8 Ways to Trim the Fat (and Extra Calories) from Thanksgiving Dinner

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Let's face it: Thanksgiving is a day that, for most of us, focuses on food. You'll probably eat more than usual. I know I will. But, the in the words of my friend and fellow blogger ~INDYGIRL, "one slice of pizza is always going to have fewer calories than 2 slices of pizza." One trip to the Thanksgiving buffet table is going to have fewer calories than two. Two slices of pie will have fewer calories than three.

According to the Caloric Control Council, the average American eats more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving day. 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!

The overload doesn't just come at the dinner table. Most of us start with a festive breakfast, nibble on snacks while waiting for the turkey to come out of the oven, squeeze in a second helping and sneak into the kitchen for late-night turkey sandwiches.

First let's look at an "average" Thanksgiving day, then I'll share some tips that will allow you to indulge in all your favorites but keep you from feeling so awful and bloated after the meal.

1 large cinnamon roll: 309 calories, 14 g fat
3 slices bacon: 109 calories, 9 g fat
418 calories, 23 g fat

While waiting for the meal:
1 cup homemade eggnog: 343 calories, 19 g fat

The main event:
6 ounces turkey (white meat, with skin): 214 calories, 6 g fat
1 cup mashed potatoes: 162 calories, 1 g fat
1/2 cup green bean casserole: 148 calories, 8 g fat
1 cup sweet potato casserole: 235 calories, 11 g fat
1 cup homemade noodles: 148 calories, 2 g fat
1/2 cup turkey gravy: 61 calories, 3 g fat
2 dinner rolls: 168 calories, 4 g fat
2 pats butter: 72 calories, 8 g fat
1/2 cup stuffing: 178 calories, 9 g fat
1 slice cranberry sauce: 86 calories, 0 g fat
1,471 calories, 52 g fat

Second helpings of your favorites:
1 cup sweet potato casserole: 235 calories, 11 g fat
1/2 cup stuffing: 178 calories, 9 g fat
413 calories, 20 g fat

Dessert after the big meal:
1 slice pumpkin pie: 229 calories, 10 g fat
1/2 slice pecan pie: 245 calories, 13 g fat
1/2 apple pie: 119 calories, 6 g fat
4 T whipped topping: 50 calories, 3 g fat
642 calories, 31 g fat

Sandwich during the game:
6 ounces turkey (white meat, with skin): 214 calories, 6 g fat
2 slices whole-wheat bread: 256 calories, 5 g fat
1 T mayonnaise: 90 calories, 10 g fat
523 calories, 18 g fat

Late-night snack:
1 slice pumpkin pie: 229 calories, 10 g fat
4 T whipped topping: 50 calories, 3 g fat
279 calories, 13 g fat

Total: 4,243 calories, 182 g fat
So how you can make sure you have your fill of Grandma's mashed potatoes and Uncle Steve's pumpkin cheesecake but still exercise some control? Here are some tips, culled from personal experience and member tips.

  • Start with a healthy breakfast. In my family, we always eat cinnamon rolls on Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings. I'm not sure how the tradition started, but beginning a long day of eating with sugar isn't the best plan. Those refined carbs will burn off quickly, meaning you'll soon be foraging for food to tide you over until the big meal. Calories saved by eating your usual 300-calorie oatmeal with berries and a cup of milk breakfast: about 100
  • Eat a balanced meal, even if it is larger than usual. Look at the feast above. Stuffing, bread, potatoes, and noodles--all in huge portions. Instead of eating a cup of each one, aim for one to two total servings. I Calories saved: up to 500
  • Be a food snob. At my dad's family's dinner, Gramma Penelope's cloverleaf dinner rolls are a yearly treat. I always save room for one or two, with butter. But if I'm dining with the other side of the family, who serves store-bought rolls, I skip them. I'd rather save room on my plate for mashed potatoes or stuffing. Calories saved by skipping the rolls and butter: 140 calories
  • Don't feel pressured to eat everything. If you focus on creating a balanced plate, you probably won't have room for everything. And, let's face it, do you really like every food on the table? (Don't tell, but green bean casserole turns my stomach. I politely decline it every year.) Calories saved by skipping that, along with any other dish you don't like: up to 500, depending on the dish
  • Skip seconds. When family favorites only appear on the table once a year, it's hard to resist them. Take your time, slow down, and savor your first helping. Does anyone really feel actual hunger after the first round of Thanksgiving dinner? Probably not. Let your food settle, and save your appetite for pie. Calories saved: about 400 as listed above; up to 1,500 if you eat an entire second meal
  • Taste everything. Thanksgiving feasts are just that, feasts, and a chance to try a variety of foods. But, if you take just a couple of bites--rather than a full scoop--of each dish, you'll still get to experience all the foods you love. Calories saved: up to 1,000
  • Treat dessert as a snack, not part of the meal. Mmm, pies. They're such an integral part of most Thanksgiving celebrations. But most of us consider them to be an ending to the meal. What if, instead of eating pie immediately after dinner, we waited until it was snack time? And what if we only had a small sliver of each one? Calories saved: up to 400 depending on the size of your slices
  • Skip the grazing. A turkey sandwich here, a slice of pie there, and a cup of eggnog, too. Those extras add up. Calories saved by skipping them: up to 700
Thanksgiving should be a day to celebrate. These tips are meant to help us lessen the damage, so to speak. Eat, drink, be merry!

