How Many Calories Are on Your Thanksgiving Plate?

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We break down the Thanksgiving plate so you know what you’re in for

Learn how to construct the best plate for Thanksgiving.

Recently, the Calorie Control Council estimated that the average American could consume as many as 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day.

"It’s important to not feel deprived on this holiday," clarifies nutritionist Deborah Enos, the popular One Minute Wellness Coach. "Truly, this holiday is about friends, family, food, and football. If you’re not eating the foods on the table, you might feel a bit left out. So it's good to know what foods are calorie bombs and what foods are actually good choices."

But according to a survey from Basis Science, creators of the Basis fitness tracker, Americans aren't adequately accounting for the number of calories on their Thanksgiving plates. According to the survey, during their Thanksgiving dinner most Americans expect to consume just 1,780 calories and more than 75 percent of survey respondents expect to stay below 2,000 calories.

Enos recommends, "Drink a cup of coffee or hot tea about 15 to 20 minutes before you sit down to your meal. The hot liquid will annihilate your appetite. You feel full, you eat less, and this allows you to indulge in a few goodies but not every goodie that comes your way."

"I think it’s OK to thoroughly enjoy this holiday but don’t binge," Enos continues. "It’s hard to recover from a binge. However, just enjoying the holiday means you get a few bites of all of your favorites without passing out on the couch in a food coma."

But you have to know exactly what the "best scenario" or even the "worst scenario" plates look like to make sure you are staying within your dietary limits. We were curious as to exactly what would be on these plates, so we broke the average American Thanksgiving dinner down, from the drinks to the pads of butter on your biscuit, to see where we typically go wrong. In our accompanying slideshow, you can find your entire dinner deconstructed so you can make the best of your Thanksgiving caloric intake.

Low Calorie Thanksgiving Dinner

So tomorrow, I am going to be spending a FULL week at Fitness Ridge in St. George, UT. I am excitedly terrified, if that is even a thing (which I think it is because that is what I am feeling)! Emily went a few months ago (see her post here) and after her hearing about her amazing experience I just HAD to sign up! I chose the week before Thanksgiving for a reason—so I would be motivated to keep in check for Thanksgiving Day (my biggest weakness)! After a week of working out for 8+ hours, I won’t want it to all be for nothing! I am 100% on board for keeping Thanksgiving light this year (and who knows, maybe it will be a thing we do every year)!

When I talked to Emily about her experience she mentioned how GREAT the food was at Fitness Ridge—that it was healthy, and low-calories, but filling! She said her whole time there she never felt hungry because she was eating the RIGHT things that gave her energy throughout the day. So this got me thinking… does Fitness Ridge do a Thanksgiving dinner? The answer is YES. I talked to the executive chef at Fitness Ridge, Sam Baker, and he walked me through everything he will be making for Thanksgiving dinner at Fitness Ridge this year.

Check out this low calorie Thanksgiving dinner menu: Roasted Turkey with Lemon Rosemary Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, Purple Sweet Potato Puree, Gluten Free Stuffing, Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Asparagus AND Pumpkin Crème Brulee. Doesn’t that sound delicious? Can you believe that ALL of this is only 530 calories?! (Compare this to the average 3,000+ calories on a typical Thanksgiving day plate. See the breakdown here)

As soon as I heard this menu I immediately knew I wanted to make it for Thanksgiving… but I wanted to do one better for you guys and make it all BEFORE hand and give you all the recipes so you could make it too! Chef Sam graciously shared all of these recipes with me and is allowing me to share them with you here on Favorite Family Recipes. So do me a favor and drop him a line or leave him a comment here thanking him for sharing!

Let me just tell you, this Thanksgiving dinner was absolutely DELICIOUS and surprisingly filling! I actually felt GOOD after eating it (meaning I didn’t want to lay down on the couch and die from being overstuffed). I was full, but I felt like I could still go out in the back yard and play flag-football! Even hours after eating it, I still wasn’t hungry. Just because meals are low-calorie doesn’t mean they aren’t filling. We all completely had our fill but without the Thanksgiving guilt. Win-win!

Burning Off High Calorie Foods: Thanksgiving Edition

It probably comes as no surprise that a Thanksgiving meal can pack in tons of extra calories. What’s really eye-opening is how much exercise you need to burn those calories. Don’t get us wrong, Thanksgiving dinner is a meal to be savored just keep some of these numbers in mind before you pile those goodies too high in your plate.

