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Sharp Health News

The ideal Thanksgiving plate

Nov. 21, 2016

The ideal Thanksgiving plate

Leer en español

When you think of Thanksgiving dinner, you probably don't think too much about portion control. But monitoring your portion sizes is especially important at the holidays. Traditional foods tend to be high in calories and highly palatable — meaning it's easy to go back for more — and the calories add up quickly. So it's not a surprise that the typical Thanksgiving feast might contain 6,000 calories or more.

Tracey Grant, a wellness program manager with Sharp Rees-Stealy's Center for Health Management, says the goal for Thanksgiving dinner should be the same as with every meal:

Construct a plate consisting of:

  • Half non-starchy vegetables (green beans, salad, Brussels sprouts, broccoli)
  • One-quarter protein
  • One-quarter starchy carbohydrates (mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls)

An ideal plate including traditional favorites might look like this:

Turkey or ham 3 to 4 ounces
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
Bread 1 small dinner roll
Stuffing 1/4 cup
Cranberry sauce 2 tablespoons

Small portions allow you to have variety without going overboard on the total amount of food. If opportunity allows, add in fresh or roasted vegetables to fill out the rest of your plate.

Additional tips to make Thanksgiving dinner a healthier meal:

  • Choose white turkey meat
  • Prepare mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, fresh rosemary and 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, Grant recommends, as with your first helping, to fill half the plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with protein and a quarter with starchy carbohydrates.

Finally, she says, take your time. "Make it a point to eat mindfully. If you scarf down your meal, your brain won't register the satisfaction of the foods that you are eating and you're much more likely to consume larger portions than if you savor each bite."

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