Tips for planning a healthier Thanksgiving dinner

Posted at 7:57 AM, Nov 23, 2015

(CNN) — When you sit down to a traditional Thanksgiving meal, the cards will be stacked against your diet. Those favorite dishes are just so high in calories — hello, stuffing and sweet potato casserole! — and there are just so many of them, it can seem impossible not to splurge.

But with the right planning and a serving of willpower, you can have a healthy (or healthier) Thanksgiving.

How to dish up a healthier meal

“My advice is to do everything in moderation. Normally, people scoop up mounds of stuff on their plate, and that’s where it gets to be a problem. But if you can handle small portion sizes, then that’s fine,” said Sara Haas, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

And just because you are going to indulge during that one meal of the day doesn’t mean that you have to blow the others. “Balance it with good meals at breakfast and lunch and do some exercise … think about how much better you’ll feel by the time you get to Thanksgiving dinner,” Haas said.

When it comes time to feast, there are steps you can take to keep from overeating, or at least to limit it. Haas recommends putting your fork down and taking a sip of water between bites to keep from shoveling food in your mouth. And wait at least 20 minutes before going back for seconds (or thirds) — it takes your body about that much time to know that it is full, she said.

Of course, if you are the one doing the cooking, there are lots of steps you can take to make your Thanksgiving dinner healthier. Using low-fat meats and dairy products is one easy way to lower the calorie load — and in foods such as stuffing and pies, you probably won’t even notice the difference.

Haas recommends sources such as Cooking Light and Eat Right, the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, for beloved recipes made healthier, and for turning those mountains Thanksgiving leftovers into creative, and possibly healthier dishes.

How to burn Thanksgiving calories

Even if you choose the healthiest sides on the table, eat only one slice of pie and keep your leftover plans in check, you might still need some activity to break even on Thanksgiving.

Consider looking for a race to run around the holiday, or just go jogging in your neighborhood — 60 minutes of jogging burns about 477 calories — about one slice of pecan pie.

Sixty minutes of Zumba burns about 540 calories — that almost takes care of your sweet potato casserole and your cranberry sauce.

An hour of tossing around a football with your family burns about 160 calories. There goes the turkey!

But there are plenty of ways to cut back without tying on your athletic shoes.

An hour spent clearing and washing dishes will burn about 100 calories. Another hour of mopping up after the big meal can burn more than 100. Cleanup could be the cure for green bean casserole.

There’s good news, too, if you’re hanging out at the kids’ table. An hour of carrying around small children can burn about 136 calories. Running around with them for 60 minutes can burn more than 200. See you later, stuffing.

Planning to line up for Black Friday sales? Thirty minutes of shopping can burn 76 calories — if you’re moving fast enough to score a few big deals and long enough to cover everyone on your list, you can easily take care of your mashed potatoes and dinner rolls.