Healthy helpings: Tips for guiltless gobbling this Thanksgiving

Roast Turkey and Stuffing

Healthy holidays

The holidays are here and that means food and drink will likely be everywhere you look. Whether you are cooking for guests, hosting family, providing food for a party, or attending a holiday event, you will constantly be faced with making choices about food during the coming months. Focus on enjoying the festivities with these helpful tips!

Eat what you enjoy and enjoy what you eat

Holiday eating does not mean you have to abandon your healthy habits or gain weight. Instead:

  • Focus on the items you only get to enjoy during these festivities and enjoy the extras some other time. For example, choose a special dip instead of cheese cubes that are available all year, or try the stuffing instead of potatoes that are served weekly.
  • Choose small portions and remind yourself there will be more tomorrow. This way you can still relish treats and not feel guilty.
  • Eat consistently scheduled meals and snacks. This avoids the food safety hazard of leaving food out all day and reduces the extra calories that come with grazing and mindless eating.

Mindful eating

Eating mindfully is being conscious of why and how you are eating, not just what you are eating. The research is clear: slowing down your meals and snacks does all sorts of good things for your body. Eating slowly creates actual biochemical changes that make you less inclined to overeat. Mindful eaters are aware of what they feel, where they are and who they are with when they eat. How can you do this?

  • Focus on the current meal or snack and use all five senses to pick and savor satisfying and nourishing foods.
  • Train yourself to begin and end meals based on hunger and fullness cues. Simply, eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.
  • Identify personal triggers that result in mindless eating and work to avoid them.
  • Feel good about experiencing the food you have and the opportunity to share with others. Avoid making judgments – there are no “good” or “bad” foods.
  • Appreciate the nourishing capacity that food has and learn to value quality over quantity.
  • Make the effort to sit down, be thankful and take it all in.

Did you know?

  • An estimated 46 million turkeys were eaten on Thanksgiving in 2012.
  • That means that every person eating turkey got about 3 pounds. The recommended serving size of turkey ranges from ¾ up to 1.5 pounds per person.
  • Most people are going to consume about double the amount of their normal daily caloric intake on Thanksgiving.
  • The total caloric intake on Thanksgiving (that includes snacking, the main dinner, dessert and alcohol) is about 4500 calories.
  • This is what it takes to burn off 4,500 calories:
    • 15 hours of skiing
    • 7.7 hours of running
    • 12 hours and 45 minutes of walking moderately quick, or 44.5 miles
    • 10.6 hours of swimming
    • 15 hours of biking


wineWhat is a sneaky way to add calories to your holiday festivities? It is not what’s on your plate but in your glass that may be packing on those unwanted holiday pounds.

  • 12 ounces of regular beer has about 150 calories
  • 5 ounces of hard alcohol has about 100 calories
  • 5 ounces of wine has about 125 calories
  • 8 ounces of eggnog has about 225 calories

Calories from drinks like these provide little to no nutritional value and don’t make us full like real food does. In addition, alcohol can cause you to eat more, further increasing the amount of calories you consume. Use these tips to moderate your calorie consumption from beverages during this holiday season.

  • Fill up your glass with water in between each alcoholic beverage you consume.
  • Wait until food is served to consume alcohol.
  • Mix 2-4 ounces of eggnog with 2-4 ounces of skim milk to get the same holiday flavor without all the calories and saturated fat.
  • Use words such as “small,” “skinny,” “half flavor shot,” and/or “unsweetened” when ordering beverages at your favorite coffee shop. Skip the whipped cream to save 100 calories or more.
  • When you are in the mood for a hot beverage, choose apple cider over hot chocolate to cut down on calories and saturated fat. Apple cider also contains potassium, vitamin C and a touch of iron.

If you choose to consume alcohol, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests moderating it to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Instead of depriving yourself during the holidays, enjoy moderate amounts of holiday beverages while keeping these tips in mind!

