Another month, another holiday. Now that your kitchen cupboards have been emptied of Halloween candy (if they haven’t, and if you own a garbage can, then you know what to do…), it’s time to face that most epic meal of all, Thanksgiving dinner.

The basics of a traditional Thanksgiving are actually quite healthy. Turkey is a low fat, high protein meat containing good doses of zinc, iron potassium and vitamin B. Cranberries offer tons of anti-oxidants, and there is plenty to choose from in picking healthy vegetable side dishes – French beans sautéed in garlic, for example, or vitamin-packed roasted root vegetables. Butternut squash is in season, and there’s no better way to get your antioxidants, vitamins A and C and potassium. And of course a hearty salad brings all the goodness of fresh raw vegetables to your holiday table. So from a nutrition perspective, Thanksgiving can be a healthy meal with plenty of goodness packed in every bite.

But all too often we’re tempted to take the phrase “packed in” literally, using the holiday as an excuse to overindulge rather than to savor, and be thankful for, the seasonal foods that help make Thanksgiving special.

Here are a few thoughts about how you can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner without regrets:

  1. Portion control. Thanksgiving is a heavy meal, so avoid the temptation to fill your entire plate. Choose sensible portions, and wait at least fifteen minutes before you decide on going back for seconds. Give your poor stomach time to tell you that you’re full. Portion control means limiting the alcohol as well – keep in mind that that extra glass of wine is not only full of calories, but will probably relax your inhibitions about helping yourself to another plate of stuffing. If you’re tempted by another glass, pour some sparkling water with a slice of lemon instead.
  2. Keep it natural. The Pilgrims were eating farm fresh ingredients, and you should too. Aim for fewer dishes but concentrate on using high quality produce, organic if possible, and stay away from processed options such as stuffing mix or cranberry sauce from a jar. If you must have sweet potatoes, do bear in mind that the Pilgrims did not have packs of gooey marshmallows to melt on top. As a rule of thumb, if you have to do that to a vegetable to make it taste good, it means you don’t like it.  Pick something else.
  3. Choose your carbs carefully. You really don’t need mashed potatoes AND sweet potatoes AND stuffing AND bread. Pick one, and aim for the healthier options like roasted winter squash or root vegetables rather than starchy spuds.
  4. Avoid “trigger” foods. You know what foods I mean. Go ahead, have a slice of pumpkin pie, but avoid those desserts that you know will compel you to go back for more, and more, and more. Ice cream is a common one, but everyone is different – be honest with yourself and avoid anything you know will make your eyes go glazed and your self-restraint fly out the window.
  5. Move. The worst thing you can do after a big meal is to collapse in turkey-induced stupor in front of the television. Take advantage of our wonderful California climate and drag the family outside for a walk after dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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