Nutrition Articles

21 Ways to Slim Down Your Thanksgiving Feast

Comfort Foods Without All the Calories

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From the cheese ball and crackers before to the pumpkin pie after, Thanksgiving meals can weigh in at more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat, according to the Caloric Control Council. That's more than twice the number of calories most of us should eat in an entire day, and enough dietary fat for more than three days!

But Turkey Day needn't leave you feeling so stuffed that you need to loosen your belt at the end of the day. If you're cooking this Thanksgiving, then you're in control of your own destiny because you can decide how much butter, cream and sugar goes into each and every dish. By making some smart substitutions for each recipe, you can easily save calories and fat without sacrificing flavor.

Here are plenty of quick tips and recipe ideas that will slim down your favorite holiday dishes!

Roasted turkey may be the star of the show, but it doesn't have to be a heavyweight. Turkey tends to be a lean meat—moderate in calories and low in fat. One 3-oz serving of light or white meat typically contains 140 calories and 3 grams of fat. Dark meat is more caloric (160 calories and 7 grams of fat) but it also contains twice as much iron—about 15% of your daily recommended intake. Get healthy turkey recipes here, or use these tips to slim it down even more:
  • Remove the skin before serving. Save 15-20 calories and 2-3 grams of fat per serving.
  • Baste your bird with low-sodium chicken broth or white wine instead of butter to cut calories and fat.
  • Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before you carve it. If you immediately carve the turkey, the juices will run out, drying out the meat. A moister bird means less need for fatter, greasy gravy.
Stuffing is as much a Thanksgiving tradition as the turkey itself. One 1/2-cup serving typically contains 180 calories and 9 grams of fat. You'll find plenty of healthy stuffing ideas here. Boost the nutrition and cut calories with these ideas:
  • Swap low-sodium chicken broth for most of the butter in your stuffing. Save at least 50 calories per serving and cut the fat in half.
  • Add more vegetables to your stuffing. Onions, water chestnuts, carrots and celery are all tasty (and low-calorie) additions to the bread in your stuffing. So are mushrooms!
  • Bake stuffing in muffin tins for instant portion control.
  • Use whole-wheat or multigrain bread instead of the traditional white bread. These high-fiber whole grains will help fill you up faster.
Green bean casserole is a high-fat side dish that's often loaded with sodium, too. One 1/2-cup serving typically contains 120 calories, 8 grams of fat and 550 milligrams of sodium. These green bean casserole recipes cut the fat and calories in half! Here are more ways to make it healthier:
  • Use low-sodium or reduced-fat varieties of cream of mushroom (or cream of celery) soup. Per can of condensed soup, you'll save 120 calories and 16 grams of fat by going with reduced-fat version. Choose low-sodium, and you'll cut nearly 1,000 milligrams of sodium (per can) from your recipe.
  • Use water, skim milk or low-sodium chicken broth instead milk to dilute the soup.
  • Use reduced-sodium canned green beans, or thoroughly drain and rinse green beans to wash off extra salt.
Mashed potatoes boast about 220 calories and 8 grams of fat per 1-cup serving. But they often contain butter, cream, whole milk and lots of salt. These spuds weigh in at fewer than 100 calories a serving! Try these lower-calorie flavor additions as well:
  • Heat skim milk (not whole milk or cream) with some herbs and add just enough to thin the potatoes.
  • Use low-fat or fat-free varieties of sour cream, cream cheese or yogurt for added creaminess. (My mom adds roasted garlic and low-fat cream cheese. It's delicious!)
Gravy is, well, the gravy of the Thanksgiving meal! It blankets mashed potatoes with its silky deliciousness, and helps hide overcooked or dried-out turkey. Unfortunately, gravy is often little more than grease and fat, at 100 calories and 4 grams of fat for a 1/4-cup serving. It needn't do as much damage if you use these tips:
  • Significantly cut calories by skimming the fat from your pan juices. (An inexpensive kitchen tool known as a "fat separator" or "gravy separator" can make that job easier.) Skimming the fat can reduce your gravy to a low 25 calories (and less than 1 gram of fat) per serving.
  • Short on time? Carefully lay a paper towel on the top of the juices to blot the fat, or add some ice cubes to the pan juices, which will help the fat congeal faster. If you have plenty of time, put the juices in the refrigerator, then scoop off the coagulated fat when it has cooled.
  • The key to tasty gravy is using all the drippings from the roasting pan (with the fat skimmed off). This gives the gravy plenty of flavor without added fat or calories. Forgo added butter, which really bumps up the calories and fat.
Cranberry sauce, often from a can, is full of sugar, corn syrup and other sweeteners. A 1/4-cup serving contains about 110 calories. Homemade cranberry sauce (click here for recipes with fewer than 50 calories) usually has more nutritional value, less sugar, and just 20 calories per quarter cup.