Do you use any of these tips? Do you pay attention to calorie counts and nutrition on Thanksgiving?

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It's always interesting to see what other families' Thanksgiving traditions are. Growing up, my family Thanksgiving dinners were much less elaborate. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potato casserole (the one with the marshmallows), canned cranberry sauce and whatever vegetable my mother chose to serve. (Usually broccoli). We never ate pumpkin pie - always apple - and always hours after the meal.

I've never tried the green bean casserole everyone else in the country seems to love. I saw it for the first time last year and I'm sorry, it looks nasty. Canned fried onions? Really? Why is that even a thing?

Also - mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, stuffing AND noodles? Maybe you'd see all that together at a buffet, but I can't imagine a family sitting down to a table including all those sides. Report
We have gotten to where we don't do a family thanksgiving unless my siblings and their spouses and kids/grandkids decide to come to our part of the country to celebrate. Two of my siblings are in the East coast, one in Texas. My husband's two older siblings are even more entrenched in their own family traditions and have not wanted to have Thanksgiving since their parents died. And my mom is getting older and she's not crazy about fixing the meal either. With my low carb lifestyle, it creates a little more conflict because she doesn't want to try out new stuff... sooo it ends up being less friction to simply avail ourselves of one of the many Thanksgiving Day buffets at one of our favorite restaurants. That has gone well for me the past few years on a low carb program especially if I go ahead and eat a healthy breakfast and get some exercise in. At the restaurant it's easier to just select what I want or can eat on my program, and not worry about "oh, Aunt Mergatroyd will be so upset for refusing her oyster dressing" or "Ewwww that cassarole tastes and looks terrible!" etc. etc. I can just steer past the ones that don't look appealing. It's a lot less stress, beforehand because we don't have to prepare all that food for just 4 of us. Report
Guess I'm lucky in that my Mom never went overboard on T'day dinner and I'm not a fan of most of the food. I would eat more than usual, but not crazy. She always let me make roasted sweet potatoes instead of the gooey version (my Dad wasn't a happy camper with that change).
No matter what I start with a healthy reasonable breakfast. Report
We have never eaten that much stuff on Thanksgiving, ever! Not even normally, never been to others houses and had that much food. I feel the writer exaggerates. Report
I'm going to plan ahead. Make a list of what I want to eat before I sit down to dinner. No one has to know but I can refer to the list as the food comes out.That way I am not tempted to eat everything in sight. Report
For the first plate of 1500 calories I won't eat half of that listed so I'll be fine. Plus I don't like pie lol! I do love white meat turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy. Also, green beans are my favourite! I'm stuffed just after that plate~ Report
We never even have half of all the foods mentioned on here for our meal, lots of extra stuff that most in our family don't like, lol. I'm not going to guilt anyone at the table over what they eat, it's one day a year, nothing good like chocolate is featured, so it's really not a big deal. Christmas has more better tasting stuff. Report
This day of food is overwhelming. In the last 2 years for breakfast on Thanksgiving I try a new recipe because I am diabetic. I found a recipe for a berry french toast without the syrup. I use to eat like this article but not anymore. I have really cut my portion sizes but I do indulge in the pie. Last year I had 2 small bites of pecan pie because it has lots of carbs. That was the 1st time I have had pecan pie in over 5 years. Because of my disease my family now has fruit and veggies at our dinner. 2 years ago on Christmas we ate lasagna because I don't eat that anymore either. I have to say that I've come a long way in the last 5 years. Report
I just printed this and I am posting on my frig, a little reminder to keep on track. I know I will eat more then usual, but our dinner will be around five pm. So, I have time for my exercise plus get dinner done. Report
Okay...wow! Now that I see it in writing, guess who's NOT having seconds! :-)) Report
