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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I love seeing all of you "freak out" about the "before" and "how could anyone eat that much?" I'll admit...before I really started paying attention to what I was eating and why, I did it (with the exception of the green bean casserole...I ate corn instead). Loved the slightly veiled contempt...anyway...My grandmother made the most awesome homemade noodles and mashed potatoes (complete with chunks) as well as the most delicious cherry pie (with homemade crust) and apple pie you could dream of. Three pieces of pie, maybe not, but probably two and some homemade cinnamon rolls that she made from the leftover pie dough. I can admit that those Thanksgivings were some of my most treasured memories. Not because of the food (gee whiz it was delicious), but because of the time we shared with family. I could still put that much away today, but I choose not to. Personally, I try to stick to the veggies and turkey (no skin please), and keep the starchy carbs to a minimum. However, I'm not going to obsess over the numbers. I'm going to enjoy my time with the family, have some turkey and pie, play some Wii with the nephews and enjoy the day. Hope you all enjoy it too. Report
Um, I hate to be judgmental, but who the heck eats THAT much food on Thanksgiving?! I felt sick just reading all that. The event itself sounds about accurate, but not anything before and after. And eggnog!? BARF.

Frankly, I'm not going to be counting calories, I do plan on going for an early morning run and laying off the gravy, which is my favorite! Report
I don't make green bean casserole. Use fresh or home-canned green beans, and season them with diced turkey ham. Southern-style greens simmered in a broth of brown sugar, turkey ham, chopped green onions, garlic, and a pinch of oregano and chili powder are low calorie and have plenty of taste without providing too many calories.
Sweet taters can be mashed with bananas and a little vanilla without added fat.
Now, if I could only figure a way to get the carbs out of that darned stuffing... Report
This year, I will be thinking more about portion control and filling up on white turkey meat and veggies before I head to the salad portion of the line. We always wait until after a walk for pie and that does help keep in mind that just because everyone has brought a different dessert, trying bites of a couple kinds of dessert is plenty.

