How to Have a Healthy Thanksgiving Dinner

The internet is full of cautionary tales. Everyone is talking about gravy reduction, “indulging” in translucent slivers of pie, and replacing all carbs with cauliflower. This is not another post about turning a feast into cardboard.

As dietitian nutritionists, we’re all in for nutrition and exercise, but we really are advocates for health. If you celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s a day to gather with family and friends, express gratitude for the bounty on our tables, celebrate togetherness, share, watch football, or enjoy a movie together. Thanksgiving is, in itself, a profoundly healthy activity.

A single day of indulging in tradition, savoring special dishes, and perhaps even feeling a bit stuffed, does not constitute unhealthiness. Connection, love, and sharing are healthy for the mind, spirit, and body.

Thanksgiving offers us a unique opportunity to reflect on our lives and loved ones, the food gracing our tables, and the time we spend in each other’s company.

As dietitians, we’re frequently asked for advice on how to celebrate Thanksgiving in a health-conscious manner. So, we got together to come up with a list, and our favorite tips for a joyful, healthy Thanksgiving:

  1. Enjoy the Traditions: Revel in the flavors of your family’s traditions. Embrace new traditions and tastes as your family evolves. Remember, flavors are our history! Share recipes, swap stories, and consider creating a Thanksgiving recipe book for your children to continue with the traditions with their future friends and families.
  2. Practice Mindful Eating: Pause. Breathe. Observe. Proceed. Whether on Thanksgiving or any day, expressing gratitude through mindful eating is a powerful practice. Engage all five senses. Savor every bite.
  3. Slow Down: Resist the urge to rush through serving, eating, clearing the table, and ushering in the desserts. Take your time. If, for this one day, you decide to let the dishes pile up in the sink, so be it. Set your fork down between bites. Look around you. This is health. This is living.
  4. Say “Thank You”: Regardless of your religious beliefs, expressing gratitude at every meal is a profound way to appreciate not only the food but also the multitude of hands that played a role in bringing it to your table—those who grew, cultivated, transported, stocked, prepared, and more. Understanding the complexity behind each meal is a cause for celebration every day.
  5. Celebrate Abundance: Recognize that having a Thanksgiving feast before you is a gift—one that you can share with those in need. Consider donating to a local food pantry—be it your time, money, or food. Prepare a casserole for a family struggling with food scarcity. Make family giving a year-round tradition, whether it’s donating clothes, books, or surplus food to charitable organizations.


So, if Thanksgiving is your one cherished day each year to sit down with your family, focus on kinship, love, and the stories you can share—not on calorie counts and achieving washboard abs.