Easy-to-follow tips and tricks for a healthier Thanksgiving

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Anyone who watches their weight knows their kryptonite is right around the corner: Thanksgiving.

The holiday season can leave people feeling weak, tired and unwell. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We spoke with Los Angeles-based registered dietitian Kim Shapira and Greater Cleveland chef, entrepreneur, and author April Thompson about easy smart approaches when it comes to holiday cooking and eating.

They suggest a few things to consider, and we’ll offer a few suggestions to help:

Don’t starve to death from the gorge.

Some people will think they’ve overdone their diet by starving themselves and wearing sweatpants so they can feel comfortable when they go to pick up mashed potatoes or a second slice of pie. Not a good approach, Shapira said.

“I think people get so caught up in celebrations and holidays and focus mostly on the food they’re going to eat, but they forget that their bodies really thrive on consistency,” said Shapira, who wrote ” This is. What are you really hungry for? six simple rules that will transform your relationship with food to become your healthiest self.”

He suggests treating Thanksgiving like it’s a Thursday, not a holiday, so to speak. A body that thrives on blood sugar and consistency needs to be fed every two and a half to three hours.

Eat when you’re hungry, small and often, and don’t undereat, Shapira said. Eating poorly sends a signal to your brain that your body is “starving.” Even if you eat something that’s considered “healthy,” your body will store it as fat if you’re really hungry, he said.

“‘Healthy’ is very personalized,” he said. “Each person will have different factors in their body at mealtime that trigger inflammatory responses (to certain foods).

He offered a “bird’s eye view” of the food, asking: “How does my body react to it?”

Eating when you are not hungry (at the table) is not good, Shapira said.

“I would refer everyone to ‘healthy’ quotes and eating normally,” she said. “Sometimes I have pumpkin pie, but I don’t usually have pumpkin pie two or three days in a row. If I do that, I’m in the habit.”

Offer: If you love pie, consider making it a la mode.

Is there a green bean casserole?

Keep healthy preparation in mind

With turkey, there are a few approaches you can take to stay on the healthier side, said Thompson, who was preparing a large menu item for his holiday meal. Avoid dark meat and roast turkey. And forget the butter injections.

Instead, consider cooking a turkey that roasts the bird more evenly. You can brine and grill it ahead of time, he said. Her fall harvest turkey will have flavorful toppings of dried cranberries, apples, oranges, onions and celery that can be roasted.

Thompson, who works with the Cleveland Clinic on heart-healthy programs, also has a unique vegetable suggestion: halve the greens and mix them with butternut squash, she said.

“The butternut squash will taste the same if you season it the same way, roast it the same way, and mix it in with your sweet potatoes. You can have half the density of potatoes and half the calories. Then when you’re sick, you can throw them in your blender or Vitamix or whatever and make a nice soup.” (Recipe below).

For a traditional green bean stir-fry, make your own crispy onions, she said.

“Just using flour-dusted crispy onions with real heavy cream and sauteed mushrooms instead of getting a cream of mushroom soup, which might be quicker, but you’re in more control of your calories when you make it yourself,” Thompson said. “So by using Parmesan cheese, heavy cream and sauteed mushrooms, you’re skipping all the preservatives. You know the cream goes in as whole fat, and it’s going to go away as whole fat, not the preservatives that are in (canned) soups.”

She also said to find a local farmers market and saute fresh vegetables in a pan with herbs.

“Small changes will help everyone have the happiest of holidays,” he said.

Shapira focuses less on recipes and more on the long-term implications of staying healthy while recommending positive habits. He focuses on why people eat and the changes they need.

“Everybody knows that kale is healthy, but after kale, they drink milkshakes,” he said, adding that “deep frying is probably not good for people with high cholesterol.”

Offer: If you’re cooking, ask yourself if you need that much salt or sugar in the dish.

Portion control is important.

How much is too much?

Both Shapira and Thompson focus on portion control.

“Take your usual portion, cut it in half, and wait 15 minutes to see if you need more food,” Shapira said, saying it helps to be mindful when you eat. Slowing down can prevent digestive stress, prevent overeating, and avoid weight gain.

“The tiredness we feel after this is the size of the meal. It causes a lot of discomfort and our bodies go overtime to process and break down all those nutrients.”

Thompson agrees.

“Eat several small portions,” he said. “Don’t make a giant plate of everything. Eat all day, but pace yourself. Give yourself breaks. And eat small meals. It’s all about portion control. If you know you want dessert, maybe don’t have a giant pile of macaroni and cheese.”

Offer: You need that extra roll with a dollop of butter when you’re stuffing and mac and cheese.

Offering raw nuts during the holidays instead of bowls of candy is a healthy alternative.

Avoid bad snacks

It’s really easy to pour candies into a holiday bowl and pour it out on the counter. Shapira suggests “setting a pitcher of water on the counter in a really nice glass. Every time you enter the kitchen, you create a habit where you pour yourself water. This will help you get a little pause or space between the thought of eating and the act of eating.”

Thompson suggests: “Remember when we were little? Our parents had nuts and bolts. Raw walnuts are so good for us. Get dried fruit. Remove such things. Create small snacks for people so they won’t be tempted to the candy. Throw in a bunch of healthy snacks and you can snack all day, especially for people who cook. Where there used to be cans of M&Ms, now there’s trail mix, quinoa bites, things like that.”

Offer: Just a few raw almonds a day can help with good cholesterol. Slicing a lemon or two into a pitcher of water can add flavor without the calories. And consider the air popcorn.


What to do: Plan a family activity, Thompson said: Play or go for a walk “so you don’t spend the whole day eating.”

What can’t be done? Avoid the scale, says Shapira. “Give yourself a little grace if you’re eating a little too much salt or starchy food,” she said. “Get back to consistently eating well. Do not have shame and persecution.’

Don’t forget that awareness has its place, Shapira added.

“Ideally,” he said, “take your eyes off the food and look at the people you’re with. It should be Thanksgiving.”

Suggestions: You don’t have to be like the Kennedys and play touch football, but a walk around the neighborhood isn’t a bad idea. If you’re settling in to watch any of the NFL’s day games, know that it’s a long day, so keep your alcohol intake in check. Also, keep in mind that your dinner and sides will likely have leftovers, so you don’t have to try to conquer everything on the table in one sitting.

April Thompson’s Roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potatoes


1-2 butternut squash, peeled and diced

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced

1 tsp minced garlic

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 fresh sage leaves, chopped

1 sprig of fresh rosemary (remove leaves and chop finely).

½ cup monastic sweetener

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cinnamon


1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

2. Peel and chop all the vegetables and toss them in a large bowl.

3. After placing the vegetables, onion and garlic in a bowl, pour in extra virgin olive oil.

4. Add spices, stir. Place on a lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the vegetables over and bake for another 20 minutes.

The time. It usually takes 35 to 50 minutes. Poke a fork into the vegetables to test for doneness. They should be tender but not crumbly.

i’m on cleveland.com‘s life and culture team and covers topics related to food, beer, wine and sports. For my latest stories, here’s a guide on cleveland.com. WTAM-1100’s Bill Wills and I talk food and drink, usually at 8:20 a.m. on Thursdays. Twitter: @mbona30:. My latest book, co-authored with Dan Murphy, is “Joe Thomas. Not Your Average Joe” by Gray & Co.

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