Mostly this year, I will be thankful for the time I have to spend with my family. God has blessed us with so much, but it's family that matters the most. Report
I don't know who in the world you are eating with, but no one I know eats the menu you wrote about. It is just insane. Who actually eats 3 slices of pie after dinner? A cinnamon roll and 3 slices of bacon for breakfast? Please try to make your point without basically lying. Report
Actually, I started being a "food snob." Before I would just eat anything that was given. But now, if it really isn't something special, I just say no. Or if it something I hardly eat or something that Ive been craving (cookies, brownie, pizza), but when I bite into it and it tastes just OK, then I just stop right there. I rather have something DELICIOUS instead of just settling for anything. Report
Great blog! I am happy to find another person who doesn't like green bean casserole! :) Report
Thanks for breaking it down into easily digested blog-bites!! You have inspired me to eat wisely on Thanksgiving. I'm really brainstorming overtime to remember all the good tips I'm learning today, so I won't have regrets the morning after! Report
Great tips! Thanks for all the advice. Skipping the grazing will be hard, but worth the self-control. It is very easy to get caught up in the food on Thanksgiving, but you are right... It is better to concentrate on the family than on the food. Report
I strip any fat I can find on the bird (there are usually a couple huge chunks near the rear entry) & use a baking bag so the meat stays juicy. I only put about 2 cups of dressing inside the turkey which is mixed with the rest & microwaved for a few minutes just before eating. Vegetables are usually broccoli, carrots & whatever else is on hand & lots of them. No pies but instant mashed potatoes round out the menu (hard to over indulge when you only have a couple cups total). Snacking will be turkey all on it's own & veggies. (mmm) We have an 18# bird for two of us & our two cats, so there will be turkey tacos & turkey noodle soup in out future. Report
Wow! I can't believe that people really eat THAT much on Thanksgiving. Seriously? You'd need a hallow leg! And where are the vegetables?? I would go nuts not eating my freggies no matter what day it is!
Since Canadian Thanksgiving passed well over a month ago I can tell you that I managed to eat rather well that day. 1,863 calories for the entire day; 8 servings of freggies, 55 g of fat, 239g of carbs, 93g of protein and 31g of fibre.
Yes, you CAN eat healthy on Thanksgiving!
P.S. I cooked the meal and I'm really pleased that I did not try and kill my family with a "feast" such as you described. Report
Great suggestions! I usually try not to obsess over the calories, since Thanksgiving and Christmas only come once a year, but I do watch my portion sizes. I also do the same thing that was suggested about saving dessert for my snack. I am always full by the end of the meal, so there is no sense "stuffing" myself more by forcing down dessert at that point. I enjoy my dessert much more by having later when I am actually hungry. Happy Holidays, everyone!
reading this blog made my stomach hurt...who can eat that much??? i think its all about portion control. we are having one of those store bought turkey dinners and driving it to grandmas house...its just the 3 of us..gran, me and hubby so it shouldnt be that big of a deal Report
Wow, that's a lot of food on the "before" menu! Who could eat that much food?? I plan on doing what I usually do, which is up to the first pie serving. Mmmm, I do love my pecan pie! (fom Marie Callendars of course.) Report
I can't imagine eating as much food as you have described here. I try to treat Thanksgiving like any other day. I eat until I am full and then I stop. The food will still be there later, I don't have to eat it all at once. I like to leave some to enjoy the next day. Report
I really can't imagine eating that much. I have a thanks giving supper so breakfast and lunch is like a normal day for us. Normally a granola bar and banana for breakfast, some sort of soup and sandwich for lunch and then the feast. I never eat 6 ounces of turkey as I am a sides girl. Luckly I can not eat as much as I use to or I will be really uncomfortible. I think the hard part for me is when the family sits around the table after the meal to talk. That is when i nibble. So this year I think I will step back away from the table a little bit. Report
I'm making Thanksgiving dinner this year for a change! So, while I do plan to have traditional favorites like mashed potatoes and stuffing, I'll also have a kale salad and brussell sprouts because I happen to like greens and it's my party! ;)
I agree portion control is part of it but subtle swaps/substitutions can also go a long way in reducing your overall calorie/carb content. I will have pumpkin pie for the die-hard but for anyone willing to break tradition, I'm also making a low sugar/low fat/low carb panna cotta that tastes fabulous.
I want my plate to be as pretty as it delicious and good for me. I no longer have an emotional attachment to the heavy Thanksgivings of my past. Report
I cannot even imagine eating as much food as is described here!! I already know that my feast will only total about 900 calories, which, along with a 300 calorie breakfast, gives me about 500-600 more calories to play with. That leaves plenty of wiggle room for wine and my father-in-law's glorious crab dip. Report
No one else wants to admit it, but yeah, up to dessert, that's what our thanksgiving looks like. I don't eat after that (no game sandwich for me) though depending on time, I'll have a small snack at some point. But who cares? It's Thanksgiving, it's the only day of the year I do it. I enjoy it, and it's the one day I don't feel guilty for splurging. I'd much rather worry and work hard the remaining days of the year than make myself feel deprived on a meal I'm busting my butt off to cook. I'd love to see how many calories I'm burning considering I'm cooking from 8:30 to 4:30 straight! Report
I like the "no thank you portions" which are 1 tablespoon (not heaping) of the "i have to have" dishes. This way you are taking care of the craving of having everything on the table but with not stuffing yourself.

