The countdown is on. By the time you see this article, there will only be 10 days until Thanksgiving. The planners out there have had Thanksgiving planned and prepped for a while. Some of you may be waiting until a day or so before and will throw it all together on the fly.

Regardless of which best describes you, we all want to have a safe and healthy holiday. Today we are going to talk about some strategies to make this happen.

I usually like to have my Thanksgiving dinner early afternoon, but I know many people who have their meal later in the evening. There is no magic hour for having this meal, but make sure you are not skipping other meals that day.

When you skip meals it often leads to overeating at a later meal. Thanksgiving dinner is usually a BIG meal. Eat lighter and leaner throughout the day. We all are probably indulging a little more on this day, just be smart about your overall eating plan for the day.

It can be challenging to meet everyone’s specific dietary needs at family gatherings. If you are attending a meal where everyone is expected to bring a dish, bring something healthy. This is a surefire way to insure that you have something to choose.

Try substituting healthier ingredients into your dishes. Greek yogurt can be used in place of sour cream. Lower fat milk can be used in place of higher fat dairy products. If you are baking, substituting applesauce or plum puree for some or all of the oil in a recipe will cut down on fat calories.

When you look at your food choices, remember that white meat has slightly less calories than dark meat. Pumpkin pie has fewer calories than pecan pie. A baked sweet potato is going to be lower in calories than sweet potato soufflé. You would rather have the pecan pie or the sweet potato soufflé? Go right ahead, but again plan for those extra calories.

Portion control doesn’t take a holiday and portion sizes still count. Just today I had a conversation about what I cook for Thanksgiving and honestly the answer is too much. I like all the sides better than the bird and cook way more than my little gathering calls for. So what’s a girl to do? I enjoy small amounts of the items that I like and leave the other alone.

Now, if you are like me, this meal will be repeated for a few days. I’ve never had a Thanksgiving meal that didn’t have plenty of leftovers.

Remember, there is no need to eat all of it at one time when we are going to nibble off it a few days more. Other tactics that work is to choose a smaller plate to help limit your portion sizes.

If you set your food up buffet style, look to see what’s available before you start loading up your plate. Doing this keeps you from having a plate full of food by the time you get to the end of the line and allows you to choose the foods that you like the most.

Make sure that you are following proper cooking and holding practices to keep your food safe. It’s a wonder we all didn’t get sick every year. In my house Mama would leave the turkey in the basement in a washtub full of water for several days to thaw out. Clearly this is not in line with safe food practices.

Make sure that you are thawing properly, cooking to the safe temperature (get a meat thermometer) and storing it promptly. Hot food should be kept hot and cold food should be kept cold.

Finally, make sure to take time to be present. Enjoy your time with family and friends and avoid the trap of rushing through your meal and not truly experiencing a day of Thanksgiving.

We are all too often reminded of the fragility of life and how short it can often be. This Thanksgiving take a moment to reflect on all your many blessings and enter into this season with a grateful heart — just one more way to keep your holiday healthy and happy. Until next time…Live Healthy!

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