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Avoid 3,500 calories (a pound!) on Thanksgiving

TODAY's diet and nutrition editor Madelyn Fernstrom shares 10 tips to avoid unnecessary calories while still enjoying a fun and tasty Thanksgiving feast.
/ Source: TODAY

We all look forward to Thanksgiving — spending time with friends and family. Cooking and eating our favorite holiday foods is a large part of the holiday. Of course, it's great to indulge in some holiday favorites — and it's so easy to overeat and pack on hundreds of extra calories. We've got 10 tips to help you make some smart choices and enjoy all of your favorites, but still maintain control. In fact, you'll save up to a pound (about 3,500 calories) if you follow all 10!

1. Eat breakfast! Don’t starve all day — you’ll overeat later.
Savings: 550 calories

We think that skipping breakfast will "save" calories that we can use later for the big meal. Not true! Meal skipping leads to overeating later — you start to eat, and then become over-hungry, with less control over your food choices, not more. Most typically, when the appetizers arrive, before the meal, the breakfast skippers grab some combination of a few handfuls of nuts (300 calories), chips and dip (250 calories) and/or a few pigs in blankets (250 calories) or other hot appetizers just to "tide" us over until the main meal.

2. Start with soup — chunky veggie or other clear soup fills you up so you’re not ravenous.Savings: 250 calories.

A low-calorie hot liquid helps to fill you up, so you have a better sense of contentment on fewer calories. A cup of tomato-vegetable soup or consomme with julienned vegetables is satisfying — and a better choice than a cream soup, or even a salad with full-fat dressing (350 calories). It is the lowest-calorie appetizer choice (about 80 calories a cup), with the added benefit of extra fullness (many studies show that hot soup prior to a meal helps you eat less later on).

3. Replace the fat in stuffing with low-sodium chicken broth and add a bunch of chopped vegetables to “dilute” the bread.
Savings: 250 calories.

Many recipes have 2 to 3 sticks of butter or margarine as the "liquid" to moisten the bread stuffing. Replace all that fat with equal amounts of low-sodium chicken broth (the boxed variety is fine — no need for organic) for extra flavor without calories. A cup of chicken broth is around 10 calories — compared with an ounce of butter at 100 calories. (A stick of butter/margarine is 800 calories.) Also, rough-chop celery, mushrooms and onions to "bulk up" the volume of your stuffing, without the calories of bread, so the calories per serving are reduced. By replacing the fat and adding more vegetables, you'll save 250 calories per serving.

4. Alternate your alcohol. Have a drink, then a seltzer or diet soda — cut your calories in half.
Savings: 500 calories.

Alcohol contains a whopping 7 calories/gram — almost as much as fat (which is 9 calories per gram; protein and carbs are 4 calories/gram). It's a long afternoon/evening when people tend to imbibe more than usual. Cutting just two to three mixed drinks from your celebration will cut 500 calories. An average Mai Tai has 350 calories; a martini, 225 calories. Also — no one knows what is in your glass (a common worry among people). Another tip: If you're a wine drinker, you can alternate as above, or choose to make a "spritzer" through the evening — half wine and half seltzer — that cuts the calories.

5. Use a tablespoon to serve yourself instead of a ladle! Built-in portion control.
Savings: 800 calories.

Compare a tablespoon in serving size to a typical serving spoon — about one-third to one-half cup. With two kinds of creamy potatoes, stuffing, creamed spinach, cranberry sauce and all kinds of other family favorites, like macaroni and cheese, downsizing your serving size with a tablespoon saves you about 150 calories/dish.

6. Skip the skin. Cut the calories in half per serving. Eat the meat you like — very little difference in calories of dark and white meat.
Savings: 300 calories.

For a 6-ounce serving of turkey, taking off the skin saves about 300 calories. It doesn't make much caloric difference whether you eat white or dark meat — what does save the calories is skipping the skin.

7. De-fat your gravy. Even a ladleful can be a calorie-bomb.
Savings: 200 calories.

Fat-free gravy can be full of flavor. Cook your turkey with enough time to cool the pan juices and make your gravy — after dumping the hardened fat that rises to the top. Or, use a gravy separator to get rid of the fat.

8. Lose the crust. Make your favorite pumpkin pie filling, and put in small ramekins. Bake until firm. Top with some chopped walnuts or a swirl of whipped cream.
Savings: 200 calories.

The crust is fat laden, and most people don't even miss it. This works for apple pie as well — put the apples in a small ramekin, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, and bake. Another way to save 200 calories is swap out a slice of pecan pie and have a single-crust apple pie with some walnuts mixed in instead.

9.  Choose a simple potato. Baked white or sweet — as nature intended — without a casserole filled with extra fat and sugar.
Savings: 250 calories.

Go plain for the potato — and sprinkle with fresh or dried herbs and seasonings, including ground pepper and chives. Skip the butter, cheese and sour-cream mix-ins — and the brown sugar in sweet potato casseroles (brown sugar is not a "health food" and has the same calories as white table sugar). Use some of your de-fatted gravy on top for extra flavor.

10. Take a 30-minute walk after eating, instead of a nap.
Savings: 200 calories.

This might be the hardest part of all. Most people want to go directly from the dinner table to the couch! Avoid that and grab a walking partner to take a 30-minute walk. It will aid digestion as well. It's initiating the walk that's the problem. But everyone finds that once they've started the walk, they're very glad they've done it.

Madelyn Fernstrom is TODAY's diet and nutrition editor.