By: Jacob Luckey & Kendra Kainz
Sure we all look forward to the holidays, especially the Thanksgiving meal with friends and family. But what you don’t know is that Americans are estimated to consume anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 calories at the average Thanksgiving meal and that’s not including second helpings!
Want to know what the biggest calories bomb on your plate is? Pecan pie! A slice has an average of 503 calories (compared to 316 calories for pumpkin pie and 411 calories for apple pie). Where does this seemingly innocent pie get all of its calories? Sugar, mostly, and copious amounts of pecans, which harbor lots of fat. The runner-up for calorie-packed dishes is sweet potato casserole at 460 calories a serving, and in third place: wine. Wine adds up fast at 382 calories for three average-size glass. Yikes!
To give a better sense of how much exercise you’d have to do to burn those calories, think ultra-marathon. An average 150 lbs person would have to run an average of 29 miles to burn off 2800 calories. If you weigh more, you can run a little less. So you have to wonder, is it worth it to overeat or overindulge in unhealthy options?
One way to burn some pre-meal calories is cooking the Thanksgiving dinner yourself. If you’re thinking, how much of a workout can that be? More than you might think! If you make the whole dinner yourself (that’s everything from turkey to the gravy, sides, and dessert, with about 4½ hours in the kitchen chopping, stuffing, and rubbing), you’ll burn about 700 calories!
Ultimately, your best bet is to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner that’s lower in fat and calories but still thrills the crowd! All it takes is a few ingredient substitutions and some clever fat-busting techniques. Here are some low-cal suggestions for your staple Thanksgiving food items:
- If you’re hosting a small gathering, buy a turkey breast rather than the whole bird, as breast meat is lower in calories than dark meat.
- If you do buy a whole turkey, avoid “self-basting” turkeys, as they often contain added fat.
- Stay away from the deep fryer this year, roast or smoke instead
- Rather than rubbing the skin with butter or oil, spray it with an oil spray and season it with salt and pepper.
- Roast turkey on a rack so that the fat will drain off.
- Gravy is another big calorie culprits on the table. Use vegetable oil rather than turkey drippings when making the gravy–it’s still fat, but oil is lower in saturated fat and is cholesterol-free.
- If you use turkey drippings to add flavor, use a gravy separator. Pour the gravy into a separator and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Some of the fat in the gravy will rise to the top of the glass where you can skim it off easily.
- Better yet, make low-fat broth-based gravy or vegetarian gravy instead.
Carbo-loaded Mashed Potatoes
- Instead of using butter and cream to mash potatoes, save the cooking water when you boil off the potatoes. The starchy water will give the potatoes a creamier texture than plain water would.
- You can also add turkey or chicken broth, evaporated skim milk, or fat-free sour cream.
- For extra flavor, stir in roasted garlic and herbs.
- Perhaps you for -go the potatoes and puree cooked cauliflower, parsnips, or turnips instead!
Dressing, not Stuffing
- Bake the dressing in a casserole dish rather than in the turkey, where it absorbs fat from the turkey as it bakes.
- Avoid recipes using sausage or bacon; wild rice and grains are more nutritious than bread stuffing.
- Buy French baguettes (they’re made without fat or sugar) for stuffing; serve instead of high-calorie dinner rolls.
- It’s hard to slim down a stuffing recipe, so take a small serving if it’s your Thanksgiving favorite.
- Scrap the traditional candied sweet potato casseroles in favor of a low-fat, naturally-sweetened dish.
- Lighten your string bean casserole by skipping tradition. Instead, sauté with onions in olive oil until they caramelize; top with slivered almonds.
- For dips, blend equal amounts of reduced-fat sour cream and low-fat yogurt with fresh herbs like dill and chives; for a chunkier texture, add a package of chopped spinach and/or a cup of diced artichoke hearts.
- Reduce salt in your Thanksgiving recipes, or use herbs to enhance natural flavors.
- Flavor food with spices (not sugars) like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
- To bring out their natural sweetness without the added sugar, roast -don’t boil sweet potatoes.
- Try a cranberry relish or cut down on the amount of sugar in your cranberry sauce by adding fruit juices or apple sauce.
Hurrah for the Dessert
- Most of the fat in a pie comes from the crust. Try a reduced-fat graham cracker crust or a crust-free pumpkin pie recipe.
- Use French-style tarts to cut the amount of piecrust in half; crisps made with fruit and a crumb topping have even less dough. (If it’s really the filling you love, skip the crust altogether.)
- Try a trifle. Alternate layers of fresh fruit chunks with fat-free ladyfingers and sugar-free vanilla or banana pudding; diet pudding also makes a great substitute for mascarpone in tiramisu and as a sauce for poached pears or baked apples.
- Let them eat torte. Try a recipe that calls for ground nuts and egg white layers — it’s more nutritious than recipes with a butter and flour base.
- Cut the calories of white wine by serving spritzers; equal amounts of wine and sparkling water.
For more information, please contact
- Fitness Director Jacob Luckey at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Wellness Director Kendra Kainz at email@example.com.