A typical Thanksgiving meal has thousands of calories.
It's annoying to compromise taste for the sake of trimming calories, so here's our strategy for a guilt-free feast: Focus on ways to get more nutrients into your meal and a few preparation techniques that will prevent overeating without having to count every morsel of food.
We'll also settle the great debate over white and dark meat — is one really healthier than the other?
Read on to find out.Choose the color of your plate wisely.
If your goal is to eat less in order to save calories, then choose a colored plate that has a high contrast to the foods being served for Thanksgiving dinner. This tactic is based on research from professors Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum, who found that people serve themselves more food than they realize when the color of the plate matches the color of the food.
So, if you want to eat more green beans, then it would be a good idea to use a green plate. But if you want to control your portions of high-calorie starchy foods, like stuffing, corn bread, potatoes, or even pie, then we suggest staying away from white, yellow, or orange plates. Since buying multi-colored plates for your guests is not ideal, you might consider buying disposable plates in one shade, like blue, that is not likely to blend with most of the traditional dishes served on Thanksgiving.
Use smaller plates.
It's not just the color of your plate that affects how much you eat. Size also matters, according to Wansink and Ittersum. Their study is based on what's known as the Delboeuf illusion — the idea that when one looks at concentric circles, the size of the inner-circle appears smaller as the outer-circle gets larger.
When we apply this bias to plates, a larger plate makes a serving of food appear smaller (there is more white space around the "inner-circle" of food) than if the same amount of food was dumped onto a less big plate. The researchers explain that a large plate not only causes us to put more food on our plate — leading us to eat more — but it may also trick us into believing we have eaten less than we think.
Eat a mix of white and dark meat.
We're often told to eat white meat over dark meat because it's more healthful. It's true that white meat has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat, but not by much.
An ounce of white meat without the skin typically contains around 40 calories and 0.1 grams of saturated fat, compared with 45 calories and 1.6 grams of saturated fat for an ounce of dark meat without the skin. But dark meat also contains more nutrients, including higher levels of iron, zinc, and vitamins B6 and B12.
If you plan to gorge on turkey, then eating mostly white meat is the best option for trimming calories, but eating some dark meat provides other nutritional advantages.
Drink a glass of (red) wine.
Alcohol generally goes hand-in-hand with the holiday meal. But some drinks have more positive health benefits than others, at least when taken in moderation.
Red wine contains a natural ingredient found in the skin of grapes, called resveratrol, that's been found to combat diseases related to getting older, like type 2 diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer's.
From a caloric standpoint, a five-ounce glass of red wine has around 100 calories, compared to 150 calories for an average 12-ounce serving of beer. Most red or white wines are also lower in carbohydrates than beer.
Don't peel the potatoes.
What's Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes? Most mashed potato recipes call for peeled spuds. A potato is still healthy without its skin, but extra nutrients are needlessly wasted when we discard the outer layers. The skin is notably a good source of fiber, which is important for digestion.
To lighten your mashed potato dish, which traditionally incorporates heavy cream and butter for a smooth consistency, many chefs suggest using Yukon gold or red-skinned potatoes, known for their natural buttery flavor and creamy texture. You can also make whole, roasted potatoes.
Eat more cranberries.
Cranberries often show up on the Thanksgiving table in the form of canned or sweetened cranberry sauce. But this little tart fruit has a lot to offer in terms of nutritional value. According to the National Institutes of Health: "Findings from a few laboratory studies suggest that cranberry may have antioxidant properties and may also be able to reduce dental plaque (a cause of gum disease)."
One cup of whole, raw cranberries is a bargain at only 46 calories, while providing 4.6 grams of fiber, along with a small amount of protein, and no cholesterol. The holiday is also the perfect time to take advantage of fresh cranberries, since they reach their peak color and flavor between mid-September and mid-November. To incorporate more cranberries into into your holiday spread, consider throwing them into vegetable dishes like Brussels sprouts, stuffing them into acorn squash, or roasting them with herbs.
Buy a smaller turkey (or two small turkeys if you're feeding a large crowd).
Small turkeys roast more evenly than large ones, so there's a better chance that your bird will come out moist and juicy. Tender, perfectly-cooked meat requires fewer add-ons, like gravy or cranberry sauce, which tend to be high in calories.
For tips on how to roast a turkey, Butterball has a chart to determine how long to cook stuffed and unstuffed turkeys. You could also try this recipe for cooking it upside down so the juices from the dark meat drip through the white meat as it roasts, making it self-basting and keeping the white meat moist and succulent.
Make mini pies instead of one whole pie.
When it comes to dessert, you shouldn't sacrifice taste for health. Instead of saving precious calories by finding creative replacements for butter, corn syrup, or heavy cream, just eat smaller amounts. Mini pies are one way to control dessert portion sizes. These help to gauge the amount of food in a single serving and prevent mindless picking after the normal pie slices are served.
You can use regular muffin pans to make little versions of all the traditional holiday pies, including pumpkin, apple, and pecan. One mini pumpkin pie has around 90 calories compared to about 320 calories in a typical slice of pumpkin pie.
Run a 5K in the morning.
A little sweat session before the big meal will not only burn a few extra calories, it may also decrease your appetite later.
Fitting regular exercise into your Thanksgiving plans may seem difficult at first, but you can get the extra motivation by encouraging family members to sign up for a Turkey Trot. These are races that occur all around the country on Thanksgiving morning.
The runs vary in length, but most are 5K (3.2 miles) and the focus is on having fun (meaning it's fine to power walk the course too). Go to this website to locate Turkey Trots in your area.
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