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Moderation and creativity hold key to happy, healthy Thanksgiving

Photo of healthy Thanksgiving dinner
UTHealth nutritionist reveals ways to cut back on calories without compromising on taste at Thanksgiving. PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images.

HOUSTON – (Nov. 20, 2018) – The temptation to overindulge at Thanksgiving is immense, but before going overboard, it’s worth pausing and remembering you can eat, drink, and be merry – as well as healthy – over the holiday season.

A mixture of party invites, big family meals, and time spent relaxing at home can make a perfect recipe for piling on the pounds, despite the best intentions. That’s why Shannon Weston, MPH, RD, nutritionist supervisor at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health, is giving advice on how to cut back on calories without compromising on taste.

“Thanksgiving is a special day to spend time with family and friends around good food. I encourage people to just enjoy the day and savor the meal,” Weston said. “However, some people are interested in how to cook healthy meals during the holidays and ideas to prevent overeating that they can use during Thanksgiving and other holiday meals.” 

Weston shares her Top 10 tips: 

  • Start small

“Food at Thanksgiving is more of a marathon than a sprint, so be mindful of what you consume before you even sit down for dinner. Calories from chips and dips or that meat and cheese platter adds a lot of calories prior to the main meal,” Weston said. “Make sure you eat a sensible breakfast on the day of Thanksgiving so you are not starving and tempted to overeat. Breakfast should be a good source of protein to stabilize hunger levels. And if you want to snack before the meal opt for lighter options like fruit or vegetables with dip, such as hummus.”

  • Get fruity with beverages

“Pass on sugary beverages like apple cider and sweet tea and try a club soda with a splash of lime or cranberry juice. Alcohol is another calorie pitfall, which can increase your appetite in the short-term,” Weston said. “So try to stick to one or two drinks throughout the night and stay hydrated with plenty of water. Adding orange or lemon slices, frozen strawberries, or raspberries to a pitcher of water is an elegant and flavorful way to hydrate.”

  • Go skin-free

“Skipping the skin on your turkey reduces calorie and saturated fat content. Ensuring the meat is succulent should make this a little easier. Brining the turkey supports extra moisture absorption, which will help it stay juicy both during and after cooking,” Weston said.

  • Great stuff

“Boxed stuffing can be uninspiring and unhealthy, so try making your own. Sneak some extra fruits and vegetables into your recipe, such as mushrooms, onions, shallots, bell peppers, and chopped apples or pears,” Weston said. “Opting for whole wheat bread and incorporating whole grains like barley and quinoa will make it even more wholesome.”

  • Slim your spuds

“Leaving the potatoes in their skins for your mash not only saves time and effort, but also boosts the fiber content of this favorite dish. To reduce calorie content, try mixing half mashed potatoes with steamed cauliflower,” Weston said. “Switching whole milk for one percent or low-fat buttermilk will help keep the fat content in check. If you want to add butter, whipped butter is another lighter option, and instead of seasoning with salt, why not spice things up with fresh herbs and spices such as garlic or chives?”

  • Sweet perfect sauce

“Canned cranberry sauce should be considered a dessert because of its high sugar content. Making a homemade version with real cranberries will help you get in the holiday spirit and save calories in the process,” Weston said. “If you have fresh cranberries, maple syrup, a fresh orange for zesting, and fresh thyme, simply throw them all together, stir over heat, and it’s ready.”

  • Beautiful beans

“Green bean casserole is another traditional delight, which can also be pretty calorific. Instead of sautéing your beans (fresh or frozen) in oil, steam them,” Weston said. “Before whipping up your cream of mushroom soup to add, try sautéed mushrooms, onions, and shallots instead. That will save you adding fried onions on top, so go for some healthier toasted slivered almonds.”

  • Yummy yams

“You can reduce the sugar content by replacing maple syrup and marshmallows with a sprinkle of brown sugar and chopped pecans,” Weston said. “Alternatively, a more savory option that spares you the sugar overload is baked sweet potatoes.”

  • Go easy on gravy

“Making gravy with turkey runoff may be traditional, but it will make a huge dent in your daily calorie intake, so pour sparingly if you must. You could also give this recipe a wide berth in favor of a fat-free turkey broth,” Weston said. “In a saucepan, sauté onion, mushrooms, and parsley in broth of choice until vegetables are tender. Combine cornstarch, pepper, more broth, and stir until smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.”

  • Crust us on this

“For pumpkin pie, not eating the crust is a big calorie saver. Or, if you’re making your own, consider using cinnamon graham crackers as opposed to pastry. Another option is avoiding the crust altogether by making pumpkin pudding with canned pumpkin, light yogurt, and a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg,” Weston said. “As for toppings, ice cream is a major diet downfall, so remember frozen yogurt or whipped cream can also be tasty.”

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