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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Holidays


Have a healthy Thanksgiving

Melissa Bess, former Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Camden County; Edited by Jessica Kovarik, RD, LD, former Extension Associate, University of Missouri Extension


Thanksgiving is usually one of those holidays where second helpings are a must. Some Thanksgiving meals can equal the amount of calories and fat we need in an entire day, or even more! Here are some ways to make your Thanksgiving feast healthier.


  • Plan ahead and look for healthy Thanksgiving recipes. You will find many healthier versions of traditional dishes in which the fat is reduced but the flavor is retained. See the Healthy Habits recipes on for a wide variety of healthy recipes. The fun part will be seeing if anyone can even tell the difference.
  • Enjoy turkey. With the skin removed, turkey has a good amount of protein and little fat or saturated fat. Dark meat has more fat than white meat. Roast or bake instead of frying.
  • Eat sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are a rich source of potassium (can help lower blood pressure), vitamin A and beta carotene (both help with healthy vision), vitamin C (an antioxidant, protective against diseases), and fiber (promotes a healthy digestive system and may prevent diseases). Try to limit or avoid using brown sugar, marshmallows and butter on sweet potato dishes. Use other seasonings such as cinnamon, ginger or orange rind for flavor. Or try a new recipe for a savory sweet potato dish rather than a sweet one.
  • Try a different type of pumpkin dessert instead of pumpkin pie. Pumpkin has similar nutrients to sweet potatoes. Make a pumpkin custard or pumpkin pudding using ginger or cinnamon for flavor.
  • Use evaporated skim milk instead of regular evaporated milk in recipes. This applies to many dessert recipes.
  • Make your own cranberry sauce. Buy fresh or frozen cranberries and you will have a tastier and less sugary version than what comes in a can. Cranberries are full of antioxidants, which help protect against many different diseases.
  • If you make bread, rolls, muffins or other similar recipes, replace all (or at least some) of the white flour with whole wheat flour for extra fiber. If you don’t bake, purchase whole wheat or whole grain rolls instead of white. Limit the amount of rolls you eat, as well as the butter you use on them.
  • Steam vegetables and eat them plain instead of with lots of butter or creamy sauces.
  • Remember food safety — thaw the turkey correctly, cook all foods to the proper temperature, put leftovers into the refrigerator or freezer within 2 hours, and re-heat leftovers to the proper temperature. Your local MU Extension office is a great resource if you need more information.
  • Don’t skip meals before the feast; this may make you more likely to overeat.
  • Watch portion sizes. You can enjoy many different foods at Thanksgiving, but moderate portion sizes are key.
  • Go for a walk before or a few hours after the meal. Moderate to vigorous exercise can help accelerate calorie and fat burning, and is a great way to socialize with family or friends. A walk will also help increase energy levels if you are feeling sluggish or tired.


Moderation, not deprivation, is the key to a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!


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Last update: Monday, November 14, 2016