Health Team

Gobble Holiday Dinner Wisely for Better Health

Posted November 22, 2006 3:20 p.m. EST
Updated November 22, 2006 8:14 p.m. EST

— Thanksgiving dinners are hard on people trying to watch their weight or eat better, but nutrition experts say there are simple ways to make the holiday feast healthier.

Everything begins in the kitchen, where food preparation areas and eating and serving utensils need to be properly sanitized to avoid cross-contamination, said Natalie Newell, a registered dietitian with Rex Healthcare.

"A great idea is to have a meat cutting board and a vegetable cutting board," Newell said. "That's a great way to counteract any contamination between each product."

A good place to cut back on fat at Thanksgiving is with gravy, she said. Clear broth is a healthier option to season food, and she suggested adding garlic or herbs for more flavor.

The turkey itself also offers opportunities to limit fat. White is the leanest meat on a turkey or chicken, and it's even leaner when you don't eat the skin.

Newell also said people should try to stick to single portions, which is about the size of a deck of cards.

If the vegetable pot boils too long, she said people aren't getting the most nutrition out of their vegetables.

"I always tell my clients, 'If it's mushy, you're losing most of the vitamins and minerals in the water when you pour the water out,'" she said.

She suggested trying to stir-fry vegetables in olive oil and avoiding seasoning vegetables with bacon or pork.

People can splurge on Thanksgiving dinner without busting a diet, she said, but problems can come later.

"What happens is, you typically have leftovers, so the leftovers continue for three to four days afterwards," she said.

For those who have already started a healthier way of eating, she said Thanksgiving is no time to stop.

"Because you're setting habits for your children and in the future, your children will continue to make Thanksgiving a healthy meal," she said.

Newell said anyone who does overdo it at the dinner table should try to burn off those extra calories with extra activity, such as a walk instead of sitting and watching football after the meal.

She also suggested that people pack leftovers in the refrigerator immediately after the meal. After two hours, meat, casseroles and mayonnaise-based foods like potato salad can spoil quickly if not refrigerated, she said.

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