Over the past few years I have discussed how to have a healthy and a happy Thanksgiving without the guilt or the need to go up a pant size. This year I recruited some of my favorite NYC - based Registered Dietitians to offer their recommendations on how they keep it clean and consciously indulge on Thanksgiving.
Keri Glassman's Tips:
go-to: I have TWO! Turkey. I am a protein girl. A really good bird is delish of course, but also is very satisfying and helps me to keep the more decadent foods in check.
Greens. Depending upon where I am for Thanksgiving will determine which green this is. But wherever I am, I find the "cleanest" green possible (If I am cooking, it is usually string beans or Brussel sprouts.) and make it the biggest portion on my plate. Fortunately, I love my greens, which are a good filling food (all that fiber and water!) and help to keep the stuffing, potatoes and dessert from taking center stage!
treat: Sweet potatoes with marshmallows!!! MY FAVE. Extra marshmallow please. ;) I love apple crumble too, but if I had to choose my fave, it is going to be the taters!!!
navigating the holiday season: Be uber consistent with the things I do daily. This may sound vague but here are a few examples:
1) I always eat breakfast. I do this year round, but later nights out and even busier schedules could lead to skipped or on-the-run breakfasts. I make sure I am even more diligent about keeping that habit in place and even taking it up a notch.
2) Ditto water. As it gets colder and we are running around more, water consumption could dip. I make sure to always have herbal tea with me on the run. Trust me, it helps when the 9th basket of holiday cookies is passed around the meeting table.
3) Exercise and baths... I am one of those people who likes the feeling of being sore after an amazing hard workout. I schedule it in and, even if I have to cut back on the number of times per week, I make sure they are tough. The winter weather also calls for more hot baths, which are even that much more deserved after a hard workout.
Kelly Hogan's Tips:
go-to: Cliché as it sounds, my go-to Thanksgiving food is definitely the sweet potato. I love when delicious foods also pack a good nutritional punch, and these always deliver as they’re a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C and fiber (to name a few!). Since sweet potatoes are already a staple in my diet in baked or roasted varieties, I mash them on Thanksgiving with a bit of butter, honey, and cinnamon to keep things fresh and special for the holiday.
treat: I like to experiment with healthy desserts on Thanksgiving (RD problems), but am also powerless against a slice of good lemon cream pie (My great-grandmother used to make the absolute best!). I’m also a big fan of a peanut butter pie. Last year, for the first time I made one very simply by whisking vanilla Greek yogurt and peanut butter together, pouring the mixture into an organic graham cracker crust, and topping with dark chocolate shavings.
navigating the holidays: I think some great keys to navigating the holiday season are planning and balance. Know what your favorite treats are and indulge, but balance out your meals with healthy staples like veggies, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins. Try to eat regular meals as opposed to “saving up” for one big meal, which can cause overeating and eventual discomfort. As a general rule, try to fill up half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower. Take your time when eating, and enjoy catching up with family and friends. This allows your body to register fullness/satiety and avoid unnecessary trips for seconds.
Stephanie Middleberg's Tips:
go-to: Carrots, I love to make maple roasted carrots over the season. I also love a carrot and ginger soup. I LOVE cooked carrots for the next day with a few fried eggs or topped with yogurt and pumpkin seeds for a breakfast or snack.
treat: My treat is definitely PIE. I definitely have more of a sweet tooth than an affinity for savory items and like to splurge on pumpkin or apple pie over mashed potatoes or stuffing.
navigating the holidays: I always survey the options before I go ahead and dig in. I am not the type of person who can have little tastes of everything. I much prefer to have full servings of the things that I like. Otherwise, my plate tends to expand and I feel overly full. I also go in with a snack strategy. I know that I cannot limit pickable items like nuts, chips, and dips, so I stick with handheld or pre-portioned apps.
Talia Kasher's Tips:
go-to: Mashed potatoes (the real deal, with butter and cream) are the starchy side dish that I’ve insisted upon having at Thanksgiving dinner ever since I was a kid. It’s one of those dishes that I rarely cook at home or order at a restaurant, which is how I justify indulging in it on Thanksgiving.
treat: Other than mashed potatoes, I pick and choose small bites of the best looking homemade options (No store-bought pumpkin pie for me.).
navigating the holidays: I focus on piling my plate with all the different veggies sides that are usually available, plus some skinless turkey. During the rest of the season, I try to skip dishes which I can have any old day and focus on unique holiday items, such as latkes on Hanukkah. Knowing I can have a cookie tomorrow if I really want it keeps me from feeling deprived, but latkes only come once a year!
Talia Kasher, MS, RD, NYC-based dietitian @taliack
Nicole Silber's Tips:
go-to: All of the sides! I love baked acorn squash topped with a balsamic and pomegranate glaze.
treat: My in-laws are Brazilian, so when it comes to dessert, I always help myself to one (ok, really three) brigaderio. These are these irresistible chocolate truffle balls made with condensed milk.
navigating the holidays: Because Thanksgiving is only one night, I prefer to focus on adapting healthier eating on all of the other days of the year. So, I enjoy the holiday, and I indulge a little bit more than usual - one night is not enough to derail a generally healthful diet.
