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Family sitting around a table full of Thanksgiving food dishes

Healthy Ways to Fill Your Thanksgiving Plate

Ah, Thanksgiving, the food-feasting holiday. It’s when Grandma’s homemade noodles, creamy green bean casserole and Mom’s pecan pie can lure you into filling your plate with fat- and sugar-laden options that sabotage your efforts to eat healthfully during the holiday.

But filling your Thanksgiving plate for health doesn’t have to mean a sad plate of carrot sticks and a piece of white meat. OhioHealth dietitian Jenalee Richner, RD/LDN, shares some tips on how to enjoy your Thanksgiving feast without going overboard.

Don’t Starve Yourself

Saving all of your day’s calories for the Thanksgiving meal has the math of a good strategy. Unfortunately, sitting down to eat when you’re famished sets you up to gorge on anything and everything. Richner recommends eating a sensible breakfast and lunch (if dinner is your Thanksgiving meal). Make sure to include protein, which will help keep hunger at bay longer.

Use Moderation

Moderation is a mantra that won’t go away — because it works, especially when it comes to a meal like Thanksgiving. According to Richner, people don’t tend to gain weight during the holidays because of one meal. It’s when the high-fat and high-sugar foods of Thanksgiving make multiple appearances over the holiday season. Limit the holiday meals to the holiday. And on Thanksgiving Day when your favorites, like Grandma’s noodles, get passed around, limit yourself to a spoonful instead of a half-plate portion. Try to get the recommended portions for all of the food groups to make sure you’re still getting some fruits and veggies and to avoid over-eating high fat and carb foods.

Eat Mindfully

When you’re making some of the less healthy foods of Thanksgiving a once-in-a-while treat, take time to savor them. Eat slowly, noticing the flavors and textures that tickle your taste buds. And — this may be the hard part — stop eating just shy of feeling full. Yes, even if that means leaving some on your plate. You’ll have enjoyed one of your favorite foods without wishing you had on stretch pants.

Make Smart Substitutions

Richner says there are easy ways to trim fat and sugar in some of your favorite Thanksgiving foods. And there’s a good chance you’ll be pleasantly surprised that you don’t even miss the decadent version. There are easy fixes. Start with replacing the brown-sugared, marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole. Bake sweet potatoes, and mash them with cinnamon and vanilla, which lets their natural sweetness come through. Roast vegetables such as Brussel sprouts and green beans with heart-healthy olive oil, and rely on herbs and spices to boost flavor. If creamed versions of vegetables are a must, opt for low-fat cream soup rather than the full-fat version.

There are also many options when it comes to substitutions in baking and cooking. Instead of butter, try avocados, and instead of sugar, use stevia. All of these little baking substitutions can add up to removing lots of calories from your baked goods. For cooking, there are plenty of healthier alternatives, too. Riced cauliflower is a great option instead of rice, and maybe you’ve already tried veggie noodles as a healthier alternative to pasta.

Make Small Changes

Don’t stir up a family feud by changing the whole menu. Save the favorites and try new, healthier options for those things that people are more lukewarm to. If someone has a less healthy option they insist on having, let them make and bring it.

Whatever strategies you use, small changes can add up to making a big difference.

Looking for some inspiration? Check out these healthy Thanksgiving side dishes!