Tips to cut calories in Thursday’s meal

Published 10:15 pm Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Those who want to enjoy Thanksgiving without packing on pounds have plenty of options to have a satisfying but healthy meal, a registered dietitian says.

Jennifer Shea Rawn, a registered dietitian for Farm Fresh, says the keys to a health-conscious Thanksgiving meal are preparation and moderation.

“Thanksgiving truly is about family, about friends, and also about the food,” Rawn said. “By no means do we have to deprive ourselves. We just have to take some simple steps so we’re not going completely overboard.”

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The typical Thanksgiving meal is about 4,000 to 5,000 calories, Rawn said. Even cutting consumption enough to reduce that by 1,000 calories can help avoid weight gain later.

Healthy meals start with the cook, who can choose healthier dishes or healthier ways to prepare traditional dishes, Rawn said.

For example, green bean casserole can be made with low-fat soup and sautéed onions rather than fried onions, she said. Sweet potatoes or mashed cauliflower are better choices than mashed potatoes.

To prepare mashed cauliflower, she said, simply boil or roast the cauliflower, puree it in a food processor and add extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

Roasted vegetables are an excellent choice of side item, she said. For an appetizer, raw vegetables with hummus or a low-fat dip helps fill stomachs before the main meal, and fresh fruit is a good choice for dessert.

Cooks also should avoid using a lot of salt in their preparation, Rawn said, opting instead for herbs and spices.

Those dining at home or away also can make good choices by starting early, Rawn said.

She recommended having a good breakfast and, depending on what time dinner will be served, a light lunch.

“One of the things we don’t want to do is show up to Thanksgiving starving,” she said. “Then we wind up going overboard.”

Folks should also try to get some physical activity earlier that day, which will help jump-start metabolism.

Once they get to the table, diners can continue to make good choices, she said. If there are different sizes of plate available, choose the smaller one.

“We eat with our eyes, so we’re still seeing a large plate full of great, wonderful food,” she said.

For the main course, taking the skin off the turkey helps cut fat and calories, she said. Unlike with chicken, there’s not a big difference in fat and calories between the dark and white meat.

“If you do enjoy the dark meat, go with slightly less,” she said.

For side dishes, fill up on plain vegetables and choose only smaller portions of others — and avoid the rolls and butter altogether, she said.

When it comes time for dessert, Rawn recommends choosing your favorite from those available and having only a small portion.

Those having wine or beer should try alternating their alcoholic beverage with sparkling water. Not only does alcohol have empty calories, but also taking in too much will reduce inhibitions that would keep drinkers from overeating, Rawn said.

She also offered the following food safety tips:

  • Make sure the turkey reaches an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees, measured in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. Stuffing cooked inside the bird also needs to reach 165 degrees.
  • Be careful not to cross-contaminate raw and cooked foods. Never place cooked food on a cutting board or plate that previously held raw food, especially raw turkey.