If you’re trying to eat right and stay active, Thanksgiving can challenge your goals. But it doesn’t have to set you back.


You and your family can enjoy a healthy, happy Thanksgiving by following these simple tips.

1. Eat a healthy breakfast.

It’s tempting to skip breakfast to save calories for the Thanksgiving feast, but that plan can actually backfire. People who come on an empty stomach are more likely to overeat and fill their plates with unhealthy choices. Start your day with a healthy breakfast (think oatmeal, an egg-white veggie omelet, or a fruit yogurt parfait) and you’ll be setting yourself up for success.

2. Volunteer to help the host.

The only sure-fire way to eat something healthy for Thanksgiving is to bring it yourself! Ask the host if you can bring a dish to share. Make something that tastes good and is good for you, such as:

  • Herb roasted turkey breast—Instead of roasting a whole bird, which includes fattier dark meat, just cook the healthier white meat.
  • Green bean casserole—This revised version uses low fat milk and skips the sodium heavy canned soup.
  • Cauliflower leek purée—Looks and tastes similar to mashed potatoes, but much healthier.
  • Wild rice (or quinoa) stuffing—Skip the traditional bread stuffing for something better for you, like wild rice or quinoa.
  • Pumpkin custard—Without the butter-heavy crust, this crème brulée inspired dessert puts a healthy twist on the traditional pumpkin pie.

In addition to bringing a healthy dish to share, volunteer to help the host clean up after the meal. It will get you moving and prevent you from picking at leftovers or going for a second helping of dessert.

3. Work the crowd.

Instead of settling in by the candy dish or loitering around the buffet, keep yourself moving around the room. Besides the turkey dinner, Thanksgiving is about connecting with family and friends. Spending more time with them, and less time with the food, is a great way to celebrate.

4. Eat smartly and slowly.

Fill your plate with a balanced meal of mostly veggies, some skinless white turkey meat (about the size of your first), and small servings of other, less healthy foods. (A golf ball sized portion of your favorite guilty-pleasure foods can satisfy your cravings without going overboard.) Skip dishes that you don’t love or ones you can get every day to make what’s on your plate feel more special.

As you eat, put your fork down between bites. It will help you slow down and really savor your flavors. And last but not least, stop eating when you’re full. Sounds simple, but how many times have you overeaten and regretted it? Just one plateful should do it. (Tip: Resist the urge to wear loose clothing to dinner. A snug fit will help you stop eating before you feel stuffed.)

5. Avoid added salt, sugar and butter.

To keep sodium in check, put the salt shaker down. Most dishes will already have plenty of salt and other seasoning baked-in. Avoid making sweet potatoes with brown sugar or marshmallows—they’re already sweet enough. And when you make gravy, there’s no need to add butter. The pan drippings are flavorful and fatty enough on their own. Avoid adding butter to cooked veggies and breads, too.

6. Think before you drink. 

Alcohol can veer you off track for several reasons. Besides being full of empty calories, too many cocktails can loosen your resolve to eat healthy. It might be better to avoid the alcohol altogether and stick with ice water, which can suppress your appetite and burn calories as your body warms your internal temperature.

7. Play games.

Planning activities other than eating can help shift everyone’s attention from the food. After your meal, clear the table of leftovers to set up a board or card game. Or gather everyone in the living room for a rousing game of charades. (Hey—that could burn some calories, too.)

8. Stay active before and after the big meal.

Even by eating smartly, you’ll likely have extra calories to burn from your Thanksgiving meal. Ways to balance the heavy food with exercise:

  • Start your day with a 5K—Thanksgiving is a popular day for themed 5K races. Check out these options in the Twin Cities: Turkey Day Run, Turkey Trot, Walk to End Hunger, GivingThanks 5K and Gobble Gait.
  • Go outside after the meal—Whether you gather a group for a walk around the neighborhood or put together a quick touch football game, being out in the fresh, crisp fall air will get you get moving and burning those calories.
  • Make a workout plan—Stick to your weekly workouts, and maybe amp things up a bit. Consider working with a Personal Trainer to create a plan. Another good idea is to make a workout date with a friend for the morning after Thanksgiving, so you’re both accountable for showing up.