The values below are averages based on a 155-pound person. We left turkey off of the list below on purpose. At about 150 calories for a 4-ounce (skinless) serving, it’s hands-down a healthy choice.

• 6 stuffed mushrooms (made with cheese and meat) = 350 calories = 1 hour of belly dancing

• 1 serving spinach-artichoke dip = 320 calories = 35 minutes of sit ups

• ¼ cup gravy = 50 calories = 15 minutes of vigorous house cleaning

• 1 cup green bean casserole = 400 calories = 45 minutes of push ups

• 1 cup sweet potato casserole = 500 calories = 45 minutes of jogging (10 minute mile pace)

• 1 serving apple pie a la mode = 575 calories = 1 hour 10 minutes of spinning

• 1 slice pecan pie = 500 calories = 1 hour of high impact aerobics

We don’t want to scare you away from the dinner table. Use these tips to enjoy your turkey day meal without getting stuffed.

Truly pay attention to portions.

• Keep calories from alcohol to a minimum.

• Share dessert with a relative.

• Get an extra workout in before you start your post-turkey day holiday shopping.

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Preparing a Thanksgiving feast may seem stressful, but there's plenty you can do before the big day to set yourself up for success. Making dishes ahead of time helps spread the work over more than just one day, and can free up precious stove and oven space. Here is a step-by-step game plan:

Weekend before Thanksgiving

  • Set the table: If you have the space, set your table. You won’t have to think about it during the week while preparing the rest of the meal.
  • Serving platters and utensils: Set out serving platters along with serving utensils. I even place a note on each platter describing what food goes on that platter. Note: This will include the baking dishes for the Herbed Bread Stuffing and Better Mashed Potatoes that will be made in advance (see below). On the day, you won’t have to stop and look for the right platters and if friends or family are helping, they will know where everything should go.
  • Make Herbed Roasted Stuffing, cool, wrap well, and refrigerate.
  • Make Better Mashed Potatoes, cool, wrap well, and refrigerate.

3 hours before serving

Remove Herbed Bread Stuffing and Better Mashed Potatoes from refrigerator to come to room temperature before warming. Note: If stuffing looks dry, add a little chicken broth.

Set out fillo shells on a foil lined baking sheet. Mix ingredients for Pumpkin Pie-lets in a bowl and set aside.

2 1/2-hours before serving

Prepare and roast Herb-Roasted Turkey.

Fill Pumpkin Pie-lets and place in oven, 10-15 minutes. Remove and set on counter to cool. Serve after the main course. If you have only one oven, place these on the shelf below the turkey.

2 hours before serving

While turkey is in the oven, make vinaigrette for Winter Salad and set aside.

Arrange Winter Salad greens on a serving platter or bowl. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, blue cheese, and pistachios, and set aside.

Make sauce for Green Beans (hazelnuts, cranberries, olive oil) and set aside.

30 minutes before serving

Place Herbed Bread Stuffing and Better Mashed Potatoes in 350 oven to warm through. The turkey should be ready by then. If not, and you have only one oven, place these on a shelf below the turkey.

Warm them for about 30 minutes. Hint: to tell if these dishes are warmed through, stick the point of a knife into the middle of the dish and remove the knife. The metal should be warm to the touch.

20 minutes before serving

Sprinkle the dressing on the Winter Salad.

Make Green Beans and top with the sauce

Carve the turkey and place on serving platter.

After main course

Top each Pumpkin Pie-let with a teaspoon of whipped topping and serve.

SparkPeople's 500-Calorie Thanksgiving Feast

--> Thanksgiving is a time for family, gratitude, and, of course, food. The typical holiday meal can have more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat, according to the Caloric Control Council. That's almost three days worth of food for most of us! Butter, cream and white bread seem to be lurking in almost every dish, and the meal never seems to end.

For those of us who are trying lead healthier lifestyles, moderation and healthy eating are just as important on Thanksgiving. Fortunately, it is possible to eat right and still enjoy yourself on Turkey Day!

To help, I created brand new SparkRecipes for a three-course Thanksgiving meal that clock in around 500 calories! (Dessert, not included in that number, will add 150 calories or fewer, if you have room for it.)

Use the chart below to compare my Thanksgiving feast with a traditional meal. The more recipes you use from this list, the more calories you'll save--without sacrificing taste or tradition!

