Thanksgiving: 10 Tips for Sticking to Healthy Portions



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The feelings of joy and gratitude during Thanksgiving are often followed by guilt and discomfort from overeating during the holiday's festivities but it doesn't have to be that way.

This year, size up your portions and make smart selections at the Thanksgiving dinner table by using our visual serving size comparison guide. This information, created by wellness dietitians at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, makes figuring out portion sizes easy by comparing them to everyday objects.

The center's experts advise that men plan to eat 700 calories at their Thanksgiving meal, and women 500 calories, and ration the rest of the day's calories accordingly.

From stuffing to cornbread, here are 10 of your holiday favorites, along with tips for smartly spreading out your calorie allowance.

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One of the most important tricks for staying below your Thanksgiving meal's calorie allowance while still feeling full is to put plenty of low-calorie, nutritious vegetables on your plate. Fill up on healthy cooked veggies before digging into anything else on the table it will help keep your appetite at bay, and prevent you from overeating more calorie-rich options down the line.

One half cup of vegetables about the size of a rounded handful counts as a serving. Calorie counts vary depending on the vegetable, with about 30 calories in one serving of steamed broccoli or cooked carrots and approximately 15 calories in one serving size of boiled cauliflower, though additions such as butter or cheese raise the calorie count.

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A serving of turkey is 3 ounces, or about the size of a full deck of playing cards.

One serving of the white meat part of a turkey has about 132 calories, while dark turkey meat packs about 145 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To nudge the calories downward, eat a serving of white meat without the skin this brings the count to only 119 calories.

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A serving of gooey gravy is about 1/4 of a cup, or the size of a golf ball. Each serving has from 30 to 50 calories. Limiting your helping of gravy to a couple of spoonfuls will help keep your calorie count in check. [10 New Ways to Eat Well ]

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As one of the traditional Thanksgiving sides, potatoes may seem like a healthy choice because they are technically a vegetable, but loading up on the carbohydrate-rich food could leave you feeling drowsy and sluggish.

A single serving of potatoes is one half of a cup, or about the size of a tennis ball cut in half, and contains approximately 145 calories. A healthier option would be cooked cauliflower with herbs or spices, such as pepper or chives, added for flavor, this would only add up to 15 calories a serving.

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You may be used to drenching your potatoes in butter, but one serving size, which is a teaspoon and about the size of a single die, packs about 36 calories.

Instead of pouring on the butter, add flavor to your potatoes or cooked vegetables by mixing in chicken broth, herbs or roasted garlic.

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One serving of stuffing is one half of a cup, or the equivalent of an ice cream scoop. Each helping contains about 180 calories.

To bring down the calorie content, make homemade stuffing instead of using store-brought stuffing, and substitute chopped vegetables such as onions, squash, eggplants, carrots and celeryfor some of the bread. If want to replace the bread in your healthy stuffing completely, you can replace it with wild rice.

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Salad is one of the healthier side options at the Thanksgiving table. It's a much better idea to go back for seconds of salad than cornbread or stuffing. But watch out for what you put on top of it one serving of salad can have between about 100 and 150 calories, depending on the dressing. Each serving is one cup and is about the size of a baseball.

As with butter and gravy, topping salad with herbs and spices instead of dressing can keep its calorie count low, while still providing plenty of flavor. [7 Salads to Add Veggies to Your Diet ]

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One serving of cornbread is a medium-sized muffin, or a square that is about the size of a bar of personal soap. That relatively small amount packs a whopping 175 calories and that's without butter on top.

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One serving size of cranberry sauce is 1/4 of a cup, or about the size of a golf ball, and contains approximately 105 calories.

To get the cranberry taste without all of the sugary calories, load up on cranberry salad instead. Another option is to have sugar-free cranberry Jell-O, which has only 10 calories per one-cup serving.

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It just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without pie, but eating it without busting your calorie bank depends on which pie you choose. A single serving is about 1/8 of a 9-inch pie, which is about the size of a standard light bulb.

One serving of pumpkin pie contains about 323 calories, and apple pie contains approximately 300 calories. The unhealthiest option is pecan pie, which packs 456 calories.

If you're baking homemade pies, use up to one-third less sugar than the recipe calls for, and you and your family likely won't even notice the difference. Replace evaporated milk with low-fat or skim milk, and use a whole wheat pie crust. To further keep your calorie count in check, skip the whipped cream topping and chocolate or caramel drizzle.

To leave room for desert, cut down on your calories elsewhere. For example, you can abstain from butter and gravy, or not take seconds of mashed potatoes and load up on vegetables instead.

Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.