A complete Thanksgiving dinner.

Looking forward to a plentiful spread on Turkey Day but concerned about the calories in a Thanksgiving dinner? Take heart.

We cooked up a traditional holiday menu and tallied the calories. It turns out you can have an enjoyable Thanksgiving meal without depriving yourself of the season's most delicious foods.

Don’t Get Stuffed

Americans take in 3,000 to 4,500 calories at their Thanksgiving celebrations, according to estimates by the Calorie Control Council. The meal we created has less than 2,000 calories but still contains a variety of seasonal favorites.

For our holiday spread, the experts in Consumer Reports’ test kitchen picked some popular holiday dishes and portioned out standard-sized servings as specified by the Department of Agriculture or on the labels of the packaged items we used. Then we calculated the calorie counts of each dish per serving.

Go to Consumer Reports' 2018 Holiday Central for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more. 

More on Holiday foods

The most important thing you can do is to stick with sensible portion sizes. As you can see from our spread below, you’ll still end up with plenty to eat. “Be mindful of how much you serve yourself,” says Amy Keating, R.D., a nutritionist at Consumer Reports. “If you double or triple your portions—which is easy to do—you could consume a sky-high number of calories.”

Depending on age, weight, and gender, most people should have somewhere between 1,600 and 2,800 calories daily. So at around 1,800 calories in our Thanksgiving dinner, even the CR spread has more than a daily allotment of calories for many.  

Still, it’s not a good idea to skip breakfast (and lunch if you’re having a late celebration) to bank some calories.

“If you’re ravenous when the main event begins, you’re even more likely to overeat,” Keating says. “And keep in mind that eating an extra few hundred calories on this festive day is okay as long as you resume a healthful diet the next day.”

Follow our tips and you can gobble up a Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings that’s satisfyingly indulgent but isn’t a calorie or nutrition catastrophe.

Total Calories
Red wine
5 fl. oz.
125 cal.
3x3-inch square
198 cal.
Mashed Potatoes
1 cup
237 cal.
12 cup
195 cal.
White Meat Turkey With Skin
3 12 oz.
177 cal.
Candied Sweet Potato
4 oz.
187 cal.
Green Bean Casserole
13 cup
227 cal.
Cranberry Sauce
14 cup
102 cal.
Pumpkin Pie
1 slice (18 of a 9-inch pie)
280 cal.
14 cup
25 cal.

This 3½-ounce portion of white meat with skin (about the size of a deck of cards) delivers just 177 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 30 grams of protein. The same amount of dark meat with skin has 206 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 27 grams of protein. To lighten the calorie load, skip the crispy skin and save roughly 30 calories per serving.

We spooned ½ cup of stuffing (the size of an ice cream scoop), adding about 195 calories to the plate.

In addition to that rather hefty calorie count, the stuffing contains 480 mg of sodium. But making a healthier stuffing requires just a few tweaks.

Most of that sodium comes from broth, so you can reduce it by using a lower-sodium version. And to lighten the calorie count, add chopped veggies like carrots and celery. That way you’ll be eating less stuffing and more lower-cal vegetables in the same ½-cup portion.

Sweet Potatoes
Four ounces (equivalent to 1 medium sweet potato) of homemade candied sweet potatoes adds 187 calories. These nutritional powerhouses are brimming with antioxidants that help fight inflammation and may protect against some types of cancers.  

The problem is that candied sweet potatoes are also high in added sugars. True, sweet potatoes naturally contain some sugars, but just about 7 grams. This serving of candied sweet potatoes has 20 grams of sugars, meaning that 13 grams, or about 3 teaspoons, of sugars are added.

To get the sweet potato goodness without the added sugars (and calories), opt for a plain baked sweet potato (103 calories) or roasted sweet potato chunks (about 120 calories per cup).

Green Bean Casserole
This classic dish containing green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and crispy fried onions comes in at 227 calories for a ½-cup serving. (We used the recipe on the Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup label.)

That’s a big calorie investment, especially considering that half a cup of plain green beans has only 20 calories.

As a lighter alternative, consider serving green beans almondine, steamed string beans sautéed in a small amount of butter and tossed with slivered almonds and lemon juice.

Mashed Potatoes
One cup of mashed potatoes made with whole milk, butter, and salt adds 237 calories to the tally. For a lighter version, try using lower-fat milk, or replacing some of the butter and milk with lower-sodium chicken broth.

A ¼-cup ladle of gravy pulls the whole meal together at an economical 25 calories. But store-bought gravy, like the one we used, is high in sodium (about 250 mg per serving), so don’t go overboard. If you make your own using the turkey drippings, separating out the fat and using little salt will yield an even lower-cal gravy that’s also lower in sodium.

Cranberry Sauce
This quintessential Thanksgiving side dish packs 102 calories per ¼-cup serving. Because the berries are tart, most recipes—like the one from the Ocean Spray Cranberry package we used—call for a lot of sugar. An easy fix: Use less sugar in your recipe, and consider adding some cinnamon, cloves, and grated orange rind to help enhance the sweetness of the sauce.

This 3x3-inch square adds about 198 calories to our plate (without butter). To cut back on calories further, consider choosing among the starchy foods—stuffing, mashed potatoes, cornbread (or rolls). Have one or two, but not all three.

Whether you choose red or white, a 5 fluid ounce glass contains about 125 calories. And those calories aren’t the only reason to stick to one glass. Studies show that alcohol lowers your inhibitions, so you may not make the best dietary choices after imbibing. 

Pumpkin Pie
From a calorie standpoint, this is your best bet. One slice (1⁄8 of a 9-inch pie) of pumpkin pie (made using the Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie recipe) has just 280 calories. By comparison, a slice of apple pie (1⁄8 of a 9-inch pie) supplies about 411 calories and a slice of pecan pie packs 500 calories.

With around 25 grams of sugars per slice, it’s hard to tout pumpkin pie as healthy, but it does contain some nutrients, especially beta carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A. If you want a little whipped cream, go ahead. Two tablespoons of canned whipped cream add only 15 calories—and it just might be the perfect ending to your Thanksgiving meal.