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Stuff the Turkey, Not Yourself on Thanksgiving

Eat This, Not ThatMen’s Health editor and Eat This, Not That book author David Zinczenko says more food is consumed in the United States on Thanksgiving Day than on any other day of the year. Here are his recommendations for calorie-cutting on “Turkey Day”:

Eat This Not That
Turkey breast, 6 oz.
2/3 cup mashed potatoes
1/3 cup turkey gravy
1 dinner roll
1 cup green bean casserole
¼ cup homemade cranberry sauce

731 calories, 61 g protein, 85 g carbohydrates, 20 g fat (11 g saturated), 1,240 sodium.
Dark meat turkey, 6 oz.
1 cup stuffing
2/3 cup sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping
1/2 cup corn
1 sliced jellied cranberry sauce

1,279 calories, 62 g protein, 159 g carbohydrates, 48 g fat (22 g saturated), 1,890 sodium
1 medium slice pumpkin pie with low-fat whipped cream

335 calories, 15 g fat (6.5 g saturated), 42 g carbohydrates
1 small piece pecan pie

450 calories, 21 g fat (4 g saturated), 65 g carbohydrates
Though most Americans are likely to gain three to seven pounds during the holiday season, anyone trying to eliminate or limit such family traditions as turkey, stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, casserole and pie on Thanksgiving is bound to be banned from the dinner table.

Hence, rather than starting a revolution in the kitchen to save yourself from putting on extra pounds, why not quietly change things up a bit? Considering that the average traditional Thanksgiving meal packs approximately 3,000 calories, for good health it’s well worth introducing new flavors, substituting ingredients and replacing some dishes—say a 180-calorie slice of pumpkin pie for the calorie-rich 480-calorie slice of pecan pie. You’ll keep the family peace and weight scale happy.

To help you cook a deliciously healthy Thanksgiving feast, ACE has asked two experts—Jessie Price, food editor of EatingWell, a bimonthly magazine dedicated to healthful eating and Marjorie Geiser, a registered dietician and ACE-certified Personal Trainer—to reveal their healthful secrets.

The Bird

Slather a turkey in butter or deep-fry the bird is like waging war on your heart. That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice gourmet dining to trim hidden fats, cholesterol and calories. “If you roast the turkey correctly and cook it to the right temperature (165 degrees according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for cooking poultry) the bird will not be overcooked,” according to Price.

EatingWell publishes new healthy Turkey recipes every year: The Herb-roasted turkey which comes in at 155 calories and 5 grams of fat per serving (without the skin) or the Lemon-garlic roast turkey and white wine gravy which comes in at 180 calories and 6 grams of fat per serving. Both recipes make 12 servings.

Tips for cutting calories and fat: Removing visible fat, skipping the skin and dark part of the meat will save you big on calories and fat. Be mindful of portion sizes. One portion should be no bigger than a fisted hand or a deck of cards and has about 41 calories. Also, while Turkey meat is a good source of protein, iron, zinc potassium and B vitamins the other traditional meat, prime rib, is mostly rich in calories—330 calories for a moderately sliced piece.


Substitute traditional stuffing made with butter and fatty sausage for a healthier choice using chopped vegetables, sliced apples and broth or lean veal, chicken or turkey sausage. Use wild rice, brown rice, mashed potatoes or whole-wheat bread as the main ingredient and leave the white bread on the grocery shelf. EatingWell’s cornbread and sausage stuffing recipe made with sweet Italian sausage, onion, celery, cornbread and chicken broth packs 237 calories and 9 grams (81 calories) of fat per serving. According to an online recipe by Betty Crocker, traditional white bread stuffing using ¾ cup of butter or margarine has 250 calories, including a whopping 15 grams (135 calories) of fat, per serving.


Sweet potatoes are naturally creamy so little fat needs to be added. EatingWell’s sweet potato recipe melds layers of white potatoes and sweet potatoes into a vegetable cake that forms a golden crust during baking and makes for a great centerpiece ( At 144 calories with 3 grams (27 calories) of fat per serving, this recipe makes for a festive and healthy dish.

Price’s tip for making healthier, delicious mashed potatoes: “We use non-fat butter milk as opposed to butter or crème, which gives it a tangy flavor.” Also, instead of using low-fat cheddar cheese, Price uses extra sharp cheddar cheese for its big flavor. The key is to use a smaller amount.


This year, instead of using a mayonnaise-laden Waldorf salad (1/2 cup has about 110 calories) and sugar-loaded cranberry salad (1/2 cup has about 190 calories), prepare a mixed salad with lettuce, tomatoes, sliced onions andcarrots with a non-fat or low-fat dressing. “You can eat three cups of salad with non-fat dressing for only 100 calories,” Geiser said.


Green bean casserole may be a staple food on Thanksgiving, but made with fried onions and a high-fat cream soup, this popular dish is loaded with calories and fat. Sautéed green beans seasoned with herbs instead of butter offer a tasty alternative plus all the benefits of a vegetable—Vitamin C, K and A and fiber—without the fat and calories, according to Geiser.


Denying the delights of pie would be a sin on Thanksgiving. But some choices are better than others. Pecan pie, which has 480 calories a slice is one of the least healthful choices you can make. Enjoy pumpkin pie instead. At 180 calories without the crust, it’s a truly lean desert. For an extra kick, check out EatingWell’s recipe for pumpkin pie with rum, which has 193 calories and 8 grams (72 calories) of fat per serving.

Survival Tips for a Healthier Thanksgiving Dinner

  • • Skipping breakfast and lunch is a sure recipe for overeating at the Thanksgiving table.
  • • Our bodies aren’t meant to handle 2,000-3,000 calories all at once and will store excess calories as fat.
  • • Better to eat smaller amounts and drink lots of water throughout the day and really enjoy a healthful dinner.
  • • Control your portion sizes: Draw a 12-inch dinner plate in your mind and divide it into three-inch-sized circles with each one representing one food group: proteins, vegetables and starches. The key is to stay within your circle for each food group: If you like turkey and ham, fit a little of both in one circle.
  • • If you’re worried about the food choices, bring your own low-calorie dish or veggie tray to family gatherings.
  • • Be active: Go for a bike ride, a long brisk walk, a run or spend at least one hour at your local gym to burn calories before the big Thanksgiving meal.
  • • Plan a family event that involves physical activity—a pick-up game of basketball, a snowball fight, a long brisk walk outdoors or a family bike ride—before, during or after the big meal.
  • • Be mindful of your alcohol intake: Mixed drinks tend to have high amount of concentrated sugar and quickly add empty calories. One glass of wine may be reasonable, but remember alcohol contains about 7 calories per gram, which makes it nearly twice as fattening as carbohydrates or protein.

Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and an ACE-certified Personal Trainer. For specific fitness-related story ideas or comments, please e-mail her directly at