If you’re like most people, you’ll loosen your belt a bit come Thanksgiving. But do you have any idea how many calories you end up consuming to get that uncomfortable post-meal bloating that makes you flop on the couch?
Maybe you don’t want to.
Hey what the hell: The average American reportedly consumes approximately 3,000 calories and nearly 160 grams of fat in a Thanksgiving meal., according to the Calorie Control Council. Going back for seconds of turkey, potatoes, and gravy (and you know you probably will) probably adds another 500 to 1,000 calories easily.
When I read that, I thought it was nonsense, so much? No way! Then I made a list of what I normally eat in a session on the fourth Thursday of every November and calculated the calories. And I have to admit, wow, that’s a lot of filler! Included in my bill are not only entrees and sides, but pre-meal apps and drinks as well. (Because, after all, they’re also part of the big T-Day feast festivities!) Take a look at the tacks for how my Thanksgiving dinner breaks down overall, and for more ideas on how to prepare For a delicious Thanksgiving meal, be sure to also read 7 Thanksgiving Side Dishes You Can Make in Your Deep Fryer.
- 1/2 cup mixed nuts: 407 calories, 35 g fat
- 4 tablespoons artichoke dip with 5 Triscuits: 212 calories, 14 g fat
- 3 olives: 15 calories, 1 g fat
- Swiss cheese cubes: 100 calories, 8 g fat
- Broccoli florets and orange pepper slices: 45 calories
- One 16 oz craft beer IPA: 225 calories, 0 g fat
Pregame total: 1,004 calories, 58 g fat
- 4 slices of turkey: 190 calories, 6 g fat
- 2 buttered crescent rolls: 302 calories, 23 g fat
- 1 cup bread filling: 363 calories, 17 g fat
- 1/4 giblet sauce: 95 calories, 4 g fat
- 1 serving of mashed potatoes: 340 calories, 19 g fat
- 1 serving of sweet potato casserole: 276 calories, 6 g fat
- 1 cup balsamic green beans: 164 calories, 14 g fat
- 1 serving cranberry sauce: 105 calories, 0 g fat
- 2 glasses of red wine: 284 calories
Total dinner: 2,119 calories, 81 g fat
- Apple pie with 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream: 560 calories, 29 g fat
- Coffee with cream and sugar: 90 calories, 4.5 g fat
Total dessert: 650 calories, 33.5 g fat
Grand total: 3,773 calories, 180.5 g fat
I know that seems like a lot of calories and grams of fat in just a few dishes. Talk to Jen Haugen, RDN, RHPand the author of the cookbook. Dinner, Ready! 40 Healthy Recipes + 5 Cookware to Put Menu Planning on Autopilot for their advice on how to deal with this caloric threat at Thanksgiving. Her advice may surprise you even more than the total calorie count for Thanksgiving dinner: Simply put, eat! Have fun.
“Don’t limit yourself to your favorite foods at the Thanksgiving table, and certainly don’t feel guilty,” says Haugen.
Feeling guilty or eating little the day after Thanksgiving is a common practice, says certified nutritionist Karin Adoni, founder of Clean Diet by Karin Adoni.
“[However,] it’s never a good idea to do that, and it almost always leads to overeating later on,” says Adoni.
Both nutritionists say that if keeping caloric intake in check is still a concern at Thanksgiving, having a calorie reference point can be helpful. While the details of what’s best for you depend on a few factors, such as your age and daily activity level, the average adult needs about 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day.
“To put things in perspective, if you normally eat 2,400 calories per day and you consumed 3,773 on Thanksgiving, we can look at it more as a weekly average than just consumption in one day,” says Adoni. “When we look at it this way, you really just added an extra 197 calories a day.”
That’s roughly the equivalent of eating an extra apple and a handful of almonds or a small banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter every day. In other words, splurging on Turkey Day is unlikely to cause anyone to gain weight if they eat normally the rest of the week.
How to make sure your eyes don’t get bigger than your stomach
But what if you want to eat mindfully in front of a big Thanksgiving party?
“Take your portion sizes down a bit. Put an end to those seconds of stuffing and potatoes. [Also,] drink water as a beverage instead of wine or apple cider,” says Haugen. Also, Haugen suggests going for a walk after lunch; exercise will reduce the spike in blood sugar after meals.
Adoni also says you can significantly reduce calories and fat grams by making smart meal swapping choices when preparing your meal and at the buffet, too.
“Choose turkey breast slices instead of dark meat; white meat is a leaner protein source,” advises Adoni. And when planning your menu, consider these trade-offs:
- Instead of scalloped potatoes, make sweet potatoes or sweet potato casserole for less refined carbs.
- Use avocado as a source of fat for desserts and holiday baking instead of butter.
- Swap heavy cream for nonfat Greek yogurt for dips and desserts. It is lower in fat and high in protein.
- Use heart-healthy nuts to top your sweet potato casseroles instead of sugary marshmallows.
- Always think of whole grains for bread and rice. Swap white rice for whole grain brown rice for sides and appetizers.