A Thanksgiving dinner with a turkey as the centerpiece.

Meals are too important to holiday celebrations to have to consider whether you should serve both rolls and stuffing or if you should skip marshmallow sweet potatoes this year. Heartburn aside, for most people there’s little harm in indulging occasionally. Still, some tweaks to your menu, recipes, or traditions can make holiday mealtimes a little healthier without affecting flavor. Here are some strategies to try.

Eat Breakfast

And have lunch too, if your holiday meal will be served later in the day. You want to arrive at the Thanksgiving table hungry but not ravenous, which may lead to overeating.


This advice is useful on your average day, of course, but it’s especially helpful on Thanksgiving. Studies have shown that some eaters confuse thirst with hunger, so drinking plenty of water throughout the day will keep you from gorging when you really just need a glass of water. 

For Appetizers, Think Fresh

Boiled shrimp with lemon or cocktail sauce is a smarter pick than fried hors d’oeuvres. Skip the cheese and crackers, and have a pot of a roasted vegetable soup, such as carrot or butternut squash, on the stove for guests to enjoy. Other healthful starters include stuffed mushrooms and raw veggies with hummus.

Make a Spritzer

In addition to providing calories (125 in a 5-ounce glass of wine), there's some evidence that drinking alcohol stimulates appetite. Plus too much alcohol can lower inhibitions, so you may be more likely to overindulge when you're drinking.

More on Healthy Holidays

Mix half red or white wine and half seltzer in a wine glass, add a slice of lime, and you have a festive drink with half the calories and alcohol content.

Another option is to have a glass of seltzer in between each drink. It will serve as a palate cleanser that will help slow your intake.

Consider glass size, too. A study from the U.K. found that today's larger wine glass size may be a factor in that country's increased wine consumption. A "drink" is 5 ounces of wine, but that amount looks different in different-sized glasses, and many people pour far more.

Lighten Your Recipes

Serving family recipes like Grandma's pumpkin pie or your dad's dinner rolls is likely to be even more important this year, given that the pandemic is forcing many of us to celebrate with a smaller crowd, or skip traditions like going to the high school football game. Our advice: Don’t mess with your favorite holiday dishes. But do try swapping or adding ingredients to less sacred one. 

• Skip the cream. Use Greek yogurt or whole milk instead in mashed potatoes, creamy soups, and creamed onion or spinach recipes.

• Reduce the sugar. Cut it back by 10 to 25 percent in baking recipes. You’ll barely taste the difference.

• Add some fiber. Replace 25 to 50 percent of the all-purpose flour called for in recipes with whole-wheat flour. Or try half all-purpose, half white whole-wheat flour, a lighter, milder version of the whole grain. If your recipe calls for breadcrumbs or panko, opt for whole wheat.

• Upgrade the stuffing. Replace half the white bread with whole wheat, use low-sodium chicken broth, and add extra vegetables, such as carrots, mushrooms, and peppers.

• Be sodium savvy. Using the flavors of the season—thyme, sage, rosemary, cinnamon,nutmeg, cloves—will cut the need for salt. Choose low-sodium broths and homemade dressings (which tend to be lower in sodium than many bottled ones).

• Boost nutrition. Adding small but mighty nutrition powerhouses can make food healthier and more flavorful. Try pomegranate seeds, dried cranberries, or chopped dried apricots in salads, and roasted pumpkin seeds or chopped nuts in stuffings.

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Concentrate on Your Meal

Mindfulness can be the key to maximizing your mealtime pleasure, so pay attention to the flavor and texture of each bite. It will make you appreciate each dish more, but that’s not all. Research shows that eating while distracted can lead you to consume more calories.

Take a Walk Between Dinner and Dessert

For some families, this is an annual tradition. But it’s more than just a way of bonding with relatives and staying active. “We know that your satiety can lag somewhat,” says Amy Keating R.D., a Consumer Reports dietitian. “If you go straight from the meal to dessert, your brain may not have time to register how full you actually are.” And you’ll probably enjoy dessert more if you aren’t completely stuffed.

Eat Better on Friday

Plan what to eat the next day so you can feel better about what you're eating on the holiday. Thanksgiving is only one day per year; you have 364 more days to eat well!