Here is my tip that helped me the most back in the day (when I lost my weight and was maintaining): Snap a picture of your plate of food before you start eating it to post in a Sparkpeople blog. I didn't want to show a heaping mound of food....it was great for accountability and I had forgotten that until I read this story....thank you. Report
A few years ago my family and I learned to leave the table feeling comfortable rather than over stuffed We could thus enjoy each others' company more, instead of half the family arranged on sofas and the floor sleeping and the over dozing over TV. The tips from Stephanie make wonderful sense and I see a couple I will use. Report
Great tips! Better yet, if you add up all of her calorie savings, you actually wind up on a caloric deficit. ;-) (Yes, this is sarcasm. I'm being silly!) Report
Several years ago we started focusing on vegetables - after all, part of Thanksgiving is giving thanks for bountiful harvests. We have a turkey breast instead of the whole deal, and also pork loin. It's also easy to slim down most standard recipes and to have fruit and veggie trays for "befores". Report
This years menu will be different than the usual feast. Mixed salad greens, with vegetable bar, turkey vegetable soup with cornbread - pumpkin croutons, grilled turkey breast, baked broccoli bacon cheddar bites, green beans, yeast roll, and fruit platter. Report
You forgot the wine. That always makes me over eat. I am better off when I don't have it. I can stick to my healthy eating habits better. Report
I definitely have been eating less. On Thanksgiving, I had zero seconds. I ate until I was comfortably full. :) Report
I noticed this year that when I eat at my boyfriend's family gatherings, we all only eat one helping. No one goes up for seconds. I'm from a family where we ALL go up for seconds, except maybe my Grandma. Honestly, this year I tried a lot of things in very small portions and didn't go back for seconds. We chit-chatted for a while and let our stomachs settle and then we had dessert. There was no need to overeat and I was so full I didn't eat any leftovers til dinner the next night!!! Report
I like the thought that these are individual meals and not one long occasion. I plan each as a single meal not as a free for all food holiday that started with the work party last monday until the last family get together on saturday afternoon(4 different meals). I bring a low calorie dish in my most tempting food category-this year it's desserts, and follow most of the suggestions in this good article. Report
I generally don't count calories on holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc) but honestly, looking at your approximations, I don't think I ate that much yesterday. So I guess that means I'm learning a little something, I hope lol. Report
I was very excited to see that by practicing moderation I did better than I thought yesterday. I only indulged in 2500 calories rather than the 4500 average, then. Also burned off most of that 600 calorie slice of chocolate peppermint torte by "draggercize" as my BF puts it...cleaning house, moving furniture and then dragging up the huge heavy 12 boxes of Christmas up and out of the basement in preparation to decorate! Report
Yes, I certainly pay attention to calories on Turkey Day. That is why we go out to eat and don't have left=overs. Report
Great suggestions - thanks! Report
This blog/article was a good reminder of the habits I started several years ago doing WWs. Now, I will use those habits counting calories instead. My WW leader used to have us make a list of what our favorite/most important foods were for the day. That way you could make sure you ate what was important and maybe skip something that isn't your favorite.
When I'm eating a family's homes for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, I bring my nice measuring/serving spoons I got from WWs. They are great for portion control and look nice. I bought my sister a set, so we have 2 sets when we eat at her house. Report
I would not eat THAT much dessert. I better not jinx it though---. Report
Very practical tips! Thx! Report
I liked this article. I don't think some people DO realize how much they actually eat during the holidays. I remember doing WW 4 years ago and goingto the meeting before Thanksgiving. They gave you a paper plate and let you draw on the plate how much you thought each serving size would be for points. Most people were WAY off, including myself.

I don't plan on deprive myself from my Thanksgiving favorites (my favorite holiday for eating)... just keep everything in moderation. Instead of being with some of ym family, it's just my parents and myself due to the bad weather coming in. So it'll be 3 people to sgare a turkey, stuffing, sweet potato bake, rolls, pie, etc. I don't plan on eating a ton... but enough to get my Thanksgiving food in.

