Thanksgiving table full of food.

The Biggest Offenders on Your Thanksgiving Table

Maybe you enjoy Thanksgiving because it signifies the beginning of the holiday season, maybe you enjoy it because it brings the family together, or maybe you just love all the delicious food. No matter the reason, Americans’ affinity for Thanksgiving is widely held.

According to results from the Harris Poll®, Thanksgiving takes second place in Americans’ hearts as their favorite holiday, right behind Christmas. When asked what one food or dish they most look forward to eating during the holiday, turkey was the outstanding winner with more than three times the mentions of any other dish.

It’s no secret Thanksgiving provides a bountiful feast, which is the original basis of the gathering after all, but it doesn’t come without a bountiful calorie count as well. According to research from the Calorie Control Council, the average American may consume more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat during a typical holiday gathering. That’s 2 ¼ times the average daily recommended calorie intake and almost 3 ½ times the fat, which is equal to the amount of fat in three sticks of butter.

Some may argue that it’s a day to forget diets and splurge, but if you’re counting calories or just want to lighten up your holiday meal this year, we’ve nailed down the most popular holiday dishes and lighter alternatives to ensure that turkey trot doesn’t turn into a gobble wobble.

Top Offenders

Topping the chart of the biggest holiday offenders, desserts like pies and baked goods definitely take the cake, but Amy Goodson, a registered dietitian at Texas Health Sports Medicine Fort Worth, said what really makes these sweets a top offender is the fact that they outlive just Thanksgiving and become a seasonal treat.

“Many people don’t realize how high in calories seasonal breads are, like pumpkin bread, gingerbread, cinnamon rolls and the like,” Goodson said. “They eat them for breakfast the whole holiday and snack on them thinking they might be making a good choice when they’re really adding quite a few calories.”

Goodson suggested swapping out the oil you add to cakes or desserts and using pureed prunes or applesauce instead. Nix that traditional pastry crust for an oatmeal crust, or get rid of it altogether and make a crust-less pie with an oatmeal crumble topping. And instead of using a high-calorie icing or topping with cream cheese, try a light whipped topping.

Goodson also said that some of the biggest offenders are the items we use to accent the big bird in the middle of the table, like creamy gravies, biscuits or croissants, casseroles, and candied yams.

“In casserole dishes, try subbing Greek yogurt or low-fat sour cream for high-calorie creamy items,” Goodson said. “Try serving roasted sweet potatoes instead of the candied versions, swap one high-calorie carb item, like a casserole, for a veggie or fresh salad, and try using small whole wheat rolls as your bread option.”

Stay in Control

Even if you’re not quite ready to finagle with the cherished family candied yam recipe or simply want to enjoy your traditional meal without adding healthier alternatives, Goodson said there are still a few ways you can make sure you’re not tipping the gravy boat in the calorie department.

“As a dietitian, I always encourage people to eat a protein-rich breakfast the morning of so you are not ravenous and eating everything right when you get to the gathering,” she suggested. “And once your plate is empty, try waiting and talking to your family before you rush to get seconds. Give yourself about 15 to 20 minutes to reassess if you are really still hungry.”

Another tip she gave was keeping the “full-plate” mentality to Thanksgiving day and not carrying it over days after the fact. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy all those tasty leftovers, but Goodson suggested serving them up in smaller portions.

Goodson touted portion control as an important factor of getting through the entire holiday season, and not just Thanksgiving, without having to go to the next notch on your belt.

“Thanksgiving is a family holiday where food should be enjoyed and not restricted, but I am not sure Thanksgiving Day is the problem or really more the whole season of eating,” she said. “One day likely won’t break your caloric bank, but eating heavy, rich foods from November 1st through New Year’s Day will and that seems to be where more people get in trouble calorically speaking. Portion control at other gatherings and parties is essential to making sure you are not taking in more calories on a daily basis all season long.”

If you find yourself not rooting for team healthy substitutes or team portion control, Goodson had one last suggestion to keeping those calorie counts down this holiday season, and it might just become a new family tradition.

“Exercise is an awesome addition to Thanksgiving Day! Whether you run a local turkey trot race, go for a brisk jog before your big meal, or take a family walk between the meal and dessert or at the end of the day, moving will help counterbalance some of the extra calories you are consuming on the big day,” she said.

After all is said and done, Goodson recognized Thanksgiving Day for what it is — a time to share delicious food and great conversation with the ones you hold nearest and dearest to your heart — but a few tweaks can help ensure your gathering is a little lighter this year.

“At some point, it is Thanksgiving and you really just need to enjoy the day and eat what you want, but there are some healthy swaps you can make that most of your guests won’t even notice.”

Looking for more seasonal substitutes to make your Thanksgiving dinner a little healthier? Read our post “Eat This, Not That: Surviving Thanksgiving Dinner” for more ideas.

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