SparkRecipes Feast Calories Fat Traditional Meal Calories Fat
Herb Roasted Turkey, 3 oz light meat 140 3 g Turkey, 3 oz light meat 140 3 g
Apple Cider Gravy, 2 T 20 0 g Gravy, 2 T 50 2 g
Vegetable and Fruit Stuffing, 1/2 c 78 1 g Stuffing, 1/2 c 180 9 g
Roasted Root Vegetables, 1/2 c 82 2 g Mashed potatoes, 1/2 c 220 8 g
Cranberry Relish, 2 T 42 0 g Cranberry jelly, 2 T 55 0 g
Steamed green beans (or another
green vegetable), 1/2 c
15 0 g Green bean casserole, 1/2 c 120 8 g
Roasted Squash Soup, 1 c 128 3 g Cream-based soup, 1 c 250 18 g
Total: 505 9 g Total: 1,015 48 g

This SparkPeople meal has 510 fewer calories and 39 fewer grams of fat than a traditional feast! You'll find all the recipes to make it below! These recipes include a veggie-rich soup to start your meal off right, the juiciest turkey you'll ever taste, several sides, two desserts, plus a cranberry relish that will leave the store-bought jelly quivering in its can.

BONUS! Click here to download and print a colorful recipe book that includes all of these recipes! (You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download this pdf document.)

Chef Meg's Roasted Squash Soup
Studies have shown that starting a meal with a broth-based soup can fill you up, so you eat fewer calories over the course of a meal. This soup gets a boost of flavor from cilantro pesto, but there's very little fat in this version. TIP: Roast the squash ahead of time and freeze it. Your oven will be full on Thanksgiving, and this will save you some valuable time.

Chef Meg's Herb Roasted Turkey
When the fat from the turkey melts during cooking, it falls to the bottom of the roasting pan. When that happens, the bottom quarter of the bird does not roast--it braises in its own juices. To prevent this from happening, try using a V-rack in your roasting pan for perfect results!

Chef Meg's Apple Cider Gravy
Traditional gravy gets a bad rap, but this tasty sauce can be made with almost no fat. The trick is to skim the fat from your pan juices (either put it in the fridge or use cheesecloth to soak up the fat). Depending on their size, turkeys will yield varying amounts of juices. From a 12-pound roasted turkey, you can expect about 1/2 cup defatted jus (juice).

Chef Meg's Cranberry Relish
Toss the canned cranberry jelly and use this homemade version instead. It's ready in no time, has less sugar than the store-bought stuff, and is full of healthy fruit! While you might question why this recipe needs the amount of sugar it contains, you'll understand as soon as you taste fresh cranberries--they're tart!

Chef Meg's Vegetable and Fruit Stuffing
Whole-wheat bread gives this side staying power. The fruits and vegetables bulk up the dish, so a little goes a long way. A bit of turkey bacon adds another layer of flavor without adding many calories.

Chef Meg's Roasted Root Vegetables
This recipe sings of the fall and early winter harvest. Take advantage of your local farmers market and buy whatever root vegetables they have. This side dish is quite affordable, too: about 60 cents per serving!

1/2 cup steamed green vegetables of your choice
The calories are low, the fat is nonexistent, and adding a vegetable to your plate will help prevent you from filling up on empty calories. Try broccoli, spinach, green beans, or any other non-starchy vegetable.

But wait. We couldn't forget dessert!
A slice of pie can contain between 240 and 400 calories and at least 10 grams of fat. But for just 150 calories or so, you can have two of these bite-size tarts. These portion-controlled pies are the perfect end to a your Thanksgiving feast.

Chef Meg's Sweet Potato Tarts
Try these light and low-fat personal pies for dessert during the fall. They're a great substitute for pumpkin pie or sweet potato casserole. NOTE : To boost the fiber, you can look for whole-wheat phyllo dough, which is available at natural foods stores or in the health food section of many grocery freezers.

Chef Meg's Mini Apple Tarts
Instead of a whole pie, try making bite-size tarts! These diminutive desserts cook quicker and are automatically portion controlled. Plus, they're easier to make for a crowd, and there's no need for a fork and plate. This recipe only costs about $3.50 to make--but you save money by buying sheets of phyllo dough and making your own tart shells (see directions for more information).