I've been good all week with watching what I eat and working out... I think a day to indulge is OK. Sometimes you just gotta do it. And if it only happens a few times a year - I can do it! Report
This is a great article! I know my family always spends the whole day "grazing" on all the leftovers because we usually have our "dinner" at 2pm. This year I plan on serving dinner at 5pm, and having a light and healthy breakfast and lunch. That way we won't be tempted to have that second dinner later on. :) Report
OMG. I couldn't even get through part of the lunch list before I wanted to throw up. I made several cups of Sugar-free Jell-0 and it's settled in the fridge. It's filling, it's virtually calorie free. I may eat them ALL and still be WAY ahead of the game tomorrow. Thanks for the reality check! Report
Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for the article, and i'v been doing alot of reshearching so I can have a healthy dinner for my guest this year. So they will be surprised when I tell them their eating healthly for the first time. They will also see a big difference on how I look since last thanksgiving. I will still eat from my special plate, as I will be counting my calories, and will be measuring and I want be going for seconds. Just because its thanksgiving I will stay on target with my weight lost. Hoping to see my challenge of 251. Report
Sorry, I watch what I eat almost every day of the year. I'm not going to do it on holidays. While I would try not to eat all they show up there, the point is to eat well as often as you can. Let's say you really cut loose 4 or 5 times a year, it's not going to ruin your diet, you'll still be healthy. You just start back on your good habits the next day. It's if you eat like that all the time that's bad for you. Life is just too short and even if eating what I want 5 days a year will make it shorter (it won't), that's fine with me. Report
Well, I'm incredulous at some of the comments: "I'd glad I don't try to kill MY family. Who eats that much,etc... Are they suddenly awarding Sparkpoints for sanctimony? We're supposed to believe people are on a dieting site because their usual Thanksgiving fare is a celery stalk, a raw cranberry & a 1" cube of Tofurkey? I don't think so.
We're supposed to be here to support each other. Jeez... Report
Thanks so much for a great article. This is a real encouragement to realize even if I just cut down on what I eat and how fast I eat it still is an improvement. I was already beginning to feel discouraged on how much I would mess up on Thanksgiving day but not any longer! Report
When I first read this and then some of the comments... I went back and really thought about the amounts... and you are right! In fact... I think people would be more than shocked if they really knew how much they ate! and then what about all the nibbling that everyone does here and there... sneaking a bite here and a bite there all through the day! and not only this one day, but how many Christmas parties are coming up and how many Christmas dinners are people having? I think most would be shocked to see how much they really ate! The real point is the ideas you give after! Thank you! They are great!!

I always talk to my kids about surveying the feast and picking out their favorites before starting to take something of everything! When there is a buffet table lined with so many good things- why take it all? Pick your favorites, then take a little bit. You can always go back for more... although I usually find that I don't need to!

I thought the 1/2 slice of this pie and 1/2 slice that pie was funny... how many people do this and probably think, "oh, I only had 1/2 a slice"... when in fact they ended up probably having about 1/2 a pie in the end! lol

Great thoughts! Thanks! Report
To those of you who insist you "can't imagine anyone eating that much" --- why so self-righteous, people? If you're not a volume eater, you obviously have other food issues, or you wouldn't be on SparkPeople. I'd much rather admit I enjoy eating, and also admit that I need and want to work on portion control. Can't we all support each other here?!?!? Report
As a diabetic, I have to have meals in 4 hour intervals to tightly control my blood sugar.

I have a regular breakfast (one of three I rotate).

At dinner time (turkey time) I still portion and weigh everything (it drives some of my family nuts, so I always go last - we set everything up buffet style).

At supper time I will have servings of vegetables and 1/16th of a slice of apple and pumpkin pie.

