Portion Sizes: How to Beat Holiday Weight Gain

Let’s face it: Thanksgiving is an eating holiday. You gather, you sit, you eat.

It’s a time when many of us overindulge in our favorite fatty and sugary comfort foods.

Not exactly the easiest time to practice healthy eating.

The bigger problem with Thanksgiving is that it’s not just one day. It marks the beginning of the holidays—a time when overeating unhealthy foods is almost a tradition in most households.

A 2016 study reported that the average American’s weight increases by 0.2 percent over Thanksgiving and 0.4 percent over Christmas. The study further noted that the average person gains about 1 pound each holiday season.

While this may not seem like much, researchers say we often don’t lose this gain after the holidays, leading to creeping weight gain.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. By keeping an eye on portion sizes and choosing healthier options, we can enjoy our Thanksgiving meal without the worry of potential weight gain.

What is a healthy portion size for your favorite Thanksgiving foods?

It’s important to note that serving size and portion size aren’t necessarily the same thing.

The serving size is a fixed amount—for example, 1/2 cup—that’s used to calculate the number of calories in a particular item.

The portion size, however, is how much you choose to eat of that item.

So, the portion size might be equivalent to several servings, depending how much you choose to eat.

Eating healthier, then, is about making better choices in how we prepare foods as well as eating portion sizes that are appropriate for our personal nutritional needs.

Serving size is often a good starting point in judging what’s a healthy portion size.

The following information can be used as a guide to help you select healthy portion sizes for several popular Thanksgiving dishes, but your individual needs will vary.

Roasted turkey

Serving size: 3 ounces | Calories: 120 to 165

Healthier options:

  • Turkey is good. It’s a great source of protein without being high in saturated fats.
  • Preparation method matters: Deep-frying turkey will add more fat and calories. Leaving the skin on will also add to the count. The cut selected matters too.
  • Best choice: Roasted breast meat with the skin removed.


Serving size: 1/2 cup | Calories: 110 to 200

Healthier options

  • Adding more vegetables to your stuffing is a good way to make your meal more healthy.
  • Also try going lighter on bread, meat, and added fat.

Mashed potatoes

Serving size: 1/2 cup | Calories: 210 to 240

Healthier options

  • Use fat-free milk and low-sodium chicken broth instead of whole milk and butter.
  • Try adding carrots or celery to the mashed potatoes to lighten them.
  • Olive oil is also a healthier alternative to butter.


Serving size: 1/4 cup | Calories: 15 to 35

Healthier options

  • When preparing your gravy, keep in mind that the pan drippings are full of fat (56 grams per cup of gravy).
  • Avoid this by refrigerating first, and then removing the solidified drippings before preparing your gravy.
  • Basically, keep your gravy portion super-duper small—there’s nothing healthy about gravy.

Green bean casserole

Serving size: 1/2 cup | Calories: 89 to 240

Healthier options

  • You can substitute Campbell’s Healthy Request Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup for their regular soup.
  • Use 1 percent milk instead of whole.
  • Substitute 2 tablespoons and 1 cup french fried onions for 1 can of french fried onions.
  • Try reduced-sodium soy sauce if you’re concerned about your sodium intake.
  • Try straight-up green beans with almonds and lemon juice instead of the whole casserole deal.

Macaroni and cheese

Serving size: 1/2 cup | Calories: 225 to 290

Healthier options

  • Substitute low fat milk and cheese in your recipe.
  • Use whole wheat pasta to boost fiber.
  • Use butternut squash, carrots, or peas to mix in more veggies and lighten up the recipe.

Sweet potato casserole

Serving size: 1/2 cup | Calories: 105 to 225

Healthier options

  • On their own, sweet potatoes are actually a very healthy option.
  • The key is to go easy on what you add to them.
  • Limit useage of marshmallow, brown sugar, and butter.
  • Try natural fruit sweeteners, such as dried apricots or peaches.
  • Take it easy with the margarine and butter!

