7 Tips for a Delicious and Nutritious Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving dinner is a time for family, food, friends and more food. But don’t let anyone fool you—Thanksgiving feasts can also be an extraordinary boost for both your health and spirit. A time where we not only give thanks to our loved ones, but an opportunity to give thanks to ourselves, rewarding the body with what it deserves: delicious and nutritious foods.
Three local nutritionists Santa Barbara County all agree that there is no reason to deprive yourself on this joyous day. However, if you’ve been following a strict dietary regimen, are trying to attain certain objectives, or are striving to continue the healthy progress you’ve made, these tips from the pros can help you achieve your goals while still satisfying your Thanksgiving cravings.
Tips for guests attending a Thanksgiving gathering
Bring your own dish: Ask your host if it’s okay to bring a dish to share with others. “Bring something that you know you can eat a lot of and feel good about,” says Dr. Dale Figtree, a local health practitioner. Many traditional dishes can be altered to fit dietary needs such as no-meat, gluten-free, and low-sugar, and these recipes can be easily found online.
Control your portions: A good rule of thumb is to aim for half a plate of vegetables, a quarter-plate of complex carbohydrates, and a quarter-plate of meat or other protein sources according to Jenifer Gaffaney, director of the Department of Diabetes Education and Outreach at the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute. “I’m a firm believer in enjoying foods throughout the holidays in a sensible way,” says Gaffaney. “Prioritize what your favorite things are and what things you’re willing to let go of or modify.”
Don’t drink your calories: “Forego sugary beverages,” says Gaffaney. Instead of soda or ciders, opt for water with lemon slices or tea. This is an easy way to cut out a big part of your sugar content. Alcoholic beverages can be packed with carbs and calories, so try to aim for wines and light beers since they typically contain less. If you prefer a cocktail, mix your favorite liquor with soda water and fresh lime.
Sports nutritionist Joanne Bolduc advises that, if drinking, do so in moderation. Bolduc recommends enjoying one glass and then, if continuing, half-glasses thereafter to better monitor your intake.
Be conservative with desserts: Pie slices magically get bigger on Thanksgiving. Be mindful of your dessert portion and know that a little bit can go a long way. “A small piece that you really savor can be completely satisfying,” says Figtree.
And don’t worry about having to choose. Bolduc suggests that if you’re craving a few of your favorite desserts, don’t be hesitant to taste them all. “If you love three pies, have a sliver of each, but make it into one piece of pie. Don’t have a piece of each one,” she explains.
Tips for hosts of a Thanksgiving gathering
Offer a variety: Keep in mind that guests may have special needs, such as those with diabetes or who may be at risk of diabetes. Others may also be vegetarians, vegans, or on gluten-free diet. Try to offer dishes that cater to a diverse group of people. For a savory sample, check out Dr. Figtree’s Holiday Dinner Menu to get the creative juices simmering.
Get creative with substitutions: Here are a few of the many substitutions our nutrition pros suggest:
- Add cauliflower to your mashed potatoes to reduce carbohydrates
- Use less butter in mashed potatoes, and add broth for more flavor
- Substitute unsweetened applesauce for oil or butter when baking
- Cut sugar in half without greatly affecting the quality of the product
- Reduce salt in your dishes and have guests salt to taste
- Make your own whipped cream to control how much sugar is in it and add vanilla for additional flavor
Host family activities: Take a walk in between courses or set up family games that keep everyone moving. “Walking is a good way to burn calories, get outside, spend time with family, and control blood sugar,” explains Gaffaney. In fact, a walk can lower your blood sugar by 50 points. “Physical activity together is a good way to get our minds off the food aspect, helps us focus on relationships, and aids in digestion, making room for the next course,” she adds.
Eating healthy on Thanksgiving does not mean you have to deprive yourself of tasty favorites. It simply requires being mindful of what you bring to the table and put on your plate. Enjoy the start of the holiday season by giving thanks to all that you love and by nourishing yourself with truly good food. Putting it in perspective, Figtree reminds, “When we give thanks, a big part of it is for what the earth provides for us in its most pristine form—which is high in nutrients, easy to digest, energizing and delicious.”
Dr. Dale Figtree, a local nutritional health practitioner and author of, Eat Smart, A Smarter Choice for Healthier Kids and Beyond Cancer Treatment – Clearing and Healing the Underlying Causes, as well as the video, The Joy of Nutrition.
Joanne Bolduc has a Master’s of Science in Holistic Nutrition, is certified in Sports Nutrition, and counsels individuals on dietary changes to best achieve health and wellness.
Jenifer Gaffaney, MS, RD, CDE, is the director of the Department of Diabetes Education and Outreach at the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute and is also the coeditor of the cookbook, Eat Well with Diabetes.