As you’re organizing your Thanksgiving menu, making your grocery lists and checking them twice, we wanted to offer some advice on how to “survive” the holiday that revolves entirely around food. Actually, when really when you think about it, this one day somehow turns into the start of a five-week free-for-all until it’s time for the New Year resolutions.
That said, Thanksgiving doesn’t mean your good nutrition habits have to suffer or go completely off track. The traditional elements of a Thanksgiving dinner, when paired together, can be a balanced—turkey, buttery green beans and sweet potatoes—but add the crusty bread, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, marshmallow salad and candied cranberries and things have quickly gotten out of control. With that in mind, below are some tips to keep in mind as you head out to, or host your own, feast.
1. No such thing as “saving room”
Please don’t skip eating all day before the big mea. That plan to “save room” always backfires. Imagine how hungry you’ll be once the appetizers come out. You’ll be tempted to eat everything in sight! Not just that, but not eating all day will cause your blood sugar to dip and make you cranky, which doesn’t make for a fun Thanksgiving. The best advice is to start your Thanksgiving Day with a balanced breakfast. Later, right before guests arrive or before you head out to the Thanksgiving meal, eat a balanced snack—such as a meatball for protein, ½ cup of carrots for the carbohydrate and olives for a fat—to ensure your blood sugar is stable and you’ll be less likely to have cravings and overeat.
2. Off limits
We suggest avoiding anything laden with sugar, refined flours and trans fats. All these artificial foods are very addicting and can be hard to resist once you’ve started. It’s not a lack of willpower that makes you reach for roll after roll; it’s your brain chemistry thrown off from all those artificial ingredients. Give your brain a break and know that certain things just have to be off limits.
3. Look for homemade
There are just so many hidden ingredients in store-bought foods. Try to avoid those processed goods (loaded with the hazardous trans fats, sugars and refined flours we mentioned above) and stick with the homemade items. At least you know homemade was crafted with real ingredients.
4. Bring your own
If you’re invited to a gathering, offer to bring a dish, the perfect opportunity to add some real food to the day’s events. You’ll know that if all else fails you’ll have your dish to snack on. For instance, swap out a Chex™ Mix appetizer for a variety of olives and nuts. Green, black, Kalamata and garlic-stuffed olives not only look festive, but they taste delicious. Bonus, the fats in the olives and nuts are healthy and sure to keep your blood sugar stable. Balanced blood sugar means clear thinking, vibrant moods and good energy. Bringing your own beverage to share also helps you avoid high-sugar drinks. Plus, staying hydrated helps curb cravings.
5. Balance your plate
We alluded to it earlier, but by balanced we mean consuming a quality protein, good fat (butter, avocado, nuts and olives for example) and healthy carbohydrates (mostly non-starchy vegetables) at every meal and snack. This trifecta is the optimal mix to help balance your blood sugar, keep your metabolism moving, your mood stable and give your body the nutrients it needs to function. Fortunately, when it comes to a Thanksgiving buffet, there are a lot of real food options to make balancing your plate easy.
For instance, turkey is a great protein. (A rule of thumb for protein serving size is to look for cuts of meat roughly the size of your palm.) With the protein covered, look for quality fats and carbs for the rest of your plate. Thanksgiving staples like green beans, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts are perfect options. Better yet, they’ve likely been cooked in butter giving you a quality fat as well. If they haven’t, grab a pat of butter and put it on top of any veggies you add to your plate.
One last piece of advice: don’t get mad at yourself! At the end of the day, Thanksgiving should be enjoyed with loved ones, not stressing about food. Mistakes happen. If you goofed on Thanksgiving, don’t give up on all healthy eating until 2020. The morning after Thanksgiving, get right back to your healthy habits and you'll be no worse for the wear.