Chef Meg's Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix
There's no need to buy pumpkin pie spice. You can easily make your own at home. And it makes a great hostess gift for any fall event! Feel free to double or triple this recipe!

There you have it. A full Thanksgiving meal that's trim--but not missing any of the trimmings. Armed with these healthy recipes, no one has to fear Thanksgiving dinner--except for maybe the turkey!

How to Save Hundreds of Calories at Thanksgiving Dinner, According to Nutritionists

These swaps and positive habits will help you stick to healthy diet.

Thanksgiving may be about indulging in mouthwatering entrees and decadent desserts, but it&rsquos important to acknowledge that some of our all-time favorite holiday foods are filled with sky-high amounts of sugar, sodium, and calories. So if you're looking to stick to a healthy diet this holiday season, there are ways save calories and spare you the holiday pounds.

To help you save extra calories at your Thanksgiving dinner this year, we asked dietitians to share easy swaps, eating tips, and hacks that will ensure you stay on that healthy path. Trust us: You&rsquoll definitely want to keep these strategies handy for the upcoming holiday season.

What It Takes to Burn Off Thanksgiving Dinner

The Thanksgiving Dish-to-Exercise Breakdown

Apple Pie (1 slice), 411 calories = 5K Turkey Trot (35 min)

Pumpkin Pie (1 slice), 316 calories = Yoga (60 min)

Buttered Roll, 210 calories = Flag Football (20 min)

Sweet Potato Casserole (1/2 cup), 200 calories = Spinning (18 min)

Turkey Breast (6 oz), 195 calories = Ice Skating (50 min)

Egg Nog (1/2 cup), 190 calories = CrossFit (13 min)

Stuffing (1/2 cup), 180 calories = Stair Running (10 min)

Corn Bread (2 oz), 160 calories = Swimming (15 laps)

Red Wine (6 oz), 150 calories = Walking (35 min)

Mashed Potatoes (1/2 cup), 120 calories = Weight Training (35 min)

Green Bean Casserole (1/2 cup), 70 calories = Dancing (14 min)

Gravy (1/4 cup), 45 calories = 50 Burpees

Cranberry Sauce (1/4 cup), 37 calories = 60 Push-Ups

Some Turkey Day Perspective

Calorie counts got you down before Thanksgiving has even rolled around? Remember that this is a time to celebrate and give thanks, so don’t forget to keep things in perspective. (A little stuffing never hurt anybody!) Just keep your goals within sight, and your workout journal close by. Whether you’re down for an hour of dancing, a friendly push-up contest, or some flag football with the fam, there’s always a fun way to stay active and in control of your health and wellness.

Dos and Don’ts for Filling Your Thanksgiving Plate

I know you’re probably going to eat more on Thanksgiving than you would on most Thursdays. And, I understand. It’s one of my favorite holidays too! I want to eat all my favorites (stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie…), but I also don’t want to wake up the next morning and feel like I’ve undone my progress. Of course, if you’ve been exercising and eating right, one day won’t undo all the work you’ve done. But, as we head into winter, it’s easy to fall off the horse and really struggle to get back on. So, with that in mind, I snapped these photos during 21 Day Fix-creator Autumn Calabrese’s video shoot to help you plate your Thanksgiving meal. (Check out the full video below!)

If you’re looking for delicious and healthy recipes, check out the brand new cooking show, FIXATE, from Autumn and her brother, chef Bobby Calabrese. The two have put together an incredible menu of Fix-approved Thanksgiving recipes that are healthy versions of your favorites. From Green Bean Casserole and Cranberry Sauce to stuffing and Pumpkin Whoopie Pies, they’ve got you covered. Check out FIXATE here!

The Typical Plate
Honestly, this is kind of what it looks like when I usually eat Thanksgiving dinner. But, after watching Autumn’s video, I learned where I was going all kinds of wrong. First off, where are the greens? And, secondly, this plate is filled with so high in carbs and sugar, it’s no wonder I always want to nap after dinner.

Our Registered Dietician, Ani Aratounians weighed in on my typical Thanksgiving plate. “It’s high in carbs and there’s lot of sugar and fat. Especially saturated fat. There’s butter everywhere and hardly any fiber. After eating this plate, you’ll feel stuffed and bloated.” And this doesn’t even take into consideration the pie. Or the wine. Or seconds…or thirds.

