Surviving Thanksgiving: Enjoying the Food and Avoiding the Guilt

Ah!!! The holidays are once again upon us! That time of year when we are tempted to curl up with a blanket, read a book, or watch our favorite television series while the food is in the oven.  After all, it is almost Thanksgiving! That wonderful holiday that basically demands us to crowd around a laden table and enjoy the harvest.

Nothing wrong with that one meal! However, Thanksgiving dinner often turns into a refrigerator full of leftovers just calling out to us! It also is the gateway to the holiday foods that will be with us through the first of the New Year.  While one meal is not enough to throw our efforts at healthy eating under the bus, we must be careful that the one meal on Thanksgiving Day does not extend through the weekend and beyond until January 1st when we wish we could have a “do-over.”

Here are some tips to help guide you through the holiday food madness!

Tip #1:  Fill up your plate one time and try to be almost the last person at the table to finish eating! Enjoy your food and savor every bite. This is a holiday and not a time to worry about weight loss, but consider moderation in eating every day!  It is the remaining days of the year that are not our favorite feast days that we can adhere to our tighter dietary restrictions.

Tip #2:  Start a new tradition of taking a walk after Thanksgiving dinner.  This also can break the cycle of eating that starts and for some of us continues until bed.  Another advantage is that it helps bring blood sugar levels down in individuals with diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Tip #3:  Take a healthy side dish if you are visiting family so you have a fallback food you can go to if you are hungry and don’t want to over-indulge on a lovely side dish of  mashed cauliflower.

Tip #4: Avoid cooking so much food that there is an abundance of leftovers for snacking.  This way the day after Thanksgiving you will be waking up to the usual foods you choose and not tempted to begin the endless eating cycle that can go on until Christmas.

Tip #5:  Remember! Soft drinks, punches, and alcoholic drinks are calorie laden.  Choose water or bring along club soda and lemon slices to your Thanksgiving gathering so you have a light and refreshing beverage.  Mixers for drinks can add significant amount of sugar so take along your diet sodas or lightened fruit juices.

Tip #6: Eat appetizers! Yes, take along a filling appetizer such as Texas Caviar (see recipe below) that you can enjoy as you put the finishing touches on your holiday meal.  The healthy snack is filling and will help you control your portion sizes at the larger meal.

Tip #7: If you are trying to live gluten free, be aware of the foods that contain gluten such as stuffing, rolls, gravy, pie crusts and casseroles with toppings.  Gluten will be lurking everywhere on a holiday table.  Opt for individual ingredient foods such as the turkey, ham, cranberry relish and potatoes.  Or take along your gluten free stuffing and gravy and serve along with other dishes.

Tip #8:  If you are watching sugar intake for diabetes control, take along a pie you make at home from your favorite artificial sweetener.  Foods that will not raise blood sugar include turkey, ham, green beans, salads, most vegetables and a small serving of fruit salad or a sliver of your favorite pie.  Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner but fill up on foods with the lowest impact on your blood sugar.

Tip #9:  Cook food from scratch rather than buying pre-made casseroles and pies.  You can control what goes into your food that way and search for the most wholesome and healthy ingredients to use in your favorite recipes.

Tip #10: Add soup to the menu!  Invest in a lovely soup tureen and make it a highlight of your holiday buffet.  Make a broth based soup such as minestrone or kale and turkey sausage and place soup bowls on the buffet table.  Soup is filling, nourishing, warms the body, and takes a while to savor.  And it adds a healthy dimension to your holiday meal!



Texas Caviar

This dish is healthy, filling and delicious.  Make it a day in advance and take along to your holiday gatherings.   Serve as an appetizer or snack while watching the games.


For the dressing:

  •  1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1tablespoon olive oil

For the dip:

  • 4 cups corn, drained
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, drained
  • 2 pickled jalapeños, stems removed and finely chopped
  • 3 medium Roma tomato, diced
  • 2 cups red bell pepper, seeded, and diced
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • ½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce


Combine vinegar, garlic, salt, cumin and pepper in a large bowl. While whisking constantly, slowly add oil in a thin stream until completely incorporated; set aside.

Mix corn and black-eyed peas, jalapeños, tomato, bell pepper, onion and hot sauce in a large bowl with the dressing and stir until well coated. Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Add parsley that has been finely chopped just before serving.  Serve with tortillas.

Whole Grain and Kale Dressing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


  • 10 slices of whole grain bread (two to three days old)
  • 3 cups kale, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • One medium sized onion, chopped finely
  • 2 cups of diced celery
  • 2 eggs, beaten thoroughly
  • 3 cups of chicken stock
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon thyme, fresh
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


To begin, cut the whole wheat bread into small, stuffing sized pieces (the size of small croutons). Wash kale and dry on paper towels.  Chop and set aside.  Heat olive oil in medium sauté pan until oil is translucent (about 2 minutes). Add kale, celery and onion and cook until onions are translucent. Add parsley, sage, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook an additional five minutes over medium heat.  Add the beaten egg, the chicken stock, the parsley and seasonings.   Combine this wet mixture with the dried, cut whole wheat bread.   Place in a baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.  Serve warm.

About the Author:

Cynthia Chandler is a faculty member who joined Sullivan University as a nutrition and food service sanitation instructor.  She came to Sullivan after a varied career in both hospital and university affiliated positions. Cynthia completed her undergraduate degree in Dietetics and Institution Administration from Western Kentucky University. She went on to the University of Kentucky, where she was awarded a master’s degree with honors in Clinical Nutrition from the College of Allied Health.  Upon graduation, she sat for and successfully passed the board for the American Dietetic Association to become a registered dietitian.  She is a licensed dietitian and a certified nutritionist in the state of Kentucky. She is also licensed in the state of Florida as a dietician.

Cynthia has served on the board of the American Association of Diabetes Educators and is a current member of the Food and Culinary Professionals Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association, The American Culinary Federation, The Kentucky Dietetic Association, and the Association of Food and Nutrition Professionals.

Cynthia completed her culinary training at Sullivan University in the winter of 2010.  She has developed and conducted workshops on canning, healthy southern cuisine and healthy menu ideas, in conjunction with her chef colleagues.

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