How Well Do You Know Your Thanksgiving Portions?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  56 comments   :  55,307 Views

Thanksgiving is coming, and let's be real: You're probably going to eat more than you normally would, and you may or may not track it. Different people take different approaches to the Thanksgiving meal. Some take a little of everything, while others just pick a few favorites to indulge in. But which is the best strategy when you're watching your weight? Here's a scenario comparing two different Thanksgiving plates.

Uncle Bob loves Thanksgiving food and wants to taste it all at least once, so he takes some of everything: Turkey, gravy, stuffing, two types of potatoes, and, of course, green bean casserole. He even saves room for a little bit of Grandma Mildred's famous pumpkin pie for dessert. Here's what Bob's plate looks like:

6 ounces turkey (white meat, with skin)
1 cup mashed potatoes
1/2 cup green bean casserole
1 cup sweet potato casserole
1/2 cup turkey gravy
1 dinner roll
2 pats butter
1/2 cup stuffing
1/4 cup cranberry sauce
½ a slice pumpkin pie

Grandpa George, on the other hand, is a no-frills kind of guy and likes to stick with the basics. Since he's watching his weight, he skips the butter and gravy. He even passes up on dessert! Here's what George's plate looks like:

6 ounces turkey (dark meat, with skin)
1.5 cups mashed potatoes
2 dinner rolls
1 cup stuffing
1 cup cranberry sauce
1 cup green bean casserole
Between Bob and George, who consumed the least amount of calories during the Thanksgiving feast? (No cheating by checking your Food Tracker—Make your best guess!)
The Winner: Uncle Bob!
Although Bob piled a lot more different foods on his plate (and even indulged in butter, gravy, and pie), his plate clocks in with fewer calories than George's. Let's check out the calorie breakdown between the two:

Bob George
6 ounces turkey (white meat, with skin): 214 calories, 6 g fat 6 ounces turkey (dark meat, with skin): 310 calories, 12 g fat
1 cup mashed potatoes: 162 calories, 1 g fat 1.5 cups mashed potatoes: 243 calories, 1.5 g fat
1/2 cup green bean casserole: 148 calories, 8 g fat 1 cup green bean casserole: 296 calories, 16 g fat
1 dinner roll: 84 calories, 2 g fat 2 dinner rolls: 168 calories, 4 g fat
1/2 cup stuffing: 178 calories, 9 g fat 1 cup stuffing: 356 calories, 18 g fat
1/4 cup cranberry sauce: 110 calories, 0 g fat 1 cup cranberry sauce: 440 calories, 0 g fat
1 cup sweet potato casserole: 235 calories, 11 g fat  
½ a slice pumpkin pie: 140 calories, 6 g fat  
2 pats butter: 72 calories, 8 g fat  
1/2 cup turkey gravy: 61 calories, 3 g fat  
=1,404 calories, 54 g fat =1,813 calories, 51.5 g fat

Notice the difference? For one thing, George chose dark meat for his main course, which tends to be higher in calories and fat than the white meat of the turkey. But more importantly, many of George's portion sizes were double the size of Bob's! So even though George skipped out on some of the fattening extras, he still didn't do himself any favors by overcompensating for what he left off his plate. He had a good strategy to just stick to a few favorites—he just failed to eyeball the correct portion sizes. Check out the cranberry sauce alone: A proper serving size is ¼ cup. George took four times that amount, and those calories added up fast from all the sugar (84 grams in a cup!).

Of course, both gentlemen could have done a better job making healthier choices. But the reality is that a typical Thanksgiving meal adds up to over a thousand calories for many people. The bottom line is that, as long as you practice proper portion control, you can still enjoy your favorites, whether you try everything on the table or just a few special dishes.

Want to slim down your plate? Review the portion guide below before the big day. Note that these are standard-sized portions, so if you want to take Bob's strategy and try a little bit of everything, you might want to cut these portions in half so the calories don't add up as quickly. If you're like George and only pick a few favorites, stick with these portion sizes—and try to resist going back for seconds!

