A nutritionist reveals how to make your Thanksgiving meal healthier without sacrificing the good stuff

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Flickr/Selena N. B. H.

Thanksgiving, for many, is the time of year to enjoy the foods that are part of family traditions and memories.

But the holiday season can also be a time people worry about weight gain.

To get professional tips on how to enjoy Thanksgiving while keeping up with a healthy eating regimen, we turned to Lisa Sasson, a New York University nutrition professor who’s researched successful dieting strategies.

Here’s her advice for making the healthiest – but still delicious – choices on Thanksgiving Day.


Come hungry, but not starving.

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Eating breakfast ahead of the big meal is key.
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Shutterstock

It may seem like a good idea to save your appetite for the main event, but Sasson warned against showing up ravenous for Thanksgiving dinner. When you’re that hungry, your willpower tends to disappear, and you’re likely to eat whatever’s in sight.

Instead, Sasson suggested, eat a satisfying snack before starting your Thanksgiving festivities. Nuts, yogurt, a salad with avocado, or eggs are all good options to consider during the morning before the meal.


Keep your appetizers light.

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Flickr/Jason Meredith

Instead of filling up on heavy appetizers, go for the lighter fare, such as fresh veggies, salads, chips and salsa, or a vegetable-based soup like butternut squash soup.


Make sure your plate is colorful and full of veggies.

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Flickr/Selena N. B. H.

A good rule for filling up your plate at any kind of buffet or large meal, Sasson said, is to go heavy on the vegetables. If you can, choose an array of fresh, grilled, or roasted vegetables like beets, carrots, Brussels sprouts, or cauliflower.

Turkey can also be a healthy part of the Thanksgiving meal, especially if you avoid the skin.


Keep starchy veggies to the size of an ice cream scoop.

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Daniel Goodman/Business Insider

Although it might be tempting to load your plate with mashed or sweet potatoes, try to limit the starch-heavy vegetables so you can leave room for more nutrient-dense items.


Avoid heavy traditional recipes when you can.

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April Walloga

Many classic Thanksgiving recipes feature hefty amounts of added sugar and cream. Sasson advised that people avoid them if possible, or try out a lighter recipe if you’re the one cooking.

Easy adjustments involve adding more vegetables to your stuffing, using milk instead of heavy cream, and plopping fewer marshmallows or brown sugar bits on top of your sweet potatoes.


If you’re not hosting, offer to bring a healthy dish that you enjoy.

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summerrayne.net

If you’re not cooking, Sasson said, “bring what you want to eat.” Consider showing up with a plate of roasted vegetables or a winter fruit salad.


Try not to drink your calories.

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pgoyette/flickr

It might be tempting to sip on cider or wine throughout the meal. But if you’re looking to trim excess calories, limit the amount of sugary or alcoholic beverages you consume. Try having one glass of cider, for example, and sipping on water or seltzer during the rest of the meal.


Make desserts less crusty.

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browniesfordinner/Flickr

It’s Thanksgiving, so there will likely be pumpkin pie at your meal. Here’s Sasson’s tip for making (or eating) a bit healthier at dessert: If you’re baking, try cutting down the pie crust so that it’s all about the filling.

For example, an apple cobbler with a crumble on top still gives all the apple goodness with less processed carbohydrates. Though it’s never advisable to waste food, you could also consider leaving the crust behind if you’re not cooking any of the desserts.


After the meal, move around.

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star5112/Flickr Creative Commons

Once you’ve finished eating, consider taking a refreshing stroll outside or playing a game of football in the yard. If you live or are staying nearby, you could also walk or take public transport home.


Whatever happens, enjoy the holiday.

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Didriks/flickr

The important thing is to have a good time with family and friends. As far as eating goes, it’s important to enjoy the holiday since it’s just one day of the year, Sasson said. That just might mean being more mindful about what you eat on Friday or over the weekend.