Lisa Lillien is the author of the popular Hungry Girl website and email newsletter, featuring smart, funny advice on guilt-free eating. She is also the author of eleven books, six of which debuted at number one on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Monday for slimmed-down celebrity recipes and more.
Like everyone else, I love Thanksgiving, but I don’t love this statistic: the average American consumes around 4,500 calories each turkey day! My personal strategy is to first fill my plate with lean protein and veggies, and then scoop up small portions of my decadent favorites.
Wondering which items are worth the calorie investment? I’ve got you covered!
Turkey: Dark meat vs. white meat
Dark-meat turkey (4 oz. roasted, no skin): 180 calories
White-meat turkey (4 oz. roasted, no skin): 165 calories
Breast meat is generally the lowest in calories. But no matter which part of the bird you go with, consider ditching the skin. Not only is that where much of the natural fat sits, but also many people slather the outside of the bird with butter or oil before roasting. Skipping the skin is an easy calorie saver!
Turkey toppings: Gravy vs. cranberry sauce
Turkey gravy (1/4 cup): 30 calories
Cranberry sauce (1/4 cup): 110 calories
Let’s compare the store-bought standards: jarred turkey gravy and canned jellied cranberry sauce. You might be surprised to learn the fruity selection is much heavier. That cran-in-a-can is full of added sugar. Just think about how tart plain cranberries are and how sweet that canned sauce is!
WATCH THIS: Food Hack: Make Leftover Pie Milkshakes
Sweet potato pie (1 cup): 555 calories
Mashed potatoes (1 cup): 350 calories
Sugar strikes again! Despite all the heavy cream and butter that can go into mashed potatoes, the calorie count still comes in lower than sweet potato pie (no thanks to those marshmallows and sugary mix-ins!). My advice? DIY. I’ve got calorie-slashed recipes for sweet potato pie and mashed potatoes!
Macaroni ‘n cheese (1 cup): 530 calories
Bread stuffing (1 cup): 360 calories
In this particular battle of the fatty carbs, stuffing wins for lower calorie count. Mac ‘n cheese is SO calorie dense. And since you’re more likely to encounter it year round vs. that seasonal stuffing, this is a good one to skip for now. (Unless it’s gonna ruin your mom’s day. In that case, have a little.)
Pumpkin pie (1 slice): 365 calories
Apple pie (1 slice): 450 calories
Another fruity faker! Apples might seem innocent, but the buttery crust and boatload of added sugar sinks this ship. Pumpkin pie isn’t far behind. My little trick: Skip the crust, and enjoy the filling!
Drink plenty of water during the day so you don’t mistake thirst for hunger. Sounds odd, but it’s actually very common!
Don’t skip meals. Eat a sensible breakfast and light lunch, or you might go overboard at dinner.
Have fun! Do your best food-wise, but focus on enjoying the day with family and friends. You can always get back on board with your healthy eating plan the next day.
‘Til next time… Chew the right thing!