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10 Tips for a Healthier, Happier Thanksgiving

10 Tips for a Healthier, Happier Thanksgiving

Health-conscious folks who want to eat better this Thanksgiving don't need to make too many major changes to their menu. You can have a lighter Thanksgiving meal without sacrificing taste or variety. Here are ten tips for a healthier – and tastier – Thanksgiving dinner.

1. Prepare The Menu In Advance

Don't grab a frozen turkey, canned veggies and a pumpkin pie from the supermarket at the last minute and call it a Thanksgiving dinner. We're all busy this time of year, but an hour of planning can turn a ho-hum Thanksgiving meal into something special. Before shopping this weekend or early next week, do a little research on healthy new sides or desserts to add to the menu. There are many easy to prepare side dishes that won't take you away from your turkey-basting or guest-greeting duties. Check out the database at or ask friends and family to share some of their favorite recipes.

2. Cook a Better Bird

Your family can still eat a traditional Thanksgiving turkey and eat healthy.  Instead of  going all-veggie, or replacing turkey with a non-traditional main dish. Buy an organic, pasture raised turkey from a local farm. Organic turkey costs more, and is hard to find in certain regions, but it's well worth it. Regular supermarket turkey has been shown to contain campylobacter or salmonella bacteria similar to what's found in supermarket chicken.

Once you've chosen your turkey, remember to place it upside down the first hour it's in the oven. This allows the juices to run freely and the turkey will baste itself. Truss the turkey's legs loosely or not at all. A tightly trussed turkey causes the breast to be overdone, while the legs take much longer to cook.

3. Prevent Family Squabbles

Despite our best efforts, the holiday dinner table sometimes resembles a verbal battlefield. Keep your Thanksgiving peaceful by following these tips:

  • Guide the dinner table conversation to prevent discussions from straying into volatile areas. Introduce fun subjects including movies, TV shows, sports teams and music. Invite guests to discuss positive subjects like their happiest holiday memory or a great vacation.
  • Seat relatives who are constantly at odds during family gatherings at opposite ends of the table. Put combative guests next to friendly, chatty people who will keep them engaged and less likely to pick a fight. Ask impatient guests to help with chores so time passes more quickly for them.  They don't necessarily have to help with meal preparation; they can set the table or choose music to play for after-dinner entertainment.
  • If any of your guests are foodies who criticize your cooking or recipe selection, contact them before Thanksgiving and ask them to bring one of their favorite dishes. Let all guests know they're free to bring a favorite dessert, bottle of wine or side.
  • Keep kids entertained with DVDs, Blu-Rays and board games. They'll probably spend most of their time away from the table (and even at the table) on their Smartphones, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared. Set up a child care schedule for younger children. Give adults kid-watching shifts to make sure toddlers are supervised at all times.  

4. Find New, Healthy Side Recipes

Green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, and corn are your basic side dishes. Along with salad and rolls, they surround the turkey on the Thanksgiving table. But why serve the same sides every Thanksgiving? Get creative with veggies, rice, grains and fruit. Here are a few news sides to try:

Oven-roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon combine a healthy but lesser utilized vegetable (Brussels sprouts) and a not-so-healthy fan favorite (bacon). Roast Brussels Sprouts and  bacon slices cut into one inch pieces and roast in the oven until they are golden brown.

Dress up  baby carrots with brown sugar and butter to make low-calorie Maple Dill Carrots take only 20 minutes to prepare, and a single serving only has 117 calories.

Try Roasted Butternut Squash Rissoto for a different starchy side dish. This delicious combination of short-grained brown rice, butternut squash, sage and Parmesan Cheese is soy, gluten and nut-free.

By offering a variety of side dishes, you‘ll please even the pickiest eaters and give guests a few pleasant surprises.

5. Cut Down on Alcohol Consumption

Stock up on sparkling water, and learn how to make more white wine spritzers and Bloody Marys, and forego high-sugar concoctions like pina coladas, frozen daiquiris, and rum and Cokes. Choose light-colored alcohol over dark-colored alcohol to reduce the likelihood of hangovers if you imbibe too much.

6. Make Ingredient Substitutions

Replace sugar, salt, white flour and butter with low-calorie options, or at least reduce the amount you use during cooking.  Avoid using too much sugar, salt or butter at the table.

Don't smother sweet potatoes in sugar, brown sugar or butter. A pat of butter or teaspoon of sugar will do – sweet potatoes are nutritious and naturally taste great. A medium sweet potato has 214% of the daily recommended value of Vitamin A, 50% of the DRV of manganese, and 34%, and 35% of the DRV of Vitamin B5 and B6, respectively.

Instead of eating cheap rolls made with refined flour, buy whole-grain rolls or make your own rolls. These Honey Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls are made with rolled oats, honey, whole-wheat flour and regular flour.

7. Prepare a Healthy Plate

Your Thanksgiving plate should follow the same basic nutritional rules as the USDA MyPlate recommendations.

Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits. Green beans, corn and salad are a start, but real cranberry sauce (not the jellied blob from a can) baked pears, or fruit salad are alternatives. Cook your own fruit and vegetable side dishes at home to ensure they're low on sugar, salt and preservatives.

A quarter of your plate should consist of starches. Sweet potatoes, rice pilaf, mashed potatoes (made from the real thing) and stuffing are a few examples of Thanksgiving starches. Avoid overloading on starches, and eat more veggies, turkey and cranberries.

A quarter of your Thanksgiving plate should be protein - aka turkey! Turkey has plenty of nutrients, including B-complex vitamins, zinc, iron, and potassium. To save calories, eat white meat and remove the skin. Make your own gravy at home – packaged gravy may have up to 750 milligrams of sodium, compared to 14 mgs of sodium and 25 calories for homemade gravy. 

8. Choose Bakery or Homemade Pies Over Frozen

You don't need to skimp on dessert to have a healthier Thanksgiving. Buy fresh pies from a bakery or make your own to avoid excess sugar, salt and preservatives. Here's a recipe from Diabetic Living Online for pumpkin pie – one slice of this pie has 196 calories and 108 mg sodium. A slice of Mrs. Smith's Original Flaky Crust Pumpkin Pie has 300 calories and 350 mg sodium.

Store-bought pumpkin pie, even with whipped cream, has fewer calories than apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. If you prefer apple pie, ask Grandma for her recipe – it's probably lower in calories than a frozen apple pie.

9. Buy Fresh Cranberries for Fewer Calories and More Health Benefits

Canned cranberries may have added sugars and preservatives. A serving of Ocean Spray jellied cranberries has 110 calories. A half cup of fresh cranberries has 25 calories.  fight urinary tract infections (UTIs), cardiovascular disease and contain proanthocyanidins to prevent bacteria from damaging teeth and gums. You'll may need to follow that second helping of pumpkin or apple pie with cranberry sauce if it will be awhile before you can brush your teeth.

10. Serve Dark Chocolate and Mixed Nuts as Pre or Post-Dinner Munchies

Offer unsalted, mixed nuts or dark chocolate for guests to snack on while waiting for dinner instead of hard candy or salted nut mixes. Nuts contain Vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, phosphorous and monounsaturated fat, and copper. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids and polyphenols, antioxidants that prevent inflammation and keep you healthy. Dark chocolate contains fewer calories and less sugar than milk chocolate, but  it's no diet food. Choose dark chocolate with 70% cacao content for the most health benefits.

You can eat as much as you want this Thanksgiving without gaining weight or interfering with your daily good eating routine. Add veggie side dishes, cut down on sugar, salt, refined flour and butter when preparing or buying food, and reduce alcohol consumption for a healthier, happier Thanksgiving.