Updated: Nov 26, 2019
Thanksgiving, like many holidays, lends itself to lots of food. The tradition of Thanksgiving began with a feast and the feast is the tradition that continues. However, the meaning behind Thanksgiving is to be thankful for the food that we have. Despite popular belief, Thanksgiving is not about overfilling ourselves. It is possible to make it through Thanksgiving dinner without feeling as stuffed as the turkey. Fill your plate with good food, appreciate the good company, and be thankful for your life as it is.
Examine your options
For a well-balanced and healthy Thanksgiving, use the MyPlate method to fill your plate. Half of the plate is fruits and vegetables; one quarter of the plate is lean protein; and the last quarter of the plate is starch. Before even filling your plate, examine your options. Which foods are mostly vegetables; which are starch; where is the protein? What foods are highest in fat? Which foods are your absolute favorites? Which foods do you only have once per year that you have been dreaming about eating again? Which foods, if any, could you live without eating this Thanksgiving? Make some choices before serving yourself. Keep in mind that you do not need to deprive yourself of your favorite foods to stay healthy.
Fill your plate in order
Vegetables. Choose your vegetables first. Examples include lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, carrots, beets…. Vegetables are high in a variety of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber and water. They give us a larger nutrient-packed volume of food for a relatively lower amount of calories. Be cautious of vegetables already covered in gravy and butter sauces. Those dishes will be higher in fat, calories, and sodium.
Protein. Choose your protein second. Turkey is going to leaner and contain less sodium than ham. If your family makes both, choose turkey. Choose a skinless piece because it contains less saturated artery-clogging fat.
Starch. Choose your starch portion last. Examples include mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn, winter squash, and noodles. Starchy foods often get a bad rap and are accused of being a "bad food." Starch and carbohydrates are actually the most important energy source as it is our body's primary energy source. However, because we tend to overdo it on the portion sizes of these foods anyways, it's a good idea to serve this part last.
Fat & Sauces. Be careful about how much added fat you add onto your plate. The recommendation for a well-balanced diet is to have not much more than 30% of your total calories from fat. With fat being the most calorie dense energy source, you're able to reach that goal without much effort.
Weight loss and weight gain comes down to the fine balance of calories coming in versus calories going out. One of the easiest ways to take in more calories at Thanksgiving is to eat more food. If weight gain is not your goal, stop at the first helping of food. Resist the urge though to overcrowd your plate on the first fill too (been there, done that). When you serve yourself larger portions, you are more likely to eat larger amounts of food. If the plate has a rim to it, don't fill you plate past that rim.
Eat slowly and with all of your senses
Now that the plate is full with delicious nutritious Thanksgiving foods, resist the urge to wolf it down. Thanksgiving is not a race to see who can eat the fastest. It's about being grateful for the meal in front of you and the people around you.
To avoid that uncomfortably full feeling that everybody "loves," slow down your meal time.
It takes on average 27 minutes for your brain to receive the signal from your stomach that you are satisfied. By slowing down your meal time, you can reach that pleasantly satisfied feeling with an even smaller portion of food. Tricks for slowing down your meal time include counting your chews (at least 20 times before swallowing), putting your fork down between bites and not picking it up again until after you've swallowed, paying attention to the clock and aim to have only half the meal eaten by the 15 minute mark; and cutting your food into very small bites.
Slowing down not only helps you to be able to pay attention to how you're feeling, but it helps you pay attention to the food, making the meal that much more satisfying. Food is a beautiful thing-- it's somewhere between an art and science. Use all of your senses to get in the full experience of eating and "feed" those senses with awareness. Feed your eyes by paying attention to the colors, shapes, and textures. Feed your sense of smell by actually smelling your food before eating it. Pay attention to how the food feels and how it sounds as you chew it. Is it soft, crunchy, smooth, tender or chewy? How does the food change from the first chew to the last chew? "Feed" your sense of taste with increased awareness. How does the food taste? Is it creamy, savory, sweet, salty, earthy, or somewhere in-between? If you can't write an entire paragraph about the experience of eating, you haven't tasted your meal well enough. Slow down, savor the meal, and be grateful for every bite.
Use this 3-Step Method for Holiday Feasts
Examine your options.
Fill your plate in order. Fill your plate once.
Eat slowly and use all of your senses.