Expert tips for a healthy Thanksgiving feast

Serve sautéed green beans instead of green bean casserole, Sakara Life co-founder Whitney Tingle recommends.
Serve sautéed green beans instead of green bean casserole, Sakara Life co-founder Whitney Tingle recommends. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Stephanie Keith

With Turkey Day just days away, you might be thinking about how to have a happy and healthy holiday without overdoing it — and waking up sluggish and bloated on Black Friday.

Fortunately, many of the dishes traditionally eaten on the day, such as pumpkin, cranberries and turkey, are actually loaded with powerful nutrients and lean protein. Get the most out of your holiday feast with these shortcuts and strategies for eating right from NYC nutrition experts.

Pregame with healthy snacks

If you’re hosting or traveling to relatives, you might be frantic with preparation, but be sure to eat breakfast or have a sensible snack a few hours before the big meal. Sitting down to a Thanksgiving feast starving is setting yourself up for overeating, especially since it can take your body a half-hour to register that you’re full. “When we skip meals, blood sugar drops and our hunger hormone, gherlin, becomes elevated,” explains functional nutritionist Lorraine Kearney. “This hormone spike is what promotes the feeling of ‘hangry-ness.’ ”

Pile your plate mindfully

Celebrating, indulging and being grateful for friends and family are important facets of relaxing and de-stressing. However, the focus for enjoying good food should be on quality over quantity. For an easy way to control portions, celebrity nutrition expert Dr. Charles Passler recommends taking a balanced approach. “Imagine your plate is broken up into three parts. The first part takes up half, which you should fill up with greens or colorful veggies. The second part takes up a quarter and it’s for starches like stuffing and mashed potatoes. The third part takes up the last quarter and it should contain your proteins like turkey.”

Make creative subs

Swapping in nut butters for conventional butter is a fast way to add some flavor and amp up nutritional benefits, recommends Whitney Tingle, who co-founded the plant-based meal delivery service Sakara Life. “Try roasting sweet potatoes and tossing them with almond butter, sliced walnuts and a dash of cinnamon for an easy twist on a classic side dish,” she says. For another easy-to-make option that takes minutes, swap out a traditional green bean casserole drenched in fatty, processed canned cream of mushroom soup, and instead sauté fresh, whole green beans with olive oil, minced garlic and salt.

Skip the oven

“There are so many wonderful vegetables this time of year that can be easily found at your local farmers market like Brussels sprouts, parsnips, turnips and winter squash,” Kearney says. “Brussels sprouts are high in fiber and help support gut health.” If you don’t have time to roast, you can shred the mini cabbages for a seasonal slaw tossed with cranberries, walnuts, apples and a tangy dressing. Or for a healthy, stuffing-style dish without turning on the oven, Dr. Passler suggests sautéing mushrooms with garlic and tossing with cooked barley.

Go lean

“Unless your turkey is deep-fried, the star of the day is a lean protein,” says Miranda Hammer, a registered dietitian and blogger behind the Crunchy Radish. Fatty cuts of meat often come with the trade-off of high amounts of saturated fat that can raise cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease, so stick to lean cuts of beef and opt for white turkey meat (without skin).

Have a slice of pie

In most cases, opting for whole fresh food is better than canned and processed ingredients. Surprisingly, baking a semi-homemade pumpkin pie, which is already a somewhat healthy dessert option compared with other pies, is potentially better for you than making one totally from scratch. “Strangely enough, you’ll actually get three times the amount of fiber from canned pumpkin than fresh pumpkin,” Dr. Passler says. Pumpkin also is a good source of potassium, vitamin C and beta-carotene.