My late night snack consists of a 3 oz portion of white meat turkey with 2 slices of whole grain bread and 1 TBL of F/F mayo, plus an apple. Last year I finished Thanksgiving at approximately 2300 calories, just 10% higher than my 2,000 calorie upper limit. Report
Wow! Great article. I am bringing a healthy salad to Thanksgiving this year. It will help balance the plate! Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Report
I will admit I do slurge during the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. However, I do cut fat and calories by selecting lowfat milk and light fillings in my cooking. I also substitue the "usual" ingredients with lower fat/sugar replacements. But I do not go for seconds anyway. Report
Good to see some of the comments. As I read the article, I was struck by the enormity of the feast and was thinking, "It can't be! WOW! I didn't realize Thanksgiving was such a big deal in the US!" If I ate as much as this article suggests, I'd be rolling on the floor and barfing my guts out. I like to eat but come on!!! Report
This article was very helpfull, as I just signed up with SparkPeople the other day. We are having dinner here at home, and have already trimmed a few things from our usual menu. We are substatuting acorn squash for the usual mashed potatoes, and only having one apple pie instead of the usual pecan, and pumpkin pies. Report
Yeah, this is exactly how my family eats also. I've always been a little bit of a "food snob" particularly anything that has to do with green beans. Any you're right!...no sense in eating the mediocre stuffing at one house when the fantastic stuffing comes later at someone elses house. I think these were great tips. Thanks! Report
Yes, I try to watch what I eat at special celebrations, too. For one thing, I could not possibly hold all that was written above! I take rather small helpings of most everything I like except perhaps sweet potatoes. (A normal serving there.) No roll. I do not like pumpkin pie that much, so maybe I'll be in luck there. Lorraine Report
I can't believe all the people who "can't believe people really eat that much". If you pay attention you'd probably see that people really do eat that much on holidays! There are studies that show that people typically underestimate how much they eat and how many calories they are getting by as much as half - and that's on a regular day. On holidays we probably really underestimate how much we eat! When I look at this menu it looks pretty much how everyone I've ever had holidays with eats - maybe not at one sitting, but throughout the day, you'd be surprised how it adds up. My friends and family may eat like this on a holiday, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, but that's the only time they do, and they're not overweight. And everyone is pretty bloated feeling by the end of the day!! Report
Since I began my weight loss journey, my sweetie has been so supportive in every way. He has joined me in the boycott of a big Thanksgiving dinner and we started a new tradition last year. I eat before we leave the house, then we stop over at his mother's, where they have more of a Thanksgiving lunch since they eat so early, and he eats whatever he wants, and we don't linger. I don't have much of a family anyway, so we just skip that ordeal altogether. Then we spend the rest of the day and the evening enjoying the annual car show and then a movie, and home. It's perfect! If the weather is good we take the bike which makes it much easier to get in and out. Report
Nobody can imagine eating that much - lol. Well I can!!! Not all the same CHOICES, but yeah., the same calorie equivalents. That's why I got overweight & why I came to Sparkpeople. I plan to watch my portion sizes a little more closely, & nooooo - not eat cinnamon rolls & bacon for breakfast - lol. I'll probably have Fiber One & skim milk. I'm also making a veggie tray - alot easier than salad. Other than that, I intend to fully enjoy my stuffing, green bean casserole, & "some" pie. Probably like a moderate portion of pumpkin & pecan with light cool whip. Hey - hubby will be having his favorite Blue Bell Homemade vanilla ice cream with his, I'm sure. But then he doesn't eat some stuff that I do. Food Snobbery - lol. Whatever works. I don't plan to eat allll day long though. Report
Thanks for the helpful tips :D Report
I've been cooking the dinner with healthy lower fat recipees for quite some time, and this year it will be no different. This keeps away a hideous case of indigestion. Also, I don't like those cassarole recipes made with canned soup and cheese crakers. They are too salty. What's wrong with good ol' broccoli? Report
I've never eaten the way this describes, not at Thanksgiving or any other holiday. I can't fathom most people getting 4 cups of anything into their stomachs at one time, especially with turkey and dinner rolls added in. And that's before having seconds? Plus, the noodles-- who eats noodles at Thanksgiving? With what?

That said, I think for most people it's a good idea to take small portions of the Thanksgiving banquet (especially the parts that aren't turkey), and not to overdo at breakfast or dessert.

We usually have a late breakfast (with protein and no sweets) and then have the dinner around 2-3. In-between is a great time to exercise! No-one is very hungry at dinnertime, so a leafy green salad and a little turkey meat is perfect then. Report
Although none of us have identical tastes, this was a helpful article. Thanks! I particularly liked the idea of tasting everything instead of having mass quantities of everything. I don't like missing something that comes around only once a year. Pumpkin pie is my favorite!

I'm hearing moderation and portion control. Plus we don't have to be PERFECT! I plan to enjoy my day with family and friends--that's where I want my focus to be!

Happy Thanksgiving, Sparkers! Report