Vegan holidays

Decorative Corn and Pumpkins in Background

Sometimes holidays call for making accommodations for loved ones. When you want to create a vegetarian meal or are asked to prepare food for someone who follows a vegan diet, do not feel the need to throw in the towel on tradition. Look over the recipes you always use and decide what ingredients may be an issue and get creative with adjustments. By making a few modifications, you can still enjoy some of the dishes you love and allow everyone to take part in the tradition!

Some family members may be resistant to change, so make a large batch of the base of a recipe and then separate into two containers: one with meat added and the other without. Include alternative protein sources wherever possible. For example, soy based products, beans, quinoa, and nuts and seeds can easily be added to salads, casseroles and side dishes. Easy substitutions like olive oil instead of butter and almond milk in place of milk will likely go unnoticed in most recipes. Leave garnishes like bacon and cheese to the side so vegetarians can leave them out while others can easily add them.

The key message when serving a vegan thanksgiving is to maintain a healthy balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat while providing a variety of food groups, including vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins, and fats. Also, if preparing a vegan Thanksgiving is a bit too intimidating, ask guests with special diets to bring a dish to share that they know they can eat. This will take some of the stress away from an already busy day and allow them to feel like they are an integral part in making the holiday special!

Stay active

Lastly, do not wait until the New Year to start or maintain an exercise routing. Staying physically active, even just walking ten minutes per day, will help reduce stress, maintain your energy and burn a few extra calories.

21st annual Fort Collins Thanksgiving Day run

Burn off your Thanksgiving dinner calories in advance by participating in the most popular family 4-mile run or walk event in Northern Colorado. The race takes place during the morning of Thanksgiving Day, starting around 9 a.m. The course goes from Old Town, down College and Mulberry Avenues to City Park and down the historic and beautiful Mountain Avenue, before arriving into Old Town again. Presented by RBC Wealth Management and benefitting the Larimer County Food Bank. Find out more here.

The Gobble Gobble Kids’ Run

Race down College Avenue in a kids’ fun run sponsored by the Silver Grill. There is no entry fee and all participants will receive a finisher’s ribbon and prize. The race starts at approximately 8:45 a.m., prior to the main event, the Fort Collins Thanksgiving Day run. Gobble Gobble participants will meet by the Silver Grill banner hanging in Oak Street Plaza at 8:45 a.m. The distance of the Gobble Gobble is approximately 1/3 mile, or four city blocks.

Recipe: Guilt free turkey gravy 

Serving size: 1/4 cup. Makes 8 servings.


  • 1/2 cup onion (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms (finely chopped)
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley (finely chopped)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (reduced sodium and fat-free), divided
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper


1. In a saucepan, over medium heat, sauté vegetables and parsley in 1/4 cup of broth until tender.

2. In a separate bowl, combine cornstarch, pepper and 1/2 cup of broth. Stir until smooth. Add this to saucepan along with remaining broth.

3. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil for 2 minutes.

4. For extra flavor, add a splash of white wine and turkey bits straight from your roasting pan.

Recipe: Almond and green bean casserole

Serving size: 3/4 cup. Makes 6 servings.


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2/3 cup pearl onions, halved
  • 8 oz Portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pound fresh green beans (about 4 cups)
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups low-fat milk
  • 3 tbsp dry sherry (not cooking sherry)
  • 1 cup red, yellow or orange peppers, sliced
  • 1 small container non-fat plain yogurt (5-6 oz)
  • 3 tbsp buttermilk powder
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds


1. Preheat the oven to 400° Coat a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray.

2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté mushrooms and onions for about 4 minutes. Stir in green beans (with tips removed), onion powder, salt, thyme and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle flour over the vegetables; stir to coat.

3. Reduce heat to low. Add milk, sherry and peppers. Bring to a simmer, stirring often. Continue cooking (stirring frequently) for 3 to 5 minutes. Then, stir in buttermilk powder and yogurt.

4. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle almonds evenly on top of the casserole.

5. Bake the casserole until bubbling, about 15 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Content contributed by Shelby Chandler, dietitian at CSU’s Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Kimberly Burke, director of the Adult Fitness Program in the Department of Health and Exercise Science.