Let’s talk turkey: How to enjoy a healthy holiday

Imagine yourself at your 2007 Thanksgiving meal. That’s an invitation to stop reading this - just for a moment -- take a breath and dive deeply into a visualization of where you’ll be some weeks from now, on Thanksgiving Day.

Everyone is gathered. It’s time to eat. So where are you? Who is with you? Look around. Really see every face at the table - if there even is a table.

My do-gooder friend Tracy spends every Thanksgiving serving distressed families at a nearby shelter. She’s only at the table long enough to deliver the cranberries and sweet potatoes. Tracy has her celebration with family and friends the next day. The Friday after serving others she says she has no problem feeling truly grateful for her very comfortable life.

So that’s one wonderful way to make this Thanksgiving more meaningful and, in the greater scheme of things, more healthy: Make a plan to serve others. (Don’t feel guilty if you’re not a Tracy. Instead, just contemplate generosity at your own table.)

Here are two juicy questions to ask yourself in advance of the big event: What am I serving and what am I eating?

What am I serving?

Let this year’s menu reflect your mantra: I am what I cook. If you believe in fresh food, real food, less toxic food, serve it. Start with the turkey. Instead of buying that traditional, industrialized turkey - crammed in a pen, pumped with hormones, shot through with antibiotics - find a bird that grew up free-range, listening to Mozart. Will it be more expensive? Probably. Is it worth it? Yes.

Good health (pure food) comes at a small cost - small compared to your cable bill, for instance, not to mention the staggering cost and suffering associated with poor health.

So ditch that bag of stuffing mix with all the unpronounceable chemicals and make a dressing that relies on whole grains. (I’m planning wild rice with pecans and cranberries and, to make my To Do list shorter and less stressful, assigning it to a guest to cook.) Baste the beast with apple juice instead of butter. Instead of pecan pie (more than 700 calories a slice,) do something delicious to fresh fruit. There are zillions of recipes for healthy Thanksgiving dishes. Find them, make them, and feel good about serving them to family and friends.

What am I eating?

To survive Thanksgiving without overeating, you need to know in a very practical way what it means to make healthy choices. Candied sweet potatoes or mashed? Turkey gravy or cranberry sauce? White meat versus dark? Charles Stuart Platkin’s new book, “The Diet Detective’s Calorie Bargain Bible” (Fireside) is a terrific resource for making smart decisions this Thanksgiving, and for the rest of your life. Read more at Some highlights:

  • Candied sweet potatoes (with butter, sugar, maple syrup, etc.) can add up to more than 450 calories for a one-cup portion. Yikes. A cup of mashed potatoes may have 240 to 300 calories, depending on how much butter you add. (1 Tbs. of butter = 100 calories)
  • Can the cranberry sauce. It can easily have 180 calories per half-cup vs. - surprise! - only 80 calories for traditional turkey gravy.
  • Dark meat has about 15 percent more calories. You’ll save even more if you forego the skin. A 3.5 ounce portion of white meat without skin: 135 calories; dark meat without skin: 162 calories.
  • Eat before you go. If you starve yourself before a holiday party to “make room” for all the great food, you’ll probably overeat. Instead, eat enough healthy snacks to take the edge off and proceed with caution.
  • Resist the Food Pushers. Those are the people who imply there’s something wrong with you if you don’t want another scoop of stuffing or slice of pie. Rehearse while dressing: “No, thanks, I’ve had enough.”
  • Pre-plan how much you’ll eat. Commit yourself to smaller portions and no seconds. Imagine how great you’ll feel the morning after.
  • Trade off. That means you can eat more one day if you are willing to exercise more the next. Keep in mind it takes 25 extra minutes to walk off 100 extra calories. Is that 440-calorie chocolate martini really worth it?

Energy express-o: Giving thanks for the Daily Show
“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.” - Jon Stewart

Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to