What the Health Experts Are Eating This Thanksgiving

With the holidays in full swing, many people worry they’ll gain weight or fall off the diet wagon if they indulge in the bounty of the season. With all the stuffing, pie, and potatoes we see in our futures, we asked a few leading health professionals what they’d be eating on Thanksgiving and for their favorite tips for keeping the holidays healthy.

Roma van der Walt, Fitness Expert and Founder of Chitta Wellness in New York City

van der Walt is looking forward to "roast turkey breast, with a sweet potato casserole and pie for dessert, ideally apple pie. Anything with apples, really." Van der Walt knows that many people have a hard time with moderation on holidays. She recommends celebrators offset their indulgence with exercise and offers these tips for a leaner Thanksgiving:

  • Work out early in the day. Whether you join a turkey trot or take a brisk walk, plan it and get your exercise in before meal preparation starts. Then, enjoy the festivities and indulgences without guilt.
  • Try and be "good" during the days leading up to Thanksgiving and afterwards. If you treat the holiday as your weekly cheat day but stick to your regular nutrition plan before and after, the effects will be less detrimental and you won’t feel bad about them.

Jamie Meeks, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, Sports Nutrition Coordinator at Louisiana State University Athletics Department in Baton Rouge

"I’ll be eating roast turkey, baked sweet potatoes, steamed green beans, cranberry sauce, mac and cheese (my grandmother’s recipe!), and apple pie for dessert," Meeks says. Her choices reflect her recommendation that people think carefully about what they put on their plate and, more importantly, about how it’s prepared; roasting, baking, and steaming are methods that tend to not add additional fat and calories to the cooking process (unlike frying, for instance).

Serving size is also important, Meeks says: "People look forward to that one day where they can gorge themselves with huge portions. They really don’t think that one day can mess up a diet, but it definitely can. You can eat more than 5,000 calories in one sitting at this time of year, because of the high fat content of certain dishes," she points out.

However, Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be an all-out diet disaster: "Simply changing the way certain foods are prepared, however—slightly altering ingredients, cooking methods, or the measurements of certain ingredients—is an easy way to practice more healthy decision making not only during Thanksgiving, but year round." Meeks offers these tips for dialing up the health content of popular holiday meals:

  • Offer dinner rolls made from whole-grain or wheat bread. They’re lower in sugars and calories.
  • Serve fresh steamed or roasted vegetables.
  • Roast your turkey instead of deep-frying it, and choose white meat instead of the higher-fat dark meat.
  • Avoid "trap foods" that sound healthy but are actually high in fat, like the green bean casserole that contains heavy cream and cheese. Choose steamed green beans instead.

Alison Massey MS, RD, CDE, LDN, Registered Dietician and Director of Diabetes Education at The Center for Endocrinology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore

Massey takes a very traditional approach to holiday eating: "I eat the classics on the holiday and don’t focus on calorie counting. After all, it’s a very special meal that happens only once a year. I’ll be enjoying my favorite roast turkey with fresh cranberry-tangerine dressing, roasted Brussels sprouts and of course, some apple crisp and pumpkin pie. Apple and pumpkin are my favorite fall flavors."

Whether you approach Thanksgiving with an eye towards moderation or total indulgence, remember that the spirit of the holiday is all about gratitude. Enjoy your day spent with family, friends and, of course, fine food.

Allison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, reviewed this article.


Roma van der Walt. Chitta Wellness.

Jamie Meeks, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. Sports Nutrition Coordinator, Louisiana State University Athletics. 

Allison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, CDE.