With Thanksgiving Day right around the corner, you may have begun to consider what you’re going to contribute to the feast. As we all know, the day is famous for its indulgences and, for many, an annual ritual to overeat and then lounge lazily for the rest of the day watching football games, napping, and spending time with family and friends.
This holiday is a little bit of a challenge for health conscious individuals. After all, if you show up to the feast with a dressing-free salad and whole wheat dry rolls, you might be turned away at the door. And, honestly, a once-per-year day of overeating most likely isn’t going to sabotage your diet plans, though sustaining this eating behavior throughout the holiday season could lead to a few extra unwanted pounds to lose in the New Year.
The good news is that there are some simple changes you can make to your Thanksgiving plans this year that will save you some calories—without sacrificing taste or your reputation— and add some fun to your holiday.
- Eat before you indulge. Some people skip breakfast and lunch if they have a feast ahead of them, and then end up overeating later. Make sure you follow your normal eating routine. Don’t skip meals and even have a snack before you head out so you’re not starving.
- Stick to healthy portions. Stick to one plate and fill half of it with vegetables, fruit and a whole wheat roll, a quarter of it with mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, and a quarter of it with turkey or ham. And, the more colorful your plate, the better!
- Enjoy the company of family and friends. Socialize during your meal and festivities. You can’t eat and talk at the same time—so the more conversation you enjoy, the less you’ll eat.
- Get moving. Tell everyone you’re going to take a walk after the meal and others will probably join you!
- Stay hydrated. Over the course of the day, sip water or alternate between water and caloric beverages. A glass of water will keep your hands occupied without piling on calories.
- Make some easy Turkey Day substitutions. For example:
- Eat the white meat without the skin instead of the dark meat with skin.
- Make your own cranberries rather than the jellied stuff.
- Cut the marshmallows on your sweet potatoes and instead add a little bit of spice.
- Skip the green bean casserole and instead, sauté some green beans.
- Choose pumpkin pie over the pecan pie for dessert.
How to Safely Cook a Turkey
To make your Thanksgiving day more healthy, it’s also important to practice safe food preparation.
If you have purchased a frozen turkey, be sure to thaw the bird adequately before cooking. There are three ways to thaw your turkey safely: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave.
- In the refrigerator (40 degrees Fahrenheit or below): Allow approximately 24 hours for every four to five pounds of bird. For example, a 12- to 16-pound turkey would require three to four days and a 16- to 20-pound bird would take four to five days to thaw.
- In cold water: Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound. A 12- to 16- pound turkey will take about six to eight hours and a 16- to 20-pound bird needs eight to 10 hours. Seal the turkey securely in plastic to make sure no water leaks in and use only cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes and cook the turkey immediately after thawing.
- In the microwave: Before buying a turkey, check your microwave owner’s manual for the size turkey that will fit in your oven, minutes per pound and power level to use for thawing. Remove all outside wrapping from the turkey, including the wire that holds the legs together. Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices. Cook the turkey immediately after thawing and do not refreeze or refrigerate a raw turkey after thawing in the microwave.
Bacteria present on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, and work surfaces as you prepare the turkey. If these areas are not cleaned thoroughly before working with other foods, bacteria from the raw poultry can then be transferred to other foods. After working with raw poultry, always wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces before they touch other foods.
Set the oven temperature no lower than 325°F and be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Check the internal temperature at the center of the stuffing and meaty portion of the breast, thigh, and wing joint using a food thermometer. Cooking times will vary. The food thermometer must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.