Don't forget to Pin and Share this guide to save for later! Want to put your knowledge to the test? Take this holiday calories quiz and see how you fare! For more healthy holiday eating tips, check out SparkPeople's Healthy Holiday Survival Guide.

Do you suffer from portion distortion? What's your strategy for eating during the holidays?

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  • 56
    Give yourself a pat on the back for making positive lifestyle changes. - 5/2/2017   1:25:41 AM
  • 55
    We normally don't even have so many choices in the first place, but it's one day and we enjoy what we have, no whining about "how many calories"? and so forth. - 11/17/2014   2:56:54 PM
  • 54
    Wish I could print this. I don't pin. - 11/17/2014   11:20:46 AM
  • 53
    A couple of years ago, we stared looking for lighter versions of many holiday staples. I use fresh cranberries and make my own sauce, that way I can control the amount or sugar, plus my recipe uses orange juice and zest for a nice twist. I found a Spark recipe for Citrus Candied Yams that went over really well and is healthier than the traditional candied yam, and we always make our own mashed potatoes with low sodium chicken broth and just a touch of butter. My dad has a lot of dietary restrictions that, in many ways, helps all of us with healthier eating during the holidays. (no creamed soups, no nuts, no cheese) - 11/16/2014   6:37:40 PM
  • KRISTIE778
    I'm sorry, but I hardly call 1400 calories at one meal (the Bob example) a winner. - 11/16/2014   10:52:21 AM
  • SD7962
    I plan to have all my favorites turkey, mashed potato with gravy, stuffing stuffing (no thats not a typo) and some kind of desert probably apple pie. I have lost 24 lbs since my highest weight - and on holidays I feel iv earned the right to enjoy that one day. I will not carry it on into pig out Friday. But i will not deny myself on Thanksgiving or Christmas or even Easter. Thats three days out of the year leaving other 362 days to diet. A 1/2 cup of stuffing, really??? lol thats funny. i know this probably goes against "diet" rules but I still intend to eat my fill of holiday fare. How much damage can you really do in 1 day, as long as you keep it to 1 day. GOOO BROWNS!!!!! - 11/16/2014   9:10:15 AM
  • 50
    You cheated a bit with the cranberry sauce! Who on earth takes a cup?! And the dark meat! If you swap the ludicrous cup for 1/4, and dark meat for white meat it comes to 1387 and lower than Bob's. - 11/16/2014   6:15:58 AM
  • 49
    I like the food listings.That will definetly help with portion control. I am surprised the portion size isn't smaller on the pumpkin pie. I am gonna treat Thanksgiving like any other day. I eat till comfortable but not stuffed and try to watch portion size and eat healthier options. - 11/15/2012   2:31:03 AM
  • 48
    I would not be able to eat everything on either of those plates - I'd be stuffed halfway through. I eat a little bit of everything, enough to enjoy all of it but not be so full I'm miserable. I usually end up with about 4 oz white meat turkey, half a cup mashed potatoes and gravy, a cup of steamed vegges, a dinner roll, and a little cranberry relish. That's plenty for me! - 11/13/2012   6:41:43 PM
  • 47
    I eat until i am full. Because it's thanksgiving.
    But Since i am going to my mom's on the 25th
    instead of the 22nd i have a couple days to go to the gym
    and i am going to the gym the day after the 25th. I can afford
    to indulge.
    - 11/12/2012   9:08:35 PM
  • 46
    It is an issue. - 11/12/2012   7:45:11 PM
  • 45
    It is an issue. - 11/12/2012   7:45:11 PM
  • AMBER461
    Like the portion size but we don't celebrate thanksgiving. I will have to remind
    myself for Christmas. Sure will stick to my portions.
    - 11/12/2012   7:44:55 PM
  • 43
    Thanksgiving - and Christmas - will be easy for me this year. THIS year I am a Vegan. Not quite sure what I will make. Trader Joe's makes a good stuffed Un-Turkey roast that I like. It sure beats Tofurky (gag). - 11/12/2012   2:23:20 PM
    This was very helpful. I however do cut myself some slack on Thanksgiving. Let's just say that'll I'll be conscious of my potion sizes, but I won't be counting calories. Which reminds of me of this Thanksgiving quiz I took:

    - 11/12/2012   11:48:12 AM
  • 41
    I'm not big on all the extras at Thanksgiving. My plate usually has a piece of white turkey, mashed potatoes, chicken and noodles, macaroni, and a roll. I don't really like all the desserts, so this is it! Hopefully it ends up being ok on my calorie counter! - 11/12/2012   10:56:31 AM
  • 40
    On Thanksgiving Day I am going to eat what I want. However I don't like feeling "stuffed" anymore so I will only eat what really appeals to me. I will eat a normal breakfast and try to go for a walk before or after dinner. This year I will be in another state and I won't bring home any leftovers so I figure I will enjoy the day because I won't eat like that again for another year! - 11/12/2012   9:58:41 AM
  • 39
    I am doomed! I will eat pumpkin pie with whipped cream. I try not to overeat on T-day. The food is rich and I don't want to be uncomfortable. We always snack on the left overs later at night. It's one day and I live with it. I still try to just have a bite of everything on the table, rarely do I eat two bites of anything. Good luck to all. - 11/11/2012   6:38:46 PM
  • 38
    i remember years ago on another plan, my counselor showed me the amount of fat consumed at a 'normal' thanksgiving day - it was something horrible (i cant remember the grams) but it filled a 1 quart ziplock bag - visually it has stayed with me every year - now if i could only keep to that the rest of the year!
    - 11/11/2012   2:07:45 PM
    Let's not forget the before dinner stuff! Olives, cheese ball, crackers, ham and cream cheese, beer and or wine, etc. etc.
    It's a party and really easy to eat mindlessly.
    Oh well.
    Oh and I am one of those that has not eaten my own birthday cake more than once. Getting used to it. - 11/11/2012   2:06:21 PM
  • 36
    I usually end up with a little of everything I like and try to keep the portions smaller because even that will overstuff me. The last couple of years I have made cranberry relish with Splenda or Stevia and a kind-of pumpkin cheesecake with Splenda. This year I will probably have Thanksgiving day alone, but next Sunday we are having the dinner at church so that will be my hard day. - 11/11/2012   1:41:32 PM
    Great blog! I'm going to print it out and hang it on my refrigerator for reference! Thank you! - 11/11/2012   1:14:06 PM
    Portion distortion big problem as I love some of the menu above and will eat to much of those items.Only 2 of us and he eats very carefully and not very much.I love stuffing and gravy so have to be careful as to the amounts I consume.Will stay at home and I will cook up a small turkey breast with all the trimmings. - 11/11/2012   12:36:06 PM
  • 33
    My strategy is more like Uncle Bob's; I like to taste a little bit of everything. But I *think* I take even smaller portions. My measurement is one *small* spoonful. - 11/11/2012   12:03:58 PM
  • 32
    Call me a heretic, but I eat whatever I want at Thanksgiving dinner. It is just **one meal** once a year and in the overall scheme of things, one meal is not going to make me gain or lose a pound. I've tried to do it before and it just makes me feel too deprived -- in addition to the stress of having to deal with the comments of family members, especially if you start measuring things at the table. The family part to me is the worst as often what you are and are not eating becomes so much of a focus. If anyone bothers you, just announce that you are enjoying the meal and promise not to comment on what they are eating if they offer you the same courtesy. If I feel deprived -- like not eating my pie crust -- I end up overeating in other ways, not enjoying it and feeling bad. It's like refusing to eat cake on your birthday.