Pie makes a nice finish to a Thanksgiving meal. When cut into 8 slices, one slice of traditional apple pie (with a lattice crust on top) contains 400 calories and 21 grams of fat. Pumpkin pie has 13 fat grams per slice, but fewer calories: 240 to be exact. Desserts are extras and portion control is essential. Try these pumpkin pies with fewer than 100 calories per serving. Follow these tips to indulge in a decadent slice of pie without regretting it later:
  • Ditch the top crust. Besides saving time, you'll also shave 112 calories and 7.5 grams of fat off each slice of apple pie.
  • Ditch the bottom crust. You'll save 112 calories and 7.5 calories per slice. Check out these crust-free pie recipes.
  • Use egg whites or egg substitute instead of whole eggs in your pies. Most recipes will be unaffected. You'll save 30-40 calories and 4 grams of fat per egg.
  • Slightly reduce the sugar (keep at least half the sugar that the recipe calls for) in your fruit pies. Save 440 calories for every 1/2 cup of sugar you eliminate.
  • Cut the pie into smaller slices for automatic portion control and fewer calories per slice.
Remember that Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks, be grateful, and enjoy the company of loved ones. You don't have to go overboard to celebrate this special holiday. By using just a few of these many tips and recipes, you'll be able to take part in the tradition without feeling guilty.