I started doing this and now feel better about me. I can also walk away from the table a comfortable full. Report
Great suggestions! We usually eat Thanksgiving dinner mid-day, and I'm usually too stuffed for pie, so I save that for my evening "meal". It's really just your average Thanksgiving dinner stretched out over an entire day. And don't forget to go for a walk later on! Report
I'm no stranger to a Thanksgiving snarf-fest, but does anyone really eat a meal like that?? Those calorie counts seem rather over the top - even the largest dinner plate I've ever seen couldn't hold that much food at one time unless it was stacked 5 inches high. These are good tips to manage the day, though. Personally, my best strategy is this - I like to start the day with my workout as usual... Not only will it torch some calories, but it keeps me sane and makes me feel good - which makes me not want to blow the entire day in a deluge of calories. Report
I also hate green bean casserole! and I don't like sweet potatoes at all, so I can always save some calories because it is easy for me to pass those up. Stuffing I can take or leave, depending on how it's made. Sadly, everything else is fair game. Report
Calorie counts very helpful- everything can make you fat if you eat too much of it and don't exercise. Report
I don't pay any attention to fat, it's carbs that make us fat. Report
I love the suggestion on taking a few bites of everything. I have a hard time saying no to the homemade rolls, so I usually skip the dressing if homemade rolls are being served. This is my first Thanksgiving with SP so I am anxious to track my meal. Report
Love the tips, thank you! I do indeed use some of these strategies already. I am looking forward to my Thanksgiving morning workout to start out the day. Report
Because my family is proud of me for losing weight, I don't want to look like a pig in front of them. I'm proud of me, too, and don't want to let myself down. So I'll try to eat like I normally do with just a few bites of special foods I wouldn't usually have. I'd rather have to deal with a few hundred extra calories than a few thousand. Report
Oh yeah, I'm going to indulge and binge probably 8k+ calories and not give a rat's butt :)- this holiday only comes once a year and I sure as heck don't know what the day after is going to bring (e.g., car accident, etc.).I'm a 135 pound male who is 5 foot 9 and regularly eats 3000-4000 calories daily. All you have to do is just be more active and eat foods like complex carbs, lean white meats, etc. Sure it's more money, but honestly I can eat 3k+ on the athlete's diet; however the minute the calories come from red meats, lots of drinking (yeah :(), junkfood, etc. the body fat % goes up and so does the weight (around 2000-2200!). Anywho, I don't care about one day, so I'll go ahead and splurge and I suggest everyone else do, too , especially the ones who don't have psychic powers to know what the future will bring!! :) Report
Ohhhhhh common...... Eat and be merry. Portion control.....period. Don't stress over it. I've spent three days preparing this feast and they will all eat a hardy dinner and pay for it later....like most of the population of the US. hahahaha HAPPY THANKSGIVING, Y'ALL. (double time on the eliptical for me...teehhee) my bad. xxxxoooooo Love and blessings....Mary Ann..... Bon appetite! Report
Seriously--who eats like that??? I think that estimate is completely unrealistic...come on!! Report
I liked the suggestions. I am sadly 22 pounds over my weight watchers goal weight & need to somehow ground myself. I think I could do this, in fact I KNOW I can. I know I will feel better about myself than gorging on everything. Report
Yet another Thanksgiving blog/article. Talk about flogging something to death!!! It's all the fuss and anticipation and building up to it, and the hype that will cause stress in some people.

Can noone write about something of interest to the people who have no interest in this? Report
Who seriously eats like that??? That is insane!

A couple more tips:
Brine your turkey, it'll be moist (need less gravy!) and tasty without needing to add fat.
Baste it with chicken broth, not butter or the turkey fat.
Use a fat separator to skim off the fat from the drippings before making gravy.
Thicken gravy with a slurry of cornstarch and water instead of a roux of fat and flour.
If you dont have a good fat separator, make a thickened chicken stock as your gravy instead of using drippings.
Use tons of herbs and lemon juice to add flavour to everything.
Don't serve 'candied' anything. It maybe a tradition, but it's unhealthy and it's important to feed your loved ones food that is good for them! Fresher flavours and foods that taste like what they ARE (instead of carrots that taste like maple syrup, potatoes that taste like brown sugar etc) are better!!
Make your own cranberry sauce. It's soooo easy and you can control the sugar.
Leave skins on mashed potatoes. It adds so much flavour and nutrients too.
Make small rolls, if you need breadand don't put more than one per person on the table. (with all the other carbs though, why not save the fresh rolls for turkey
sandwiches the next day?)
Serve a salad first with a simple vinegrette.

Get some exercise by bundling up and having a walk with your family after the food settles.

