• Melissa Genee, RD

Tips for a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate with family and friends and of course a time to enjoy tasty holiday food. Roast turkey. Stuffing. Mashed potatoes. Cranberry sauce. Gravy. Pumpkin pie. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. While it may not seem like it, it is possible to continue with healthy habits throughout the holidays. Read on to learn our top strategies to have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving while still enjoying your favourite Thanksgiving dishes. 

Portion Sizes

Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs and it can be easy to overfill our plates, especially during the holidays. A strategy you can use to manage portion sizes is to use a smaller plate, particularly with younger children. For adults, consider using 10 inch plates for dinner (compared to the standard 11-12 inch plates most of us own) and 5-6 inch plates for dessert. For toddlers and young children, provide 6-9 inch dinner plates. Using smaller plates with your children will allow them to build age appropriate meals (and also may help to prevent unwanted food waste). 

Balanced Plates

Along with reasonable portions, it is also important to continue to have balanced plates during Thanksgiving (think Canada’s Eat Well Plate!). Start by filling half of your plate with vegetables like green beans, carrots, winter squash and salad. The remaining half of your plate should be split between protein such as turkey and starches and whole grains such as stuffing and mashed potatoes. 

Vegetable Side Dishes 

Many of our favourite Thanksgiving dishes are meat and starch based. To balance out and add colour to these tasty foods, a good rule of thumb is to offer 3 different kinds of vegetables, prepared multiple ways (such as sauteed carrots, roasted squash and mixed green salad). While Thanksgiving can be a great time to experiment with new recipes, it is also important to continue providing at least one vegetable dish that your children already approves of and enjoys. Here are some family friendly vegetable based side dishes you may consider offering at your Thanksgiving dinner:

Warm roasted butternut squash salad by Minimalist Baker 

Balsamic roasted brussel sprouts by the Food Network

Carrot fries by Tasty

Sauteed green beans by Easy Family Recipes

Easy broccoli salad with bacon by Inspired Taste

Roasted beet and goat cheese salad by Delish 


Thanksgiving would just not be the same without dessert. Instead of restricting desserts during holidays such as Thanksgiving, moderate them. Offer smaller portions of desserts (on smaller plates) alongside fruits such as grapes, strawberries and sliced apples. 

Keep Active

Amidst the appetizers, main dishes and desserts, remember to stay active. Aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity throughout the day. Consider taking a walk or bicycle ride after dinner with the whole family. If you are hosting family for the Thanksgiving weekend, consider looking for local events like a corn-maze or U-pick farm for apples. And if all else fails, nothing beats raking leaves and jumping into the piles. For more family friendly fall activities, check out Unlock Food: Fall for Physical Activity

Mindful Eating

Holidays can be a very busy and distracting time for families. Among the chaos, it is important to practice mindful eating:

Take the time and space that is needed to enjoy the food prepared - do not rush through dinner. 

Remove distractions such as games and television during the meal. 

Use all of your senses when eating and encourage your children to as well. During dinner, ask your children questions like: how hungry or full are you?, what colours and shapes are on your plate?, what does X smell like?, what does X taste like?, can you describe the textures you are eating? 

Focus on Gratitude

Sometimes we can put too much emphasis on the actual food on the table, instead of the company surrounding us. Thanksgiving is a time to spend time with our loved ones and count our blessings. Consider setting up a Thanksgiving or blessing tree where you and your children can write down things you are grateful for. As a family activity, you can even read and reflect upon each blessing before sitting down for dinner. 

Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to spend time with family and friends and show gratitude towards loved ones. It is also a time to enjoy and celebrate the delicious food at your table. With these tips, your family can hopefully find the perfect balance between eating healthy and celebrating with loved ones.


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