    But, before you think my plan is too crazy. Let me explain how I keep it reasonable. The one *meal* is a given to enjoy however you want. BUT, there is no eating as you complete the preparations or throughout the day. You eat only at the table during the meal. There can be a breather before dessert -- great time for a brisk walk -- but after that, their is no late night turkey and dressing sandwiches or extra pieces of pie.

    Then, make a plan for your leftovers. I'm lucky since I eat at my sister's house and just don't take any home leftovers. But if you're the host, send the guests home with the leftovers, especially the most decadent stuff. For example, there are plenty of healthy ways to use up leftover turkey breast, not so much for the whip cream and pumpkin pie. I also try to go for a nice long run or walk in the morning. Granted, it won't counteract the meal, but it keeps me mindful of my new goals and lifestyle. Enjoy the meal, guilt-free, and just keep on track before and after. One meal didn't make you fat and depriving yourself on this day of family celebration will not make you skinny. - 11/11/2012   10:50:09 AM
  • 31
    This is very helpful. We're going a lot lighter than we usually would on Thanksgiving. Only turkey, mashed potatoes and a veggie. Normally it would be lots more food. - 11/11/2012   10:13:50 AM
  • 30
    This is so helpful, thank you!

    I really appreciate seeing the actual calorie breakdown and the visual portion guide, rather than only providing the "choose this over that". :) - 11/11/2012   10:02:01 AM
  • 29
    Ha! You remind me of my mother-in-law! - 11/11/2012   9:26:53 AM
  • 28
    I will print and put on my kitchen reminder board - 11/11/2012   9:24:27 AM
  • 27
    Very good reminder. Liked the visuals. - 11/11/2012   9:24:27 AM
  • 26
    Hah. Thanksgiving is easy for me. My son in law took over the holiday....and though he used to be a cook....his turkey is always dry, the sides not to my liking and I am not crazy about deserts. I bring a green salad and a fruit tray. Think I will make a small turkey next weekend with yams..... happy thanksgiving, everyone ! - 11/11/2012   9:18:49 AM
    Love the portion comparison and portion guide. Really need this now! - 11/11/2012   8:56:54 AM
  • 24
    Great visuals! - 11/11/2012   8:49:15 AM
  • 23
    I'm going to print this out and keep it close by for the holidays. It would make a great addition to a vision board. - 11/11/2012   8:29:41 AM
  • 22
    Great info - 11/11/2012   8:22:51 AM
  • JMB369
    I do TG pretty much like Uncle Bob and have for a number of years, and it works for me. I usually serve myself a mix of white and dark meat, no skin, and I usually have 3/4 cup as my stuffing portion and eat no potatoes. None of us likes the traditional green bean casserole -- we usually have steamed fresh whole beans, so I save quite a few calories there. No rolls or butter -- just not an essential for me. We make fresh cranberry orange relish, and although it's made with sugar, a small serving works well because of the concentrated flavor. If we are hosting dinner, I usually serve apple and pumpkin pie -- no mincemeat or pecan pies -- and I usually have a 1/2 serving of each -- my big indulgence. This strategy works for me. I get to indulge all my traditional favorites, but I don't leave the table stuffed or full of regrets. I like to celebrate this once-a-year holiday by eating the foods that are traditional. I did not get overweight by eating holiday foods on Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was the other 363 days that did it! - 11/11/2012   7:55:36 AM
  • 20
    I love the portion sizes! Great visual!
    - 11/11/2012   2:46:31 AM
  • GEEWHIZ619
    Great info.. thanks because I will be using this chart... - 11/11/2012   12:24:37 AM
  • 18
    having a buffet dinner again this year... planning on my usual.. small portions and a small taste of pie and no leftovers to be tempted... cooking turkey tomorrow for future sandwiches... nice to have easy access to basic calories - 11/11/2012   12:23:21 AM
  • 17
    Thank you for the reminder of portion sizes. This year I'm super lucky. I'm going to the home of a lovely couple who are also health-conscious and who frankly don't want to deal with all the heavy food. They are making a Scandinavian meal with salmon as the main course and roasted root vegetables.

