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Tips for a Healthier Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 21, 2021

It’s hard to stay healthy around the holidays, especially on Thanksgiving. Every year, families gather to give thanks, celebrate togetherness, and have that highly anticipated Thanksgiving feast.

A day consumed with eating a large meal, taking a nap on the couch, and watching evening football may not feel like the ideal time to practice healthy habits. However, there are ways to have a healthier Thanksgiving.

Below are a few simple Thanksgiving tips from Amanda Downs, registered dietitian at the Iredell Wellness & Diabetes Center.

Tip #1: Never miss a healthy meal twice
Firstly, it’s important to enjoy the holidays and the special foods that come along with them.

“We have enough stress in life. Food does not need to be another,” said Downs.

Having one unhealthy meal will not significantly impact your health or get you off track with your usual nutrition habits. However, when that one day becomes a week, a month, or longer, it can be difficult to get back on track.

To avoid this pattern, do not miss a nutritious meal twice in a row. For example, if you start your day with a nutritious breakfast and then have a larger, more calorie-filled lunch, try not to repeat that meal for dinner, but opt for a healthier option.

“Holidays are not a great time to set weight loss goals. Instead, a focus on weight maintenance is often more realistic,” she said. “That being said, if you’ve been consistent with good nutrition habits, we want to keep that rolling.”

Downs recommends making new dishes or altering old recipes to make them a little lighter. Using less butter, salt, and sugar is a good start.

You can prepare your favorite once-a-year recipes, but scale down on the recipe size to avoid lingering leftovers. If you do have leftovers, try to send them home with a friend or family member, or freeze them for another time.

Tip #2: Add vegetables to your typical Thanksgiving plate
“It’s easy for a lot of vegetable dishes at Thanksgiving to have extra calories from added cheese, cream soups, and butter,” said Downs.

Instead of a broccoli casserole this year, try tossing your broccoli in olive oil, adding some herbs and seasonings, and roasting it in the oven. This can add flavor and texture without all the extra fat and calories. You can also try this with other non-starchy vegetables like cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and asparagus.

Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and peas will add a little more carbohydrates to the meal versus the non-starchy vegetables mentioned above.

“Most Thanksgiving feasts do have a lot of carbohydrates. So, to create a well-rounded meal, I suggest including some lean protein, like turkey, fish, or chicken, with both starchy and non-starchy vegetables,” she said.

Tip #3: Take small bites
If you’ve made turkey before, you know it has the tendency to dry out when cooked. And sometimes dry food gets stuck in our throats and can pose a choking risk.

“Any food can be a potential choking hazard if it is not eaten mindfully, but especially if that food is a dryer, denser protein, such as turkey,” said Downs.

To avoid this, Downs recommends taking smaller bites of all foods and placing your fork down between bites to chew the food thoroughly.

“Take your time when eating and truly enjoy the smell, taste, and texture of the food. This adds a little extra gratitude for the delicious food you are eating, especially at Thanksgiving when we are eating foods that we may only enjoy once or twice a year,” said Downs.

Tip #4: Stay hydrated
Calories from sugary drinks like soda, sweet tea, fruit juice, and alcohol can add up quickly. This is because your body does not know the difference between liquid calories or solid calories; it just knows to store calories if it’s getting too many.

To stay hydrated throughout the day, try to drink at least 48-64 ounces of water daily. Keep a water bottle with you everywhere — in the car, at your desk, in the kitchen, out shopping, or on your nightstand — as a reminder to keep sipping all day.

Tip #5: Avoid the Thanksgiving dinner fatigue
We’ve all gotten that groggy, sluggish feeling after Thanksgiving dinner — the dreaded food coma. But, how can we attempt to avoid this drowsiness?

Downs recommends going outside, taking a short walk, and getting some vitamin D.

“This takes some of the focus off the food and can help you feel more energized and positive,” she said.

Also, not eating the entire day in anticipation of the Thanksgiving feast can contribute to your fatigue.

“Big meals, especially those with a lot of carbs, are usually the culprits for that post-meal sleepiness,” said Downs.

Amanda Downs is a registered dietitian at Iredell Wellness & Diabetes Center located at 235 N Main Street, Suite D, in Troutman. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Downs, speak with your primary care provider about a referral. To learn more, please call the wellness center at 704-878-4556.

Looking for a healthy vegetable to add to your Thanksgiving meal? Check out the recipe below.

Asparagus with Lemon Sauce
Makes 4 servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes


  • 20 medium asparagus spears, rinsed and trimmed
  • 1 fresh lemon, rinsed (for peel and juice)
  • 2 Tbsp reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • A small pinch of salt


  • Place 1 inch of water in a 4-quart pot with a lid. Place a steamer basket inside the pot, and add asparagus. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium. Cook for 5–10 minutes, until asparagus is easily pierced with a sharp knife. Do not overcook.
  • While the asparagus cooks, grate the lemon zest into a small bowl. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl. Use the back of a spoon to press out extra juice and remove pits. Add mayonnaise, parsley, pepper, and salt. Stir well. Set aside.
  • When the asparagus is tender, remove the pot from the heat. Place asparagus spears in a serving bowl. Drizzle the lemon sauce evenly over the asparagus (about 1½ teaspoons per portion) and serve.

Nutrition Information
Serving size: 5 spears. Amount per serving: 39 calories, 0g fat, 0g cholesterol, 107mg sodium, 2g fiber, 2g protein, 7g carbohydrates, 241mg potassium.