Controlling Your Portions on Thanksgiving

By Danielle Bolger

The Thanksgiving meal can be a daunting one for both kitchen neophytes and waistline-watchers. We can’t help you in your quest to cook a bird to perfection, but we can help when it comes to enjoying your feast—without sacrificing flavors or favorites, or bursting your Pilates pants. Take our Thanksgiving portion-control tips with you to dinner and the only thing stuffed at the table will be your turkey.


Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without turkey, and thankfully, the centerpiece of dinner is packed with protein and high in nutrients like B vitamins, selenium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and zinc. Go for the white meat, and enjoy about 3.5 oz (about the size of a deck of cards), which packs about 30 grams of protein, about 160 calories and 4 grams of fat if you choose skinless breast meat. But go easy on the gravy, which can add anywhere from 50-100 calories per quarter cup to your bird.


Load up on all the veggies you want, but watch out for hidden-calorie green dishes. Opt for salads and steamed options flavored with lemon juice or a drizzle of olive oil, and serve yourself just a ¼ cup of one of the creamy varieties, i.e. green bean casserole, creamed spinach, or casserole dishes.


Starch comprises more than half of the traditional meal components in a Thanksgiving feast. Try to limit yourself to half a cup of one bread-based or pasta item (i.e. stuffing, macaroni and cheese or a dinner roll) and half a cup of one starchy vegetable (potatoes, squash or corn). Scoop up sweet potatoes over regular, butter-and-cream-laden mashed for a super dose of nutrients and vitamins, but skip the sugar-laden marshmallow topping. If you like your potatoes sweet, drizzle some honey or agave nectar. Can’t give up mashed potatoes? Swap the heavy cream for Greek yogurt for a tangy twist.


The body takes about 20 minutes from the time you start eating to feel. And unfortunately, most of us eat way too fast and too much to even realize we are full. Eat slowly. Enjoy the conversation. Allow time to trigger the signal from your brain that you’re full, and, as a result you will consume less. Don’t fill up on appetizers before the main course, and after your first round, let your body digest. And remember, the second best thing to Thanksgiving dinner is Thanksgiving leftovers. Eat slowly and you will have plenty.


Pass up dessert on Thanksgiving? No way. When it comes to pie, choose pumpkin (around 300 calories per 1/8 slice) over pecan for its high fiber content and healthy fats. Although nuts in pecan pie are a great source of healthy fats and protein, a slice can hide more than 500 calories. Bake your own “healthier” pies by subbing rolled oats for half the nuts in a pecan pie, skipping the canned pie fillings by simmering your own fruits, swapping the lattice crust for a crunchy oat crumble on your apple pie, or skipping white flour for whole wheat. And also, pumpkin is technically a vegetable, right?


Let’s be real – no one is going to go on a diet or attempt to lose weight come Turkey Day. Instead of focusing on losing, focus on maintaining. One day of feasting will not undo all those hours spent in Pilates classes. Men should aim to have about 700 calories in their Thanksgiving meal, while women should aim for 500. The key is to pay attention to your body. Don’t restrict yourself to the point of torture, and don’t forget that food should be enjoyed. Pace yourself, and remember that the best part of Thanksgiving is the conversation and company.


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