Health Tips for Thanksgiving

Did you miss Thanksgiving last year? The CDC told us to skip those family gatherings last year, and a lot of us did. But they said to skip trick or treating in 2020, too, and we responded by spending $3 billion on candy for Halloween 2021. Thanksgiving 2021 is expected to be expensive, too, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be healthy.

Check out our top 5 tips for a healthy Thanksgiving celebration.

1. Plan ahead

Sometimes it’s good to do whatever you feel like in the moment. Sometimes that leads to feelings of regret later on. It’s often better to make decisions ahead of time. 

You can decide how many beers to drink, whether you’ll go back for seconds on dinner, and how many pieces of pie you want to enjoy. You could decide to fill half your plate with vegetables or to eat all you want at dinner but have a more restrained dinner. You can also make a date with yourself or a friend or family member to take a hike or play active games at some point during the day.

Be realistic, though. If you decide that you won’t eat or drink your favorite things, you’re likely to tell yourself, “Oh, what the heck!” when you see and smell the goodies. Set yourself up for success by planning small, positive changes.

How to Have a Healthy Thanksgiving

2. Prioritize

Consumer Reports says that an average Thanksgiving dinner can contain 3,000 to 4,500 calories. That’s enough for a couple of days, and more than enough for one meal. Choose the most important parts of that meal and skip the things you can have every day. 

For example, homemade pie and sausage dressing might be dishes that you only eat at Thanksgiving, while macaroni and cheese or Jell-o might be on the menu several times a month. Cocktails, chips, and candy might be less important to you, while you just don’t feel grateful without sweet potato casserole. This is a very personal decision, but it’s worth thinking about.

You can also prioritize movement. If it’s important for you to get some cardio into the day, you might be willing to skip the Macy’s parade and take a walk instead.

Healthy Alternatives for Thanksgiving

3. Destress

You may be excited to see family members again, but family gatherings can also be stressful. While you’re making plans, you might want to set aside time for relaxation. 

Don’t expect perfection. Something will go wrong, whether it’s burnt Brussels sprouts or spilled milk. There will also be a gap between the expectations you develop from Instagram table settings and real life. Your family members and friends will be themselves, not unnaturally perfect versions of themselves from your dreams. Focus on enjoying time with friends and family. Resolve ahead of time not to get upset by little things that go awry.

Institute a new gratitude tradition this year! Have everyone name something they’re grateful for, with the rule that they can’t repeat what someone else just said. Focusing on the things you’re thankful for is appropriate for the season, and good for your mental health, too.

Introverts may need to schedule some alone time. If that means volunteering to do the dishes, so be it. 

4. Practice mindful eating

Fill your plate and concentrate on enjoying your food. Avoid eating and drinking in front of the TV or picking at the dishes before and after the meal. You’ll feel more satisfied with your choices if you slow down and give them full attention. 

Once you’re through eating what you want to eat, clear your plate and enjoy the conversation. You’ll be less likely to end up with that overstuffed feeling. This is a great time to grab a glass of water or a cup of coffee.

After the meal is also a good time to move, whether that means taking a walk or playing games or clearing the table. Getting some steps gives you energy, it’s calming, and it can punctuate the meal and keep it from stretching out and including more food than you really want.

5. Just have one day of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be bad for your health, even if your tradition requires third helpings of macaroni and soft white rolls. It’s only one day. 

The problem is when it kicks off a downward spiral of non-nutritious treats, competitive celebration, and sedentary living that lasts until New Year’s Day. Or Valentine’s Day. When we decide we can treat ourselves every day (or many times a day) because of the holidays, we set ourselves up to learn unhealthy habits that can be hard to unlearn. 

Indulge yourself on Thanksgiving Day, but do yourself a favor and get back to your normal good health habits the next day.

Maintaining Your Good Health Habits through the Holidays