    The one splurge will be dessert, which I will be in charge of baking. The couple has requested pie. I'm not sure which fruit goes best with dinner, but you can bet it will be a single crust, no whip pie. - 11/11/2012   12:08:20 AM
  • 16
    I'm going to drink a lot of water and have a greek yogurt before the family gathering. Somebody is always late and we have to wait to eat which leads to overeating from being so hungry and saving calories for dinner. Not this time, I have a plan. - 11/10/2012   10:01:28 PM
  • 15
    I have my meal plan all ready to go! I am making turkey legs and that is my only splurge. I will try not to eat the skin.Having coconut flour cornbread stuffing with bacon, leeks and apples, mashed potatoes which are an easy give-up, cranberry relish made with stevia, steamed brussels sprouts with saged butter and pumpkin seeds, scratch made green bean casserole with 1/3 of the calories and fat, hasselback sweet potatoes with low cal maple syrup and applesauce, for dessert, I make this sugar free jell-o thing with crushed pineapple, apples, and walnuts. I have figured if I keep my plate small and my servings proper, ( I will use a measuring spoon or cup to serve myself ) I will clock around 950 or so calories and about 16 grams of fat. I'm satisfied with that. I am also thinking about making kale chips for the evening's game time festivities. - 11/10/2012   9:38:51 PM
  • 14
    I do not even eat any mashed potatoes with the butter or the gravy at all & my Weight Loss hear in Jefferson,IA had told me if you eat the mashed potatoes it would really make you gain a lot of weight for you & that is a bad thing to eat if you want to lose the Weight like I'm really trying to do for sure!!!!!!!!And just try not to eat way to much food at all?And Happy Thanksgiving to Everyone Too!!!!!!! - 11/10/2012   8:12:17 PM
  • 13
    Thanks so much for the visual Portion Distortion Guide! I love cranberry sauce but make my own with Splenda and S-F Jello, so I can indulge in more of that. (I haven't run my latest version through the SP calorie tracker but will do so but the holidays get here hopefully!) Thanks again for the post and visuals! - 11/10/2012   4:37:27 PM
  • 12
    I watch portions everyday. Especially on holidays and family get together. I love stuffing, oyster, so I can skip potatoes, gravy. Don't care for that green bean concoction. so I will have roasted brussel sprouts. I know I will eat more than a normal day. but try to eat lighter breakfast and supper. It's only one day, so it won't make any difference if the rest of the weekend I don't overindulge.
    I tend to graze at gatherings, have to be extra careful. Have a happy time, make good choices. - 11/10/2012   4:00:22 PM
  • 11
    I bring my own meal of either pork or beef tenderloin, steamed veggies or mixed greens and I have dessert and/or wine. I am not stuffed, or even uncomfortable. I dont get why a Holiday means gorge yourself, and waste so much food. Its a disgrace. - 11/10/2012   3:36:16 PM
  • 10
    I plan to watch my portions at Thanksgiving, but I believe I already do that. When we have mashed potatoes here at home with a main course, I only eat 2/3 of a servings of mashed potatoes and I don't eat regular butter, but the spray butter that has no calories. Also, I do the same when I eat stuffing. I only eat 1/2 cup with the main course. So I believe if you do this all year long and not just at Thanksgiving, then you will already won half the battle! I hope everyone remembers that Thanksgiving is about being thankful and not about eating a tone of food! God bless all of you! - 11/10/2012   3:12:50 PM
    My strategy when eating holiday pie is to leave some of the crust. By the time we're ready for dessert, we're all "stuffed" like the turkey. LOL ! So, I do tend to do slivers of cake, pie, nut bread, etc. - 11/10/2012   3:06:44 PM
    I like how this guide doesn't just tell us what a portion amount is, but it also gives a visual guide of what that amount would look like. That really helps. - 11/10/2012   3:05:05 PM
  • 7
    Love this guideline, will attempt to use it everyday not just on holidays. - 11/10/2012   2:50:15 PM

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