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Thanksgiving is supposed to be a joyful, gratitude-filled day spent with family and friends, but with COVID-19 cases spiking across the U.S. and new holiday guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about hosting and attending holiday gatherings, it’s impossible not to talk about how this year will look different. Add to that picky eating kids, your own healthy eating plan, and holiday stress, and you need some healthy Thanksgiving tips to get you through. 

HEALTHY THANKSGIVING TIPS

The words healthy and Thanksgiving seem like they just don’t belong together in a sentence.

Between appetizers, turkey all the fixings, pumpkin pie, alcoholic beverages and apple cider, Thanksgiving is a calorie-laden holiday.

In fact, according to the Calorie Control Council, Thanksgiving dinner alone can net you a whopping 3,000 calories.

The way I see it is that if you’re eating healthy the rest of the year, one day isn’t going to make that much of a difference.

Still, if you gained some extra lbs during the pandemic or you simply don’t want to feel stuffed, there are simple swaps and easy strategies to help you avoid going overboard.

At the same time, you might be worried about picky eating kids, food allergies, and dietary restrictions and how you’ll handle political conversations, social distancing, and the stress of the holiday.

Don’t fret—this list of healthy Thanksgiving tips will help you enjoy the day.

1. OPEN THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION

Experts say we don’t have to cancel Thanksgiving this year, but it may require some creativity.

You may decide to host your gathering outdoors, have smaller gatherings, or not gather at all.

When family members are divided on this issue, talking about and making these decisions is never easy.

We’re hosting this year and my husband and I disagree about how many people to invite, talking about risky activities with family members before our gathering, and wearing masks.

You may not meet eye to eye with your family, but keeping the lines of communication open and expressing your concerns is key.

Do your best to set ground rules about hand washing and social distancing and at the very least, do what you need to feel safe.

2. SERVE A HEALTHY BREAKFAST

Whether it’s a stack of pancakes or a breakfast casserole, you may have a tradition of making a special Thanksgiving breakfast for your family, but be sure to serve up a dish with protein, whole grains, and healthy fats.

A healthy breakfast will fill them up and prevent blood sugar spikes so they’re less likely to overeat at dinner.

Scrambled eggs with whole grain toast and fruit, or overnight oats with berries and nuts are good choices.

Related: 25 Healthy Breakfast Ideas For Kids

3. HAVE A HEALTHY SNACK BEFORE THANKSGIVING DINNER

I know it sounds counterintuitive to eat before dinner, but if you arrive to the table ravenous, you’re more likely to overeat.

Depending on what time dinner will be served, you can skip lunch but try to have a healthy snack beforehand and encourage your kids to do the same.

Apple slices with almond butter or baby carrots with hummus are good choices.

4. THINK TWICE ABOUT THE BUFFET

Although serving Thanksgiving dinner buffet-style makes it easier for everyone to serve themselves and can help you avoid reaching for seconds, the CDC recommends that guests limit contact with shared items like serving utensils and have one person serve everyone.

5. BE PREPARED TO DEAL WITH FOOD ALLERGIES 

My older daughter has multiple food allergies, so holidays are always a source of stress for me.

There are new recipes, new foods and new ingredients and I can never be quite sure if something is safe unless I make it myself.

If you or someone in your family has food allergies or dietary restrictions and you’ll be going to someone else’s home, you can ask the host what they’ll be serving.

Although you can’t expect them to alter the menu, you can be prepared ahead of time and know what’s off-limits and what’s safe.

Another great idea is to bring a dish that safe to eat and everyone can enjoy it.

6. UPGRADE TRADITIONAL RECIPES

If you’re looking for ways to cut back on all of the calories, fat, sodium, and sugar and still enjoy your favorite Thanksgiving recipes, you can make some simple ingredient swaps.

For example, swap Greek yogurt for sour cream, applesauce for oil, and avocado for butter.

Serve whole-grain dinner rolls and make stuffing with whole grain bread.

Also, skip extras like bacon, marshmallows, and cheese and make steamed or sautéed vegetables instead of creamed or au gratin varieties.

Related: 7 Healthy Holiday Baking Tips

7. DISH OUT VEGETABLES FIRST

One of the best healthy Thanksgiving tips is to fill up your plate with vegetables which can help fill you up and prevent overindulging in other foods.

8. WATCH PORTION SIZES

With the variety of dishes served on Thanksgiving, it’s one of the best holidays for kids to try new foods.

Instead of overwhelming your kids with so many different foods, however, serve tiny portions and try to serve them alongside other familiar foods.

Of course, serving small portions can also prevent everyone from overeating. Besides, the first bites are always the best anyway.

Related: How to Teach Kids Portion Control

9. BE CHOOSEY ABOUT BEVERAGES

A glass of wine, a festive cocktail, and apple cider are usually a given on Thanksgiving, but these are also a source of extra calories and added sugars.

If you’re going to have an alcoholic beverage, be mindful of how much you’re drinking.

For the kids, consider diluting apple cider or juice with water.

Related: What Are Added Sugars?

10. LEAVE THE THANKSGIVING TABLE

Once the after-dinner coma kicks in, you might be tempted to park yourself in front of the TV or hang out around the table, but one of the best healthy Thanksgiving tips is to get up and get moving.

Get everyone out and take a walk around the neighborhood, play a game of catch in the backyard, or put on music and dance.

Author Details
Julie Revelant teaches parents how to raise children who are healthy, adventurous eaters. Through blog posts and videos, her goal is to shift the conversation from short-term, problem picky eating to lifelong, healthy eating and healthy futures. Julie has written for FoxNews.com, FIRST for Women magazine, WhatToExpect.com, EverydayHealth.com, RD.com, TheBump.com, Care.com, and Babble.com.

Julie Revelant