Planning a Healthy Thanksgiving

Source: Nourish Healthy Kids Nutrition E-Newsletter
Written by Anne Kolker, MS, Registered Dietitian

The beginning of school seems long ago and suddenly it is November. Fall is a wonderful time to gather with family and friends. It is also a time when busy parents tend to get even busier. So many more things are added onto your plate including what to cook, how to avoid overeating at Thanksgiving and whose house will host Thanksgiving this year. Ahhh, ‘tis the season’.

We want to help your family enjoy a fun and healthy Thanksgiving with these easy and helpful family planning tips and ideas. This family nutrition article features tips on controlling portions and calories, keeping the family active, and cooking kid-friendly recipes.

Simplifying Thanksgiving – Planning Tips for Busy Parents

Thanksgiving is a special time for family and friends to gather together, enjoy seasonal foods and appreciate things we are grateful for. Thanksgiving and the holiday season is also a busy time for parents with the emphasis on food preparation and eating! Throw in the added holiday stress and it can be a challenge to keep up with good nutrition, calorie management and being active. With a little planning, you can take steps to create a healthy and fun holiday season with less stress! Ready to get started?

Thanksgiving food planning tips:

  • Take time to plan your meal – planning ahead can save time and be less stressful
  • Simplify your menu – less thanksgiving dishes and desserts means less to prepare and less to clean up!
  • Make a shopping list – download our printable thanksgiving shopping list guide
  • Shop early – look for bargains on nonperishable foods
  • Make it a potluck – save time and have family and friends help with some of their favorite healthy side dishes
  • Prepare some foods in advance – appetizers and desserts can be prepared in advance, reducing your “to do” list closer to the holiday
  • Reduce your “To Do” list – prioritize to create time for rest, fun and being active

Thanksgiving Healthy Recipes:

Get kids involved in Thanksgiving planning and cooking

Most young children enjoy being a ‘helper’ and its a fun way to spend time together. They also enjoy cooking and will be proud to share the healthy dish they helped prepare for Thanksgiving. As you prepare for Thanksgiving you can use this time to get kids involved and teach them about new foods and healthy eating. There are plenty of ways to get kids involved. Kids can:

  • help come up with the menu
  • find items on the grocery list
  • find different colored seasonal vegetables
  • wash vegetables and fruits
  • help measure and mix ingredients
  • add fresh fruits and vegetables to platters
  • make cute Thanksgiving decorations
  • set the table

Quick Thanksgiving nutrition facts and tips to keep your family healthy

This holiday season is a great time to take steps to keep your family healthy. Kids are developing their habits through the daily experiences. Since Thanksgiving is the kick off for the holiday season, demonstrate healthy holiday habits. This Thanksgiving you can teach the kids how to prepare for Thanksgiving by making healthy choices.

  • Don’t forget breakfast. Start the morning with a healthy pumpkin smoothie.
  • Don’t starve. Avoid trying to save your appetite for dinner or you will tend to overeat.
  • Cook with natural ingredients. The first Thanksgiving celebrated in 1621 had no processed foods and no access to sugar
  • Shop smart. Buy fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables for a better price such as squash, carrots, turnips, and pumpkins.
  • Go for Veggies! Cook healthier, low calorie seasonal vegetables for a nutrient packed meal.
  • Cook healthy. Look for healthier substitutes for your recipes by substituting whole grains and low fat items whenever possible. See our list of Healthy Thanksgiving Recipe Substitutions.
  • Think out of the box! Consider fish or a vegetarian meal for your main entrée.
  • Start the festivities with healthy choices. Offer some tasty and healthy appetizers with low fat dips to keep the calories down!
  • Use low fat creams for soups and desserts.
  • Get moving! After dinner, get the family active with fun indoor or outdoor activities.
  • Don’t beat yourself up! If you feel like your family forgot their healthy habits, then just get the family back on the healthy track.

Tips on Thanksgiving Portion Control – Avoiding overeating

The average person will eat about 4500 calories on Thanksgiving Day! With so many delicious foods and the excitement of the holiday it is easy to get carried away and over eat. But with a few portion control tips, you can eat less and teach your children to eat sensibly, even during the holidays.

  • Think small – serve in smaller serving dishes to encourage smaller portions
  • Use smaller plates and bowls to help portion control
  • Plan for leftovers to reduce the chance of over-eating- you’ll save time on future meal preparation too!
  • Make a low fat vegetable based soup as a starter
  • Limit starches such as potatoes, stuffing, and rolls, instead fill your plate with more vegetables
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid seconds. If you can’t resist the second helping, focus on refilling your plate with vegetables and other lower calorie choices
  • Enjoy desserts however, slice your pie into 16 slices and use nonfat whipped cream.
  • Use small plates or tea cups to reduce portion size when serving the desserts

The Thanksgiving holiday can be the start of a hectic holiday season. We get into such a rush that we might be tempted to throw all our healthy habits out the window. But it can also be a time to take steps to simplify, slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures of family. It can be a time when the whole family can remember to be thankful for healthy foods and a healthy family. And isn’t being thankful about our blessings what this holiday is really about. We hope you have a wonderful, enjoyable and healthy Thanksgiving. (Written on: November 2009, Last updated: November 2010)

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