K-State Research and Extension News
November 25, 2013
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K-State Expert: Tips for a Thinner Thanksgiving and Beyond

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Try not to overindulge and consider healthier food options during the holiday season.

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Think less fat, sugar and sodium at your holiday gatherings this fall and winter to keep your health in check, said Tanda Kidd, associate professor and extension specialist in human nutrition for K-State Research and Extension.

Kidd, who is also a registered dietitian, has developed a set of guidelines to help people make healthier holiday meal choices for their events surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and even the Super Bowl.

“People need to be reminded that the choices they make during the holiday season could stick with them well after the season is over,” Kidd said.

Even minimal weight gain can be damaging to a person’s health, particularly if that person doesn’t lose the weight after the holidays, Kidd said, which is why a combination of good food choices and exercise is especially important this time of year.

A healthier Thanksgiving feast

On Thanksgiving, traditional food items that might contain more fat, sugar and sodium than the acceptable amounts per person include turkey with the skin on, store-bought cranberry sauce, gravy, biscuits, sweet rolls, cornbread, fried foods, creamy salad dressings, eggnog and, of course, those favorite desserts and pies.

Serving turkey without the skin and making many of the sides from scratch using low-fat, low-calorie and low-sodium ingredients can help make those Thanksgiving favorites much healthier.

Other tips to consider for healthy eating on Thanksgiving, Kidd said, include:

  • Avoid overeating. Enjoy a small meal or snack that might include fruits, vegetables, a whole-grain sandwich or low-fat yogurt, to keep you from feeling overly hungry at mealtime.
  • Enjoy your favorite high-calorie foods in smaller portions.
  • Make time to be physically active on Thanksgiving Day and the days surrounding the holiday to help relieve stress.

Cut the calories at Christmas

The cookies, candies, cakes and other treats in addition to the turkey or other poultry with the skin on, ham, mashed potatoes and any fried foods can make the Christmas calories add up. Meal preparers at Christmas can make simple adjustments to make foods healthier for their guests.

Again, poultry without the skin, ham without a glaze, baking rather than frying and preparing the meal from scratch can help lower caloric intake.

Kidd said there are several healthy alternative recipes available for people to use. Other healthy Christmas food tips include:

  • Choose your favorite foods, and skip your least favorite ones. Try to fill your plate with fruits and vegetables.
  • Involve family members and guests in fun activities that burn calories, such as walking, biking or tossing a Frisbee. If weather is an issue, stay inside and have a dance contest. Adults can show the youth their favorite dance moves and vice versa. 

Keep your health in check into the new year

Many New Years resolutions have to do with losing weight or living a healthier lifestyle, and Kidd said people shouldn’t let those beginning-of-the-year parties interfere with their health.

Snack foods such as chicken wings, sour cream or mayonnaise-based dips, chips and high-calorie alcoholic beverages are examples of popular items for New Years and Super Bowl parties. Many of these and other items can be prepared with healthier ingredients, Kidd said. Whole-grain and baked snacks are healthier options, as are items such as salsa, guacamole, fruit kabobs and vegetable platters.

Kidd said there are many things to consider while eating at parties that occur at the beginning of the year:

  • Reduce temptations by not standing near food tables.
  • Watch the liquid calories by spacing out alcoholic drinks with water, club soda or other unsweetened beverages in between.
  • Be physically active, perhaps by dancing at New Years or doing simple stretches during the Super Bowl commercial breaks.

For related information about holiday food safety tips, read an earlier K-State Research and Extension story. Another holiday food story that includes tips for saving money on the meal is available.

More information about preparing holiday meals is available through K-State’s Rapid Response Center and the K-State Research and Extension Food Safety website.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Katie Allen
K-State Research & Extension News

Tanda Kidd – martan@ksu.edu or 785-532-0154