I eat well on the day of the feast. I don't subscribe to the calorie banking method because, if I arrive to a meal starving, it will be much harder to say no to seconds, thirds and fourths! Instead of skimping on breakfast and lunch, I fill these pre-feast meals with lean protein and veggies, like eggs for breakfast and grilled fish with salad for lunch.
When it comes to watching portions at the actual meal, I plate all of my food before digging in. It is always harder to gauge the quantity of what I eat if I serve and eat a single item on the plate before moving to the next one. I aim to fill up half of the plate with veggies, a quarter of the plate with turkey and proteins, and the other quarter with starches, like mashed potatoes, rice, corn, pumpkin, and stuffing.
I pass on cocktails and sugary drinks. I have some wine, but say no to the sugar-filled punches and cocktails.
reena panjwani's tips:
go-to: I believe in filling up on plant foods (aka vegetables) at the start of the meal to leave a little less room for the many indulgences (read: marshmallow covered sweet potatoes and creamy mashed potatoes) that may follow at a Thanksgiving feast. My go-to the last couple of years has been roasted Brussels sprouts. Because I love them so much, I usually bring this as a side dish to Thanksgiving events. Delicious, guilt-free, and nutrient dense; Brussel sprouts are the perfect way to start a feast.
treat: I am lucky in the sense that I don’t have a strong sweet tooth, so my favorite Thanksgiving treat is actually homemade stuffing! Stuffing is comfort food that has a special way of hugging my belly. It’s usually my conscious indulgence; I put a small amount on my plate, close my eyes, chew slowly, and enjoy every single bite of it.
If I had to pick something sweet, I would say my favorite treat is pecan pie. My strategy here is to pick one sweet, leave the rest, keep the portion small, and again, savor each bite!
navigating the holidays: I think it’s just as hard for a dietitian as it is for anyone else to stay healthy during the holiday season. We celebrate and socialize around food, so there are treats at almost every turn. But with a little planning, staying healthy can be easy and can actually take away some of the stress or guilt that might occur around this time of year.
Be choosy about the parties you go to, the treats you eat, the drinks you drink. Maybe this is my age talking, but you don’t have to accept every invite to every holiday party. Life is short, so stick to the ones you actually want to attend! When I do go to holiday parties, I try to have a healthy snack (e.g., apple w/ almond butter, carrots & hummus) before heading out so I’m not bee-lining to the chip & dip table upon my arrival. I’m also particular about what I’m willing to indulge in. Boxed mashed potatoes and canned cranberries just aren’t worth it to me, so I can easily leave those. I pick one or two treats and savor them so I don’t ever feel deprived. I also try to avoid the sweet cocktails - these are usually loaded with sugar and unnecessary calories. I stick to 1-2 glasses of wine and make sure to drink at least 1 glass of water between drinks.
Bring something. The worst thing is arriving at a party only to realize that there are no green vegetables available! The great news is that the internet contains a wealth of delicious and healthy recipes, so bring a plant forward dish to your parties to share with your family and friends. This is also a great opportunity to share with your loved ones that eating healthy can be both enjoyable and satisfying! See below for an example of just that.
Skillet Brussels Sprouts Turkey Bacon Mac & Cheese
recipe + photo by Reena Panjwani
I like to “healthify” or increase the nutritional value of a traditionally unhealthy dish. One such example is with macaroni & cheese, which usually contains copious amounts of butter, cream, refined white pasta, and cheese. Some of these components are essential, but the below recipe is a great way to treat yourself without cheating yourself. Some might say this is adulteration, but I say, make your own rules and traditions. Show your friends and family that you can have your mac & cheese and eat it too.
- 4-5 slices of organic turkey bacon (preservative free)
- ½ lb whole wheat or gluten-free pasta shells or elbows
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 red onion, small diced
- ½ lb Brussels sprouts, shredded
- salt & pepper to taste
- 2 tbsps unsalted butter
- 2 tbsps whole wheat or spelt flour (if you are gluten free, buckwheat flour would work too)
- 1 ½ cups 2% or whole milk
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ¼ tsp mustard powder
- ¼ tsp ground sage
- ¼ cup pureed pumpkin (optional)
- ½ cup or 4 oz. shredded cheese of your choice (I like pepperjack), divided
- fresh sage to garnish
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Cook pasta according to package directions (This process can be done while the other items are cooking.).
- Cook turkey bacon in a large cast iron skillet until crispy. Allow to cool, chop into small pieces, and set aside.
- In the same large cast iron skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook 3-4 minutes until translucent. Add the Brussels sprouts and continue to cook until tender, 5-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss in the pasta and bacon and mix well. Remove from heat and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat. When it’s sizzling, add the flour and whisk to form a roux, and cook until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Add the milk and continue to whisk until thickened, about 4-5 minutes. Season with nutmeg, onion powder, ground sage, and mustard powder. Add pumpkin and mix well. Add in half the cheese and continue to mix until the cheese is melted.
- Pour the cheese sauce over the brussels, pasta, and bacon mixture in the cast iron skillet. Top with remaining cheese and place in oven until 15-20 minutes until cheese is golden brown & bubbling.
- Top with sage to garnish and enjoy!