How to have a healthier Thanksgiving

Give thanks for your health

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Sometimes it seems there's no way to avoid a 2,000-calorie meal on Thanksgiving (and the high-calorie leftovers you'll eat for days). But there are ways to take some of the fat out of your seasonal favorites.

If you're not willing to give up on your favorite Thanksgiving Day dishes in exchange for low-fat knockoffs, there are still a lot of ways to lower the fat-calorie count, without sacrificing your longtime favorites.

Make smaller portions

It sounds obvious, but one of the easiest ways to reduce the number of calories you take in through the season, is by cutting every recipe you cook in half. You'll still take in a lot of the calories the day of (unless you follow some of the other tips below), but a lack of leftovers will encourage you to eat a bit healthier the day after.

Instead of getting a whole turkey, get one turkey breast for each guest and roast that. There will be plenty of sides and desserts to fill up on, even if you half those, too.

Make smart substitutions

When you're baking, you should follow the recipe exactly or do a practice run first (though you can always find a lower-fat version of your holiday favorites). But with the main affair, a few smart substitutions can cut hundreds of calories from the meal. Try these:

  • Use reduced or low-fat versions of fatty ingredients like milk, cheese, mayonnaise and dressing (just check the label to ensure the lower fat content isn't the result of extra sugar).
  • Substitute applesauce for the fat in baked goods (you'll need to reduce the liquid content) or use half applesauce and half fat.
  • Substitute two egg whites for whole eggs.
  • Drain fat-free, plain yogurt through cheese cloth overnight to use instead of cream cheese.
  • Use cooking spray instead of oil for sautéing.
  • Add salt at the end of cooking so you'll use less.
  • If you're not baking, use a sucralose-based sweetener instead of real sugar.

Make adjustments instead of sacrifices

Do you really need all your favorites exactly the way Grandma made them? Sometimes, it's just a matter of making some clever recipe changes.

For green bean casserole, use low-fat cream of mushroom soup, skim milk and substitute onion-flavored oyster crackers for the fried onion strings (make the onion flavored oyster crackers in a plastic storage bag — just spritz the crackers with cooking spray and add onion salt and shake).

In your sweet potato casserole, use less sugar and half the marshmallows, and instead add a few tablespoons of orange juice and a couple of handfuls of dried cranberries for sweetness.

Just get creative and think about the flavor profiles and ask yourself, what can I change to keep the flavor while reducing calories and sugar? You'll be surprised what you can come up with.

Trick yourself (and your guests)

The best way to eat less is to trick yourself into doing it. Before dinner starts, serve a restaurant-sized green salad with a lower-fat dressing. People usually starve themselves just before Thanksgiving so they can eat more of their favorites. Let them fill up a little on the salad they'll hungrily gobble up.

You can also serve your guests on smaller plates. That way, the plates look just as piled with food and they don't eat until the buttons on their pants pop.

Skimp on fatty favorites like gravy and rolls with butter. Only bake one roll per guest and make half the gravy you normally make. People will take less to make sure there's enough to go around.

It's all about planning

Having a healthier Thanksgiving is all about planning and preparation. Try your recipes ahead of time and be fearless. As long as you're not trying recipes the day of, the worst that can happen is an unsuccessful practice attempt. That's what practice is for!

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Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix the Fish. You can follow her on Twitter @HireHeather.