How Well Do You Know Your Thanksgiving Portions?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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KHALIA2 8/20/2019
Thanks! Report
MNABOY 2/10/2019
Thanks for the size comparisons Report
MNABOY 2/10/2019
Thanks for the size comparisons Report
Great reminder! Easy to lose direction with all the food choices. Report
Very helpful article with Thanksgiving coming up Report
UGH, I don't understand WHY anyone would serve Green Bean Casserole at Thanksgiving; it is HORRID -- like the "mystery meals" one used to get at nursing homes and other institutions. I like festive, "harvest" vegetable dishes at holidays. And why would anyone need to eat stuffing AND baked potatoes? Report
Very helpful & useful can be used for eating out as well thank you Report
Love the visual of holiday food. Report
Great article. This goes on my refrigerator. Report
Excellent article Report
I have to try a little bit of everything. I take a tablespoon of this and a tablespoon of that. Pretty soon plate is full of all the goodies. After we eat and the table is cleared, dishes done we go for walk. Come back have hot coffee and desert. It's a great day !! Report
Thanks.... Report
This article was surely "food for thought"! Personally I prefer dark meat and by the time I put the gravy on the white meat there is only a 35 calorie saved. This is the only time of year that I have turkey and cranberry sauce and I want to enjoy it without guilt. So I will choose wisely. Report
Great article. Thanks I'm pinning it and posting to Twitter. Report
I am making thanksgiving dinner this year. I am cooking all the old favorites but with s healthier twist. I have been making these dishes all year so my family knows what they are and some have been successful, some not so much. We will have good, more healthy options mixed in with the old family favorites. It’s a win-win for everybody. Report
great article Report
Great. Report
interesting Report
interesting Report
I always need a "taste" so I end up with two bites of everything and no real serving except for the turkey. Report
great comparison Report
good points! Report
If you eat correctly the rest of the year, one day will not hurt you. Report
This was helpful but.... It would have been nice to see the turkey sliced and compared to the deck of cards side by side vs the whole turkey. The pie was the best for visualization since you could see them side by side. thanks for the timely article. Report
This is so helpful to have the portions counted out in not only calories but in fat. Thanks. A great thing to have just before Thanksgiving. Report
Interesting, I chose right just noting the cup of cranberry sauce. Report
No portion guide showed for me! Report
thanks Report
I have never liked cranberry sauce - now I am glad! Report
Wow, this was eye-opening. I totally had it wrong. Definitely "food for thought" before the holiday! Report
Good to have this to refer back to Report
Interesting!!! Report
Thanks! Report
I agree with most of the answers, but my biggest challenge at Thanksgiving dinner is keeping my favorites, stuffing and mashed potatoes, down to 1/4 cup each and then only allowing about 1/4 cup gravy drizzled over them and the turkey. I'm more into carbs than calories due to diabetes, but I liked this article and quiz a lot. Thanks, Melinda and SP! Report
Good article, just in time for the holidays. Good need-to-know information. Report
Give yourself a pat on the back for making positive lifestyle changes. Report
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. Report
Wish I could print this. I don't pin. Report
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) Report
I'm sorry, but I hardly call 1400 calories at one meal (the Bob example) a winner. Report
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!!!!! Report
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. Report
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. Report
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! Report
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.
It is an issue. Report
It is an issue. Report
Like the portion size but we don't celebrate thanksgiving. I will have to remind
myself for Christmas. Sure will stick to my portions.