5 Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving (Plus Recipes!)

Turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce. These are just a few reasons to look forward to Thanksgiving! But did you know that the average Thanksgiving meal is approximately 3,000 calories? And that’s not including any drinks, snacks, or additional food you may consume throughout the day. 3,500 calories is equal to 1 pound in gained weight.

Gaining one pound over Thanksgiving may not seem like a ton, but also take into consideration any office Thanksgiving parties, get-togethers with friends, or other festivities in addition to the main event.

Your personal fitness journey is just that: a journey. Thanksgiving is typically just a day or two of planned overeating, which won’t set you back in the long run. However, it is important to maintain some healthy habits throughout so you don’t get lost down a wrong path.

Here are 5 tips for you to maintain a healthy Thanksgiving.

1. Don’t Starve Yourself Before The Meal

Many people skip breakfast and/or lunch in order to save their appetite for the main meal. Others may be waiting to “spend” their calories all on the big meal. However, fasting all day before a big meal leads to binge eating.

Starting the morning with a healthy, hearty breakfast will maintain your blood sugar and energy levels at a steady flow, to curb cravings and help you avoid overeating. Some good examples include oatmeal, fruits, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, or vegetables.

While eating lunch is also recommended, you can opt for a light lunch or snack before dinner to help you make better decisions when the time comes. Even eating something small an hour before the meal will fill your stomach enough to prevent you from piling more on your plate than you can (or should) actually eat. Sticking to your normal daily routine will help you manage your impulses and portions.

2. Find Healthy Alternatives To Classic Recipes


While turkey itself is a low fat, low cholesterol food, the way it is prepared often greatly increases the caloric content. Traditional recipes typically require rubbing the turkey with butter before roasting to keep the meat moist. But skipping this step brings down the fat content. Brining turkey before roasting is a great alternative to ensuring juicy, flavorful meat. This recipe for Honey Bourbon Spatchcocked Turkey ditches the butter for brine.

Choosing lean, white meat is also a healthier alternative. Dark meat has 15% more calories and 30-40% more fat than white meat. Also, take off the skin (where most of the fat is) to make it even healthier. This Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast recipe from Ina Garten is one of our favorites. Or, try this Air-Fryer Turkey option.

Mashed Potatoes:

Mashed potatoes are a Thanksgiving staple, but they’re also notorious for being high in both calories and fat as they are often filled with butter and cream. This Low Carb Mashed Potatoes recipe uses Yukon Gold potatoes, which are naturally creamy, and have skins that taste like butter. It also substitutes a portion of potatoes with cauliflower, and uses Greek yogurt for an added boost of protein.

Or, try this recipe for Savory Mashed Sweet Potatoes spiced with cumin and cayenne which contains no butter or cream.


Store-bought stuffing mix can be high in sodium and may have preservatives. These recipes are “stuffed” with great flavor, but use whole grain and whole wheat bread to up the fiber content.

Classic Herb Stuffing
Pear Sage Golden Raisin Stuffing
Pear Prosciutto Hazelnut Stuffing

Green Bean Casserole:

The canned cream of mushroom soup and canned fried onions in green bean casserole make it high in both fat and sodium. These healthier recipes skip the cream of mushroom but are still delicious. You could even swap out the friend onions for toasted almonds!

Healthier Green Bean Casserole
Roasted Green Beans, Mushrooms, and Onions with Parmesan Breadcrumbs

3. Do Something Active Before The Meal

Do your best to keep up with your exercise routine. The holidays are a busy season full of social obligations, which often leads to us putting exercise on the back burner. Find creative ways to squeeze in short workouts around your busy schedule. A few examples could be:

  • Take a family walk before the meal while the turkey is still cooking.
  • Plan a game of football, soccer, or dodgeball either before dinner or afterwards once everyone has digested.
  • Participate in your local Turkey Trot race.
  • Do a quick 15-20 minute home workout.

Even 15 minutes of activity can help release endorphins and increase your metabolism before the big meal.

4. Eat smart!

Survey the Thanksgiving spread and take a mental note of which foods you want on your plate. Planning out your portions will prevent you from overindulging without the feeling that you’re missing out.

Using a smaller plate will also prevent you from piling a mountain of food on it. A good rule of thumb is to fill ½ your plate with the healthy veggie dishes, ¼ for protein, ¼ for carbohydrates (mashed potatoes, stuffing, yams or a roll).

Having dessert is fine, but pick a favorite and stick to a sensible portion of it instead of indulging in a sampler plate of all the desserts.

Be mindful of your alcohol intake! Dehydration can lead to increased cravings, particularly for sugar. Drink a glass of water in between cocktails to stay hydrated. Skip high-calorie, high-sugar eggnog and stick to beer, wine, or drinks that are made without juice or added sugar.

5. Be Thankful For What Matters

While much of Thanksgiving revolves around food, return the focus of the holiday back on enjoying time with family and friends. Maintaining your health and fitness during the holiday season is important, but at the end of the day, the best way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to be thankful for your loved ones, your health, and your happiness.