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Member Comments

  • I have never basted my turkey except with its own drippings.
  • I use olive oil and flour to make my roux for the gravy. I make my stock from turkey necks the week before. That way I can skim off the fat and have pure stock. I make cornbread dressing (I'm from the Deep South), and that is my biggest indulgence.
    Remember, it's only one day, and if you overindulge, get right back on track.
  • ETHELMERZ
    The usual tips, but really, if you have to be so darned picky about Thanksgiving, it's no fun at all, just stay home by yourself and eat your dumb salad!!
  • There's a Caloric Control Council? I never heard of it before. They're not doing to well. They haven't found McDonalds, BurgerKing, Taco Bell, or Kentucky Fried Chicken yet. Just wondering what they are doing and how long they've been around. Joking aside, this article has some great ideas. Thanks for sharing them. I've already planned a healthy meal and will stick to it.
    Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!
  • I just hate to keep reading articles containing the "egg yolks are bad" mantra, which has recently been debunked.
    (Then I realized, after noticing when comments have been made, that this article was written before the new research has become public knowledge.)
    Otherwise, lots of good tips.
  • These are all great ideas of how to cut calories from the main foods. But what about the side dishes. the snacks before the meal? You can have a meals worth of calories in just that.
    There is usually salads at dinner too. You can be watchful on what kind you eat. how much dressing you use.
    Then the hot buttered dinner rolls.
    Thanksgiving Day feast can undo a weeks worth of healthy eating.
    I go into the day knowing i will eat more. But portion control what it is. You don't need a lot of something to enjoy it. And there are some foods i can give up . had them too much, don't need them. like the Green bean concoction. I's rather use those calories for oyster dressing. There are some foods that are only served on
    this day, thats what I want.
    the days leading up and after i watch carefully what I eat.
    I usually try to get a bunch of us together for activity, weather permitting , work off calories. Or we play some kind of action game inside. Get everyone up and dance.
    Once I lost the weight. I find my need for such large amounts of food is gone.
    I want to enjoy the day, but feel good about it afterward.
    Tisha
  • Thanks for the tips, you've definitiely go me thinking. For years I cooked a 22- 25 lb turkey every year, now I buy 2 turkeys 12-15 lbs each.. I cook one a couple of days ahead, so I can have have the defatted broth and drippings ready to go and the dressing is ready to go in the oven as soon as the T-Day turkey comes out of the oven.
    Be sure to pour some broth on the pre-cooked, pre-sliced turkey to keep it moist when warming up. Glad I have always been a "scratch" cook so it's very easy to tweak recipes to make them a little lighter. I love the flavors of Thanksgiving so personally for me it is all about portion control, so I need to have and eating plan and stick to it!
  • When I cooked a big (22 to 25 pound) turkey for my family, I would bake it breast side down in orange or pineapple juice instead of using butter. The meat was always nice and juicy. Gravy was very good without added fat or oils. There hardly was any leftovers either. Since I am alone now and one of my daughters usually fix the turkey, I don't worry anymore and just enjoy my family.
  • If you cook the turkey right you shouldn't have to baste at all.
  • JANGELLER1
    Instead of basting my turkey, I slip my fingers between the skin and the breast to separate the smaller membrane. Do not disturb the stronger membrane that is between the breasts as it helps hold the cooking turkey together. Then place thinly sliced apple, celery and 2 bacon strips next to the breast meat. Season as you like it. Throw the rest of the apple, celery and onion into the neck cavity and tail cavity and cook in a cooking bag, or covered, as instructed for an un-stuffed turkey. Personally, I like to spend my Thanksgiving enjoying our guests instead of spending time in the kitchen, so I cook the turkey 2 days before the event and put it in the fridge to get cold. The day before, I take the meat off the bone, slice it, and arrange it in a baking dish. Keep the skin. I keep the legs and wings whole to place on top of the meat. Use the skin to cover all the meat.and keep it from drying out On Thanksgiving day you can pop it in the oven for a while, or serve cold. Remove skin before serving. You are free from carving, greasy hands, and dealing with a big mess of bones. Enjoy your guests.
  • I loved this article. Everything in moderation! I have already had my Thanksgiving Dinner being Canadian, so I wanted to suggest one more thing I used, a smaller plate. It tricks the eye and mind into thinking you have eaten more than you have. Happy Thanksgiving!
  • I'm glad to see a guide that takes a sensible approach. I've seen some that suggest replacing the mash potatoes with mashed cauliflower, some sort of gravy that involved vegetable oil, and replacing all of the sugar with artificial replacements.
  • Thank goodness I'm low carb! Bring on the turkey, skin and all! I plan to eat it to my heart's content and I guarantee I won't get sleepy, and I'll still lose weight. I'm making green beans, squash, and cauliflower, loaded with butter, bacon, and sour cream as appropriate. My one concession is a pumpkin recipe that substitutes Splenda for sugar - even though I don't like the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners. But, oh well, it's just one day. End result? Delicious meal, low blood pressure, great serum cholesterol, steady blood sugar levels, and total satisfaction. Get into the spirit and eat like Squanto! No wheat back then, was there?

    :D
  • Thanks for posting this,I'm still gonna use my measuring cups and spoons and then I'm gonna divide the whole thing in 1/2.Still can't eat a sizable amount of food at one sitting.I have to revisit that plate several times throughout the evening.
  • Thanks for the eye ooener. I've been trying to think how I'll handle thanksgiving. My mom is cooking so I'll use some and have to figure out a few other ideas.

About The Author

Stepfanie Romine Stepfanie Romine
A former newspaper reporter, Stepfanie now writes about nutrition, health, fitness and cooking. She is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who enjoys running, international travel and all kinds of vegetables. See all of Stepfanie's articles.



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