Thanksgiving Tips to be Thankful For

By Drew Munhausen

The holiday season is a time for festive gatherings, making new memories with family and… lots and lots of food! Many people plan which foods they will splurge on during Thanksgiving. With food being a focal point of the holiday, food safety is of the utmost importance.

Sharon Smalling, a clinical dietitian with Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, has all of the tips needed for a successful and healthy feast:

If I don’t eat anything else throughout the day, I can eat as much as I want during the meal, right?

Many people will not eat anything before the Thanksgiving meal. This is the approach that will cause you to over-indulge even more than you might have. If your meal is in the early afternoon, be sure to have a breakfast that contains complex carbs and protein, e.g. peanut butter on a whole grain English muffin or ¼ cup granola in 1 cup of Greek yogurt with a few blueberries for added color and flavor. Try to avoid having just sweets, such as coffee cake, Danish or donuts. That will not hold you through to the afternoon. In fact, it may make you feel even more hungry.  If your meal will be later in the evening, have the same breakfast and then perhaps a light lunch, such as half of a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread or a bean or vegetable soup.

How long can I leave the food out?

Food shouldn’t be left out for more than two hours. If at all possible, put hot foods on hot plates, in crock pots or chafing dishes. Those foods that are to be served cold should remain refrigerated until just before serving.  This includes appetizers as well. Creamy dips should be refrigerated when dinner is being served.

How long can I keep my leftovers?

Cooked meat, without gravy, is good as long as it is kept refrigerated for three to four days. If there is gravy on it, it will only be good for one to two days. For leftovers, only take out what you are going to eat right then to reheat.  If frozen that day, cooked meat and gravy will keep for two to six months. Vegetables should also be eaten within a couple of days or frozen, which will last up to eight months.  Remember, do not defrost, cook and then freeze again. Refrigerate leftovers and eat within a few days.

What are some things I can do to make the meal a bit healthier?

Foods at holiday meals tend to be high in sodium and fat, often unhealthy fats. In almost all recipes the salt can be left out. It will definitely help those who may have issues with high blood pressure. There are many fabulous unsalted seasonings on the market. When using broth for gravies, use the lower sodium versions. If canned vegetables or beans are being used, purchase the frozen ones which don’t have sauces or added salt, those canned without salt, or at least rinse canned ones for 1 minute and cook in fresh water. Rinsing decreases sodium by 40 percent.  Use tub spreads in place of butter in vegetables. Choose healthy oils and use as little as possible when sautéing the trinity (celery, onions and peppers) for dressing or other dishes.

What are some activities I can do to burn a few extra calories?

Taking the family and pets on a walk or to the park is a great activity as it burns calories. This can be done in the morning, while the turkey is baking, or after the meal.  If you are a runner, perhaps take a run prior to getting into the middle of food prep.

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