by tradition, focuses on meals, holiday treats, and other delectable goodies.  Being aware of healthy choices during food and meal preparation while partaking in celebrations can help you stay focused on maintaining healthy nutrition. 

  • Incorporate healthy substitute ingredients in your baking and cooking for better heart health. Instead of butter, use equal parts of cinnamon, no-sugar added applesauce in baking. Use lower calorie sugar substitutes, dried fruits, and extracts for flavor. Incorporate nut milks, or lower/ non-fat milk instead of heavy cream and whole milk. Utilize whole grain flour over white flour. Avoid butter by using vegetable or olive oil in cooking; incorporate herbs and spices in lieu of salt for flavor; use whole-grain pasta and bread; and bake, grill, or steam whole vegetables.
  • If you’re not hosting or cooking, bring a healthy dish to share. Doing so allows you to secure options if you choose to stick to a healthy meal plan during the celebration. It also allows you to expose others to healthier choices.
  • Maintain meal and snack schedules to avoid a sluggish metabolism. Skipping regular meals may compound your effort to stay on track, potentially causing over-indulgence in high calorie foods with no nutritional value.
  • Practice mindful eating. Make conscious food choices and keep tabs on what you are consuming, including the “hidden” yet abundant calories lurking in alcoholic beverages and appetizers.
  • Drink water. Combat the urge to over-indulge in pre-meal treats by drinking plenty of water instead.

Healthy Thanksgiving Dinner 101

When choosing foods, focus on healthy selections, including:

  • a palm-sized portion of lean protein (white meat turkey minus skin and gravy)
  • a colorful variety of whole vegetables and healthy sides (protein-packed quinoa or baked sweet potatoes with a drizzle of honey and cinnamon, for example)
  • kale, squash, green beans, or other steamed, baked, or roasted vegetables
  • fruit salad comprised of a multitude of fresh-cut whole varieties like seasonal pears and pineapple
  • A variety of salad greens interspersed with colorful, fresh vegetables like peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes drizzled with an oil-based dressing
  • Avoid fat-laden, high-calorie casseroles (like green bean casserole, mashed potatoes laced with butter, or macaroni and cheese), and fried foods
  • If you simply must have a certain dish, enjoy a small sample to extinguish cravings and to avoid an all-out binge session. Make a healthy food trade to balance your choice of indulgence.
  • Your plate should ideally consist of one-fourth lean protein and three-fourths colorful vegetables and fruits.
  • Using a smaller plate like a seven inch salad-sized plate can trick you visually into thinking you are eating more, helping you to avoid feeling deprived.
  • Don’t go back for seconds.
  • Close with a small dessert (a thin slice of pumpkin pie sans whipped or ice cream, for example) to round out your healthy Thanksgiving meal. 

Turkey Day Exercise Ideas

The American Heart Association (AHA) advises increasing physical activity throughout the holiday season to combat those extra calories and feelings of additional stress. 

Here are some activities you can enjoy with the family:

  • Take a walk post-celebration meal or gathering. Share favorite holiday memories while doing so.
  • Visit a local park or playground. Kids -- and adults -- can burn off energy on the equipment or take a nice relaxing walk along the trails.
  • Go to your local gym or Y and exercise together. Just 40 minutes of exercise releases beneficial endorphins the body requires to maintain good health.  
  • Take the party outside. After the meal, have a fun backyard game of flag football, volleyball, badminton, Frisbee, croquet, mini golf, or corn hole toss. Come up with a Turkey Day Olympics where kids and grownups are teamed together doing various sports to burn off energy and extra calories consumed.
  • Participate in a local Turkey Trot or 5K. Many of these events are specifically designed for participants of all ages and abilities to enjoy.
  • Enjoy a family bike ride through the neighborhood. Make sure kids and adults wear helmets and gloves. 

Minimize Stress

Thanksgiving and subsequent holidays bring a host of additional activities that can deplete your energy as well as elevate your stress level. You can keep stress at bay with some sound stress management practices as recommended by the AHA:

  • Plan ahead to better control time management
  • Take things step-by-step; focus on one thing at a time
  • Take time out for yourself to relax and unwind
  • Minimize worry and feelings of anxiety about small things
  • Get enough sleep – sleep quality greatly impacts heart health. The AHA recommends adults get six to eight hours of sleep per night. Try to get to bed earlier over the holidays to allow time to wind down, helping you fall asleep faster.

Talk with your Capital Women’s Care team about your concerns regarding maintaining you and your baby’s health throughout the holiday season.

Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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