How Well Do You Know Your Thanksgiving Portions?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  56 comments   :  55,765 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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    What a great valuable blog this time of year. It's the old saying, size is everything, lol. Seriously this goes along with my new way of thinking that you don't have to deprive yourself you just have to eat mindfully.

    I will remember this blog at my Thanksgiving dinner (that I am not cooking and do not know all the ingredients of the foods being served.)

    Thanks for the post. - 11/10/2012   1:16:16 PM
  • 5
    I really like this, both for the analysis of how the meals stack up against each other and for providing a realistic guideline for a big holiday meal. There's no way I could stick to 500-600 calories on Thanksgiving but 1,400 seems like a reasonable indulgence for a special occasion. Good stuff. - 11/10/2012   11:13:12 AM
  • 4
    i know about the portions - i even use a small plate - but no one else will stand for that - so they have a regular dinner plate AND THEN SOME -
    i also like to try to put things away ASAP - but people graze and so i have to leave things accessible.
    i am not too tempted by that - except for maybe a bit more of the dessert.
    we have however cut down on sooooo many choices - there is no apple and pumpkin and pecan pies anymore - vote for the one you want i say - and that is the one
    i do not bake one quarter of what i used to - and i give away as much as possible so it is not around to tempt me in the lonely days of january once all the holiday guests are gone.
    there is still a very prevalent mind set - IT MIGHT LEAVE THE PLANET SO I HAVE TO EAT AS MUCH AS I CAN NOW - which i have tried of disspell .
    i actually find all the excesses mind blowing and get an upset stomach when there is just too much! - 11/10/2012   10:44:54 AM
  • 3
    Love the portion sizes. But I hate cranberry sauce, not sure why. But I think I could skip pretty much everything but the stuffing. Stuffing is my weakness! - 11/10/2012   10:43:52 AM
  • 2
    I'm just going to plan the whole thing the day before and track it, and stay within my calorie range. I'm going to eat light the rest of the day.. - 11/10/2012   10:43:25 AM
    I like the food listings; that's helpful for quickly calculating portions. I'm just wondering who would take a full cup of cranberry sauce? - 11/10/2012   10:36:10 AM

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