Remember, there are TONS of leftovers, no need to eat it all in one sitting! Report
My cycling instructor just informed us that we are to count all of our calories this holiday weekend, so this article well totally help me cut back on the goodies. I find its the eggnog and whiskey that bring me down! Thanks! Report
We eat our regular breakfast and lunch. that way we aren't "pigging" out & snacking. We don't have the carbs your meal has but could over eat if we didn't watch it. We have turkey & ham, potatoes, corn casserole green beans, a salad of some form, homemade dinner rolls and one pumpkin dessert ( pie, cake or bars). After then meal and a little R&R, we turn the Wii on and have some family fun. The guys will intermittently check on the game and if good will watch. Lots of laughs & fun! Report
I will eat my normal breakfast cereal with almond milk. I eat turkey, stuffing, fresh veggies and salad for my main meal. I don't like pie, yay! For a snack later, I have turkey on a roll with lettuce and very minimal mayo and sometimes leftover salad and veggies. I love Thanksgiving! Report
Good article, I'm, going to write down all those food items and calories in my journal. At our big holiday family dinners I try to always see my plate all the way around each food item I put on it, that way I can get a taste of everything without over eating. Also sometimes larger dinner plates are put out for the adults and a bit smaller for the kids, I'll take the smaller plate. Report
Thanks - this is a wonderful breakdown of all the stuff. I am starting with a big salad, then the traditional, sliced turkey, rice and vegan gravy, cooked greens, raw greens and a roll. Don't know what desert is, as we are eating away from home. At home, there is a vegan stuffing for hubby - with vegan sausage baked into it, raw greens, sweet potatoes and vegan mac and cheese. We will be leaving that here. I do not know if he will eat again, but I have a big day of exercise the next day and I will not be dragging in. Report
This should help a bit. My husband and I are rewarding ourselves if we stay in calorie range this week and special rewards for each other if we stay in calorie range on Thanksgiving day. Report
Definitely not planning on getting to over 4,000 calories! That one meal that day plus other small snacks to tide me over before and after are enough for me. Report
I'm fortunate - I'm the thanksgiving cook, so I have almost complete control over what gets served. Yeah, I'll go over my calories for the day, but not 4200 calories, probably 2000-2200. Actually, I have a hard time wrapping my head around that 4200 number. Report
This is not going to be an issue for me at all. I am confident i'll be around my usual 1200 calories for the day even at Thanksgiving. The projected 4000+ calories just isn't a reality for me - my stomach and shrank so much, there's no way i'd even be able to stuff myself like that! Report
There will only be 4 of us including my mother and mother-in-law both of whom eat like birds so I do not fix the big meal. just turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green bean casserole.
since my husband does not like pie my mom makes a pumpkin dessert that is just as good.
but everyone just has one helping of food and then wait a couple of hours for dessert.
supper is either a turkey sandwich or another piece of dessert so we don't overeat although it is still more calories than I am supposed to have but it is only a once or twice a year meal.
though we do tend to start out the day with cinnamon rolls and bacon for breakfast. thought we were the one with that combination but it is our usual Thursday breakfast meal. we try to eat healthier breakfast on other days. Report
thanks for giving the break down of the carlories I was a little worried about it. I know it is bad to skip meals but, I am skipping dinner all together and save it with a piece of pie. Report
Our menu:rost turkey, stuffing(all for me) made with giblets after skimming fat, no butter, non trans fat oleo, 1/2%milk and egglands best egg to fluff,; sugar free pie made with egg beaters,; whiped potatoes mad ewith sam eoleo and 1/2% milk, no gravy, green bean caserole made with healthy request soup( I eat a tablespoon of it..
the big trea tfo rme is sitting down, I work every day of the week, including T-day and Friday,, ..Dd cooks most of it,, I load teh dishwasher and run on the tread! Report
With this being my first semester in Nursing school, the last thing I wanted to do was to spend all day in the kitchen. And then when my husband insisted that I relax and not make a big to do about it, we decided to just have a yummy lunch of things we like to eat any other day! So looks like Kale Chips and Field Roast for me (it's easy to not get to caught up in the traditional spread when you are a vegetarian/vegan couple)! Oh, I will make a yummy sweet potato and apple casserole...it's really about spending time with family anyhew, right? :) Report
I always watch what I eat and only eat to I feel I've had enough. I do not go for seconds and usually share dessert with my hubby. thank you for the info on calories, it really blew me away.
Oh yeah.... I will only eat 1 piece of any pie at any time and usually share with my husband! I also will go take a walk after dinner! I hate football so it is a good time for me to burn off some calories! Report
I guess I am somewhat of a food snob. I don't eat anything I don't like, but on the other hand I eat too much of what I do.... Stuffing!! I only have a small taste of mashed potatoes with a taste of gravy, I do like green bean casserole and eat more of it than potatoes and sweet potatoes, etc. I don't eat the sweet potato casserole if offered, only sweet potatoes on their own or with a little brown sugar. I will eat a salad before hand to fill up and get my veggies in. I don't eat the turkey skin as much as I want to and I always skip the bread! I eat a very small breakfast and I don't graze later.... If I am full I don't want to make myself stuffed, so I avoid any leftovers until the next day! Report