Building a balanced meal for Thanksgiving

By Jenni Wolf

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year. I love getting to spend a laid-back day with family and friends, in a cozy home, eating a tasty meal and reflecting on the past year.

If your family is anything like mine, there is no shortage of delicious foods and snacks on the table and around the house. With so many options, some of which might only make an appearance on this “special” day, it can be easy to overeat or overindulge.

While I think everyone wants to eat a tasty meal, partake in family food traditions and enjoy nostalgic favorites, no one wants to leave the table feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. Read on for some tips to build a balanced plate at Thanksgiving, while still enjoying all your favorite bites:

Think in threes. Visualize your plate in thirds and aim to fill one-third with protein (turkey!), one-third with grain (mashed potatoes, squash, a dinner roll!) and one third with fiber (roasted Brussels sprouts, green beans!) for a balanced and filling plate.

Add fats to your plate to enhance flavor and satisfaction and be mindful of portion. How much gravy or butter is satisfying? It might be different than the amount you are accustomed to using. Fats make food taste good and also help your body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins found in the meal.
Take your time. It takes your body time to register signs of fullness. Allow yourself to set your fork down at times, pause from your plate to join in conversation or sit for a few minutes before going back for seconds.

Check in with yourself during the meal. Notice how things taste. What are you enjoying most? Is there anything on the plate you don’t care for? Reflecting on how the meal is going can help you decide when to stop and when, or if, to get more.

Remember, Thanksgiving foods are available all year. This is my favorite tip. While it might seem that green bean casserole and stuffing come only once a year, remind yourself that these foods are available at other times, too. You can have some more stuffing for dinner tonight or lunch tomorrow. You can whip up a green bean casserole mid-March if you feel like it.

Reminding yourself that you can access these foods outside of this one-very-meal, helps to reduce the scarcity mindset that can often lead us to enter the “I-want-to-eat-more-right-now-even-though-I-am-full-because-I-won’t-have-this-again-until-next-year” mindset.

I am sure we have all been there, but something as simple as mentally reminding yourself, I can get another slice of pie in an hour when I am less full, can reduce the likeliness of overeating and that you’ll leave the table feeling stuffed and way past comfortable.

I hope keeping these tips in mind allows you to have a stress free and enjoyable Thanksgiving meal with family and friends!

*Please remember that nutrition is incredibly nuanced and this article is not a replacement for individualized nutrition therapy or counseling.*

Jenni Wolf, a practicing registered dietitian, writes about food and nutrition for the Bugle. She is passionate about helping others nourish a positive and balanced relationship with food.

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