Cranberry sauce

Serving size: 1/4 cup | Calories: 110 to 160

Healthier options

  • Cranberries themselves are very healthy.
  • They’re low in sugar and carbohydrates while also being high in nutrients and fiber.
  • When prepared as cranberry sauce, however, they become very high in added sugar. Add sweetness by using fruit or a non-sugar sweetener, such as stevia.
  • Also try making instead a fresh cranberry relish, which is very flavorful but with less sugar.


Serving size: 1 roll | Calories: 210 to 270

Healthier options

  • When it comes to bread, your best option is whole grain breads.Whole grain contains vital nutrients that get stripped out of processed grains.
  • They’re also higher in fiber.
  • Just don’t eat too many—you don’t want to fill up on bread!

Pumpkin pie

Serving size: 1 slice | Calories: 290 to 375

Healthier options

  • Try making such substitutions as pitted dates to eliminate added sugar
  • Also try a whole wheat pie crust for its added nutrition and fiber.
  • Tofu can substitute eggs and milk to reduce saturated fat and cholesterol, too.

Additional tips for a healthier Thanksgiving meal

Eat smaller portions.

Since there are often multiple choices, just put one spoonful of the foods that interest you on your plate. One spoon is often enough to get a full appreciation of the flavors of that taste.

Practice the 80 percent rule.

Stop eating when you feel satisfied but not stuffed. Sounds simple; may prove to be a little more difficult with so much food in front of you.

Divide your plate into quarters.

Try our Plate Method! Simple, effective, amazing.

Use smaller plates.

Studies have indicated it could help you eat less.

Eat smaller desserts.

Try eating berries or fresh fruits instead when you need something sweet.

Eat healthier appetizers, like veggies and dip, rather than chips and dip.

This will help reduce your intake of more calorie-rich food.

Don’t eat too fast.

It takes your brain about 20 minutes to register that you’re full. Eating more slowly will give it time to recognize you’ve had enough.

Watch your alcohol intake.

Alcohol adds calories and lowers your inhibitions, so you eat more. Try drinking water between drinks to slow your consumption.

Include some lighter options with your meal.

If you’re eating with someone else, you can bring some healthier dishes of your own to contribute to the meal.

Make healthier versions of your favorite comfort foods.

Often you can make a version of a recipe that’s healthier but still tasty by substituting ingredients.

Don’t be overly punitive on yourself.

This is a time to enjoy your friends and family. Remain conscious of your eating, but your weight loss goals will be there for you tomorrow.

This article was brought to you by the Proactive Health Management Plan in partnership with Healthline.

  • DEBRA Allen
    Posted at 02:34h, 06 December

    Very helpful

    Posted at 20:53h, 05 December

    Thank you

  • Vilija Paulius
    Posted at 23:41h, 03 December

    These are good suggestions.

    Posted at 15:40h, 03 December

    Thank you for the information

    Posted at 15:39h, 03 December

    Thank you for the information.

  • Samara Jones
    Posted at 10:01h, 02 December


  • Trista Bates
    Posted at 08:50h, 02 December


  • Brenda Watkins
    Posted at 22:32h, 30 November


  • Toni Bullitt
    Posted at 19:41h, 30 November


  • Sisay yemame
    Posted at 18:27h, 30 November


  • Shenna Clary
    Posted at 18:21h, 30 November

    Good information

  • David
    Posted at 12:55h, 30 November

    thanks but
    probably not going to happen

  • Timothy O. Pratt
    Posted at 12:51h, 30 November

    Thank You

  • Doreen Williams
    Posted at 12:44h, 30 November

    Great information

  • Kimberly Johnson
    Posted at 11:32h, 30 November

    Really nice to lnow

  • Kimberly Cowan
    Posted at 03:09h, 30 November

    I’ll try substituting

  • connie price
    Posted at 21:36h, 29 November

    thank you

  • Amanda Mason
    Posted at 21:07h, 29 November


  • Lisa Wright
    Posted at 20:34h, 29 November

    This is a good article to read

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