How to cut calories from your Thanksgiving dinner

We start out with the best of intentions — trying to eat more sensibly and get a little exercise.

Then comes the holidays. Everywhere you turn, people are offering you holiday cookies, eggnog and tamales. Holiday parties bring buffets laden with too many tempting treats.

“It’s still possible to have a healthier meal in a way that it’s going to keep you feeling well,” said Clarissa Rivera, a registered dietitian at University Health System’s Texas Diabetes Institute.

Keeping an eye on food portion sizes can help. Experts recommend filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with lean meat and another quarter with grains.

A few more tips for a healthy Thanksgiving:

  • One way to cut a lot of calories is to make a crustless pumpkin pie.
  • Instead of frying chicken, try baking chicken with a seasoned bread crumb-and-egg white breading.
  • For dipping snacks, substitute high-fiber vegetables like carrots for that satisfying crunch instead of fried chips.

And give a little thought to what you pour in your glass to go with that meal.

“We want to avoid those extra calories that are found in beverages,” Ms. Rivera adds.

Keeping your turkey healthy and flavorful

Of course, everyone wants to enjoy a flavorful turkey dinner while not having to worry about the calories. Here are a few tips to keep your turkey healthy and tasty this Thanksgiving:

  • If you don’t need to present the whole turkey for carving at the table, cook a turkey breast instead. This will ensure that you don’t overeat on the big day- especially if you aren’t going to be serving a lot of guests.
  • If you start with a fresh turkey breast, you don’t have to worry about thawing it in time to cook for dinner. It will probably come with directions and a pop-up timer, but here are the basics: A 5-pound to 6-pound turkey breast roasted at 325°F will cook in about 2 hours. Basting with butter or oil isn’t necessary. You’ll remove the skin before slicing and serving because that’s where most of the fat is.
  • The breast will supply about 3 pounds of solid white meat. A 3-ounce serving — about the size of a deck of cards — contains 115 calories, 26 grams protein, less than a gram of fat, 71 milligrams of cholesterol, no carbohydrate or fiber, and 44 milligrams of sodium.

Other ways to cut calories from your holiday meal

Here’s the skinny on other holiday favorites and a few healthy thanksgiving recipe ideas:

  • Gravy. A turkey breast won’t provide a lot of juice, so add some nonfat chicken broth. To thicken, start with a tablespoon of flour or cornstarch dissolved in a half cup of cold water. Stir it with a whisk. Add chopped mushrooms for a giblet texture.
  • Vegetables. Instead of adding things to your vegetables, let them be themselves. Steam the beans and use fresh-cut veggies as an appetizer tray, maybe with a little low-fat dip. Plain sweet potatoes — hold the marshmallows, please — add color to your plate.
  • Dessert. Skip the big pies and do a tray of mini-tarts or petit fours from a bakery or the freezer.
  • The great plate debate. Consider using 8-inch plates and leaving Grandma’s 10-inch china in the cupboard. Smaller plates will help people choose smaller portions without having to think about it.
  • Fuss less. Cleanup is easier with throwaway foil roasting pans. Aluminum foil makes a perfect cover to keep your turkey breast from over-browning and your outside-the-bird stuffing from drying out.
  • Plan your menu. Shoot for quality, not quantity. You don’t need more food than your family and guests will eat or more leftovers than you can enjoy. As you plan the menu, ask what they’d miss if it weren’t there.

And don’t hesitate to call for help. You can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll-free at 888-674-6854 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays except federal holidays and Thanksgiving Day, when it’s open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The USDA will answer e-mail questions sent to

For more information on this and other topics, visit University Health System’s Health Library.

The Texas Diabetes Institute offers a multi-disciplinary approach to the treatment, health promotion and patient education of diabetes. If you’re interested in more information or have questions about diabetes prevention, education, or treatment, contact us at 210-358-7000.

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