The Revised Thanksgiving Plate

One easy way to totally redo your Thanksgiving plate (and still have all your favorites) is to start with the green veggies. Put the green beans and the salad on your plate first. Then, add the turkey (aim for the the skinless pieces if you can find them), and then add on your other favorites.

The calories aren’t low, but they’re much more reasonable than the first plate. Aratounians’s thoughts on this plate were much more positive. “This is much higher in vitamin and mineral content, and antioxidants. Overall, this is much more balanced for your blood sugar with the protein and fiber balancing out sugar content. And, I can’t help but notice that it’s a much prettier plate!” She recommends, if you are going to go for seconds (and really, who isn’t), go for the greens and protein (again, ideally, without skin).

I hope that this comparison will help you come Thanksgiving! Let me know, will you consider trying the “revised plate” approach?

Heart-Healthy Thanksgiving Tips

Thanksgiving is about enjoying time with our family and celebrating with traditional foods we know and love. Unfortunately, many of those foods are packed with fat, sodium, sugar and too many calories. The American Heart Association (AHA) offers these tips and healthy smart substitutions for your holiday meals to help keep health on the holiday menu.

“There are many healthy ingredient options at the supermarkets, you just have to be on the lookout. Make it a habit to make the healthy choice the default choice,” said Carolyn Torella, AHA spokesperson, “Choose low-sodium, low-fat, low-sugar ingredients and try to provide a variety of vegetable side dishes to provide healthy options at your Thanksgiving meal.”

White meat turkey is a good low-fat choice but watch hidden salt in turkeys which are “injected with a sodium solution” by manufacturers. The solution drips into the pan for use as gravy drippings, so you don’t need to add salt to your gravy. Taste it first before adding extra salt.

Vegetables like sweet potatoes, asparagus, artichokes, string beans, carrots, mushrooms are all healthy traditional holiday foods, but recipes tend to douse them in salt, butter and fatty toppings, making them less healthy. Steamed, baked or roasted vegetables are healthy preparation methods.

“A plain, baked sweet potato is packed with fiber and Vitamins A and C but if you cover it with butter and sugar, and now it becomes a liability to your diet. It’s about making healthy choices throughout the day, even at the holidays,” said Torella.

Try some of these smart swaps to create healthier dishes at Thanksgiving and all year long. Use low-sodium stuffing, broths, gravies and canned ingredients. Use olive oil instead of butter, and try herbs and spices, like rosemary and cloves, to flavor dishes instead of butter and salt. Try whole-grain breads and pastas instead of white flour ones. Instead of whole milk, heavy cream, or sour cream, substitute low-fat or fat-free versions.

Now that you’ve prepared your Thanksgiving meal, prepare yourself a balanced plate of some of your favorite holiday foods, starting with a salad and vegetables. Eating your low-calorie veggies will ensure you get the nutrients you need for health, and they’ll help fill you up, so you don’t overload on the high-calorie foods your body needs less of, such as rolls, stuffing and pie.

In baking, instead of butter, substitute equal parts cinnamon-flavored, no-sugar-added applesauce. Instead of sugar, use a lower-calorie sugar substitute. Instead of whole or heavy cream, substitute low-fat or skim milk. Instead of using only white flour, use half white and half whole-wheat flour. Instead of adding chocolate chips or candies, use small amounts of dried fruit, like cranberries or cherries. Top desserts with a light drizzle of glaze instead of an inch of icing. Use extracts like vanilla, almond and peppermint to add flavor, instead of sugar or butter.

With all the festive gatherings, we’re bound to be eating more than normal. Try to increase your physical activity over Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season to combat seasonal weight gain—and exercise can help with holiday stress, too. Go for a family walk after each meal or gathering.

Healthier Green Bean Casserole Recipe

Don’t skimp on sleep at the holidays. According to research, your quality of sleep can impact your heart health. The American Heart Association recommends adults get six to eight hours of sleep per night. Get into bed early to give yourself enough time to wind down after your day and to fall asleep faster and more soundly.

Get more tips and inspiration to live a heart-healthier lifestyle or For healthy recipes, visit

Our mission is to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. For nearly 100 years, we’ve been fighting heart disease and stroke, striving to save and improve lives. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer worldwide, and stroke ranks second globally. Even when those conditions don’t result in death, they cause disability and diminish quality of life. We want to see a world free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.


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