For the media

The ideal Thanksgiving plate

By Melissa Hughes | November 22, 2022
The ideal Thanksgiving plate

By Melissa Hughes, a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified wellness and health coach, and program manager for the Sharp Rees-Stealy Center for Health Management.

When you think of Thanksgiving dinner, you probably don’t think too much about portion control, but monitoring portion size is especially important at the holidays.

Traditional foods such as turkey, mashed potatoes and pie are delicious, but tend to be high in calories. Even if you don’t go back for seconds (or thirds), the calories can add up quickly. The typical Thanksgiving feast might contain 3,000 calories or more, and it is only one meal out of three in a day.

While there is room to sample and taste the many sweet and savory flavors of the holiday, your goal for Thanksgiving dinner should be the same as with every meal — to construct a plate consisting of:

  • Half non-starchy vegetables, such as green beans, salad, Brussels sprouts or broccoli

  • One-quarter protein, such as turkey or ham

  • One-quarter starchy carbohydrates, such as mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes or rolls

The recipe for a perfect plate
An ideal plate including traditional favorites might look like this:

  • Turkey or ham: 3 to 4 ounces (the size of a pack of playing cards)

  • Mashed potatoes: 1/2 cup

  • Sweet potatoes or candied yams: 1/2 cup without sugar; 1/4 cup if candied

  • Green bean casserole: 1/4 cup

  • Gravy: 2 tablespoons (50 calories per tablespoon)

  • Bread: 1 small dinner roll

  • Stuffing: 1/4 cup

  • Cranberry sauce: 2 tablespoons

More healthful holiday tips
Here are some additional tips to make Thanksgiving dinner a healthier meal:

  • Choose white turkey meat over dark meat.

  • Prepare mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, fresh rosemary and low-sodium broth for flavor, instead of butter or cream.

  • Roast sweet potatoes and apples with thyme, cinnamon and a hint of maple syrup.

  • Lightly saute green beans with mushrooms and onions.

  • Roast Brussels sprouts with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

  • Prepare a low-sugar cranberry sauce by skipping or reducing the sugar, or use orange juice to sweeten.

  • Instead of traditional gravy, consider turkey pan juices drained of fat and thickened with pureed vegetables (from roasting the turkey).

  • For dessert, consider a pumpkin custard instead of pumpkin pie (much of the fat and calories are in the pie crust); roasted apples topped with vanilla Greek yogurt and cinnamon spiced nuts; or a low-sugar fruit crumble with a nut and oat topping.

If you go back for seconds, remember to fill half the plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with protein and a quarter with starchy carbohydrates.

Finally, make it a point to eat mindfully. Holiday meals are a time to pause and reflect. Taking the time to savor your meal not only allows you to enjoy the flavor, but it can also help your brain register when you are full.

Find healthful holiday recipes online from Sharp Health News.

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