A Thanksgiving dinner of turkey and all the trimmings can easily top 2,500 calories—more calories than most adults need in an entire day.

November 23, 2009

By Julie Upton, RD
A Thanksgiving dinner of turkey and all the trimmings can easily top 2,500 calories—more than most adults need in a day.

To help me resolve to eat less during the holidays, I try to focus on the things I'm thankful for—a wonderful husband, supportive sisters and parents, my good health, steady work, and being able to live in a wonderful community—rather than the food.

And when temptation strikes, I stick to this guide to healthy holiday choices.

Turkey: Dark meat or white, turkey is one of the lowest-calorie protein sources you can eat. The high-quality protein in turkey helps to trigger satiety, so you’re less likely to overeat that pecan pie. A 3-ounce serving of skinless turkey breast has about 120 calories and 1 gram of fat. The skin is where most of the fat and calories lurk, so make sure to cut it off before eating.

Cranberry sauce: At the first Thanksgiving of 1621, Native Americans introduced cranberries to the Pilgrims, and later taught the settlers how to use the tiny berries for food and medicine. Cranberries are naturally fat free, low in calories, and rich in antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin C. To make a sauce healthier, cut the sugar or sweetener that the recipe calls for by 1/4 to 1/3, or use orange juice to help sweeten your sauce without a lot of added sugars. Try my recipe on the next page.

Go for the greens: Whether it’s Aunt Suzie’s green bean casserole or your cousin's glazed carrots, go for some veggie side dishes. As long as the vegetables aren’t swimming in butter or smothered in cheese, they will provide fiber and antioxidants and won’t be loaded down with calories.

Mashed potatoes: Potatoes are a nutrient powerhouse, loaded with vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. If you use regular russet potatoes, add sweet potatoes to boost the antioxidants and carotenoids of your spuds. To cut down on fat, use skim or 1% milk instead of whole milk, and swap butter for a soft spread instead.


Pumpkin pie: Pumpkin is naturally fat free and high in fiber and antioxidants. Canned pumpkin is rich in five different carotenoids and has three times more beta-carotene than fresh pumpkin. A slice of pumpkin pie has about 200 calories, which is significantly less than any fruit or pecan pie, which often weighs in at 400 calories a slice.

Alcohol: Whether you enjoy red or white wine, mixed drinks, or beer, alcohol provides benefits for your heart, as long as you drink in moderation. That means one drink for women and two for men. There are also nonalcoholic ways to get the same antioxidant benefits of red wine, including pomegranate, cranberry, or Concord grape juices.

Mom’s (Mary Jane’s) Cranberry Sauce

Everyone loves this cranberry sauce, a recipe my mom gave me.  However, because my mother makes everything based on taste, not nutrition, I’ve had to slightly alter the original recipe.

  • 1 lb bag of fresh cranberries, rinsed, drained, and picked through
  • 3/4 cup sugar (I usually use 1/2 cup of Splenda Sugar Blend, which is 1/2 sugar and half Splenda)
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 3 oz Lemon Jell-O
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1 cup applesauce (I use unsweetened with added cinnamon, but the original recipe is for sweetened)
  • Orange zest


1. In heavy medium saucepan over moderate heat, combine cranberries, sugar, and water. Bring to boil, stirring often to dissolve sugar, then reduce heat to moderately low and simmer, stirring often, until thickened and most cranberries are popped open, about 12 minutes.

2. Pour 3 oz Lemon Jell-O in bottom of serving dish. Pour the hot cranberries over the Jell-O and stir until dissolved. Fold in applesauce and walnuts. Place in refrigerator overnight to allow the sauce to set. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Can be made several days before Thanksgiving. Garnish with orange zest before serving.

Makes enough cranberry sauce to serve 8–10.

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