Health Column: Suggestions for a healthy Thanksgiving

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTOStuffing balls made from your favorite stuffing recipe. this one has corn and white bread, sausage, apples and pecans.

Before you turn angrily to the next page because I’ve dared to write about ways to make Thanksgiving dinner healthier, please hear me out: I love butter with an intensity that rivals that of the late Julia Child and I’m a total sugar fiend.

I don’t diet and I firmly believe that life is too short to count calories.

With that said, I don’t give myself a free pass to indulge with abandon during the holidays — mostly because I don’t want to be forced to buy new pants.

If we share the same mind-set, read on for Riverhead nutritionist Lara McNeil’s tips for a healthier Turkey Day. It might surprise you how easy it can be.


• Before serving dinner, Ms. McNeil suggested, offer nutritious appetizers like a raw vegetable platter, shrimp cocktail and fresh fruit.

• Make dishes healthier by cooking with olive and canola oil instead of butter and bacon fat. You can also substitute chicken stock, fat-free yogurt and low-fat milk.

• While preparing dinner, try to avoid tasting too much of your handiwork. “These calories add up quickly,” Ms. McNeil said.

• Instead of spooning cream or cheese sauces over a pan of cauliflower, toss vegetables in a little olive oil and then roast them.

• When you make gravy, “be sure to skim the fat off the top first — or use a fat-separator pitcher for a lower-fat gravy,” she said.

• Use less bread when preparing stuffing and include more celery, onions and other vegetables.

• Offer whole-wheat dinner rolls and “skip the empty calories of their white counterparts,” said Ms. McNeil.


• Abide by what Ms. McNeil calls the “MyPlate” rules: Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables then one-quarter with starches, like stuffing and mashed potatoes, and one-quarter with lean meat.

“That’s the white turkey meat without the skin,” she said.

• It may sound counterintuitive, but Ms. McNeil doesn’t advise skipping breakfast or lunch in preparation for a big Thanksgiving dinner.

“You’ll be more likely to overeat and go back for seconds,” she said. “It’s fine if you want to ‘save’ some calories, but make sure to have something to eat at breakfast and lunch.”

• Don’t feel compelled to sample everything at the table.

“Before you build your plate, take a look at all the food options and decide which are worth eating and which can just be skipped over,” Ms. McNeil said. And, she added, don’t feel compelled to clean your plate.

• Eat until you feel satisfied — not until you’re uncomfortably full.

• Finally, said Ms. McNeil, make an effort to “eat mindfully.”

“Savor your holiday meal by eating slowly and with intention,” she said. “This is how you recognize when you are full.”

Have a health column idea for Rachel Young? Email her at [email protected].

Photo: Stuffing balls can be made from your favorite stuffing recipe. Do your best to limit yourself to just one this Thanksgiving. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)