Healthy Thanksgiving Tips: Eat, Move, Think Well

Healthy Thanksgiving Tips

Thanksgiving time is here and millions of Americans will be stuffing themselves like turkeys with stuffing, pie, mashed potatoes, gravy, casseroles, and many other traditional foods.

Family meal time has benefits, but Thanksgiving can often mean overeating.

One person’s average Thanksgiving meal can easily be 2,500 calories or more. That’s equal to or more than how many calories most people should eat in a whole day. Many of those calories come from sugar, refined carbohydrates and other unhealthy sources.

While the holidays can be seen as a time to throw all caution to the wind, it’s possible to have a delicious Thanksgiving without going totally overboard. Your body will thank you. We’re not talking about just weight but about overall health.

See quick tips in the video below, plus more tips and recipe ideas in this post.


Some may say what’s the harm in going overboard for a day? Well, here are a couple things to consider.


Thanksgiving often isn’t “just one meal,” not only because of the excess calories consumed on that day. Many of us have those rich leftovers for days afterward. Leftovers are another Thanksgiving tradition, but if all the food is loaded with butter, sugar, starch and other things, our body is taking in a lot more calories and nutrient-poor foods. This leads to us feeling sluggish or sick and our body and brain may not be getting the nutritional fuel they need to function at their best.

Resetting Cravings

Everyone reacts differently to different foods. But if you find you often can’t stop eating sweet things or buttery or salty foods, it may be easy to eat a lot on Thanksgiving and your body may crave more after the meal has ended. If you eat leftovers for days your body will crave those things even more and may become desensitized to how much sugar, salt, etc. you’re consuming. Then it can be difficult to curb those cravings and get back on track with eating well.

We’re not saying you need to ditch the Thanksgiving meal altogether and have a salad. Here are some ways to enjoy Thanksgiving eats without overdoing it.

Consider Your Eating Plan

If you usually eat vegan, vegetarian, paleo or keto and want to keep eating that way on Thanksgiving, check out suggestions for what your Thanksgiving plate could look like if you’re on a specific eating plan.

Mind Your Portions

Since Thanksgiving usually consists of several dishes, it can become easy to overeat if you have some of everything. Decide what your favorite foods are and have a little of those in addition to the protein and vegetables. Keep in mind that sweet potato casserole and cranberry sauce usually have as much added sugar as dessert, so if you want to have a slice of pumpkin or pecan pie, perhaps hold off on the sweet sides to avoid a sugar coma.

Registered dietitian Joy Bauer shares her helpful “Rule of One” Thanksgiving tip that gives you an easy game plan before the big feast:

“Before the big meal, stick to just trying one of each of the hors d’oeuvres being served. At Thanksgiving dinner, fill one dinner plate with whatever looks the most yummy, keeping in mind that smaller portions allow you to sample more sides. When drinking, have plenty of water and stick to enjoying just one alcoholic drink throughout the meal. And for dessert? Pick one of your favorite sweet treats (or a sliver of two, if you really can’t decide!). If you’re torn between pumpkin, apple or pecan pie, choose pumpkin because it’s usually one of the lightest and less caloric Thanksgiving desserts.”

Load up on Protein and Veggies

A lot of Thanksgiving food can be full of refined carbohydrates like bread and starchy items that can make you hungrier and spike your blood sugar. First, have some protein like turkey or a plant-based protein option if you don’t eat meat and skip the gravy or have a small spoonful. Vegetables like green beans get doused in cream, butter, and breadcrumbs this time of year. Try making herb roasted vegetables or a dish like these Green Beans With Caramelized Onions and Almonds and cutting down on the butter and oil if you can.

Swap Ingredients

Make some of the food yourself and enjoy some of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes, just made with better ingredients. The flavors of the food will shine, you’ll feel better after eating, and you’ll have healthier leftovers too.

Most traditional recipes call for a lot of oil, butter, cream, or sugar, so even with healthier substitutions it can still add up to a lot of sweetener or calories. Try using less of these healthier substitutions too and you’ll still get a tasty result.

  • Instead of extra salt, use a salt-free seasoning, sautéed minced garlic, fresh herbs like rosemary, sage or thyme in dishes like mashed cauliflower and stuffing.
  • Instead of mashed potatoes, try mashed cauliflower or a mix of the two.
  • Instead of white or wheat bread stuffing, try grain-free stuffing.
  • Instead of butter or canola oil, try a little coconut, avocado or olive oil.
  • Instead of white sugar, try coconut sugar.
  • Instead of corn syrup, try maple syrup or honey.
  • Instead of a lot of oil in some desserts, try applesauce, pumpkin or bananas.
  • Instead of milk or cream, try coconut milk or coconut cream.

Drink Water 

Between salty food and alcohol, it can be easy to not get enough water during your holiday meal. Water helps us function better overall and helps us feel more full. Drink water throughout the day and try drinking a glass of water before the meal. If you’re drinking alcohol, try alternating a glass of water with each drink.


This isn’t about “working off” Thanksgiving foods so you can eat as much junk as you want.

Try exercising before or after your Thanksgiving meal, whether that’s the gym, a walk, yoga or whatever works for you. Ask if your family or friends you’re spending Thanksgiving with want to join you and you can make a new tradition.

Ultimately, take time to slow down, enjoy yourself and loved ones and give thanks.

Have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving!