Don't Let Thanksgiving Leftovers Weigh You Down

Maintaining a healthy weight is all about portion sizes and planning ahead to balance your calories, says Framingham mom, registered dietitian and nutrition consultant Heidi McIndoo.

We all know the traditional Thanksgiving dinner is laden with calorie-dense foods. In fact, the average American packs in 3,000 calories at this one meal, far exceeding the recommended calorie intake for the entire day!

According to the American Council on Exercise, a 160-pound person would have to run at a moderate pace for four hours, swim for five hours or walk 30 miles to burn off a 3,000-calorie Thanksgiving Day meal. And that’s just one meal!

Holiday weight gain doesn’t result from overeating at one or two meals, but rather from feasting on leftovers for days or even weeks.

I believe there is a way to continue to enjoy our festive favorites for days and weeks after the celebration. And we can do so while maintaining our healthy weight simply by controlling our portions and balancing our calories.

Here are some tips on how to best use your leftovers to do it:

  • Right after a holiday meal, divide all leftovers into half cup servings.
  • Refrigerate enough for a day or two and freeze the rest. Then, turn leftovers into new healthy dishes such as:
  1. Wrapping turkey, spinach leaves and two tablespoons of cranberry sauce in a whole wheat tortilla – white and dark meat both work!
  2. Make casseroles
  3. Creative sandwiches
  4. Veggies re-purposed – create soups, wraps and more


  • Keep servings small. Keeping off the extra pounds starts with portion control. To figure out healthy portions, visualize a similar size item such as:


  1. Gravy or cranberry sauce: golf ball (quarter cup)
  2. Turkey: deck of cards (3 ounces)
  3. Stuffing or mashed potatoes: ice cream scoop (half cup)


  • Don’t forget to drink! The last thing you want to do is to become dehydrated! Did you know that often we mistake thirst for hunger? Of course water is great but let’s say you’re looking for something with a little flavor. vitamin-water zero has three delicious flavors that are available in 16.9 ounce bottles and each serves up a great source of C and B vitamins and they are zero calories! For the soda lover, you can still enjoy your favorite beverage and keep your portions in control with a Coca-Cola mini can that has only 90-calories.
  • Share the bounty. Finally, avoid overindulging by giving guests festive take-out containers. Have these containers ready to speed up the process.

Maintaining a healthy weight is all about portion sizes and planning ahead to balance your calories.

Heidi McIndoo is a Framingham-based registered dietitian and a nutrition consultant and writer. Her specialty areas include nutrition education, communication, and culinary topics. Heidi is an author and she has counseled people of all ages on a variety of food and nutrition topics. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines, cookbooks and websites. She is a consultant for the food and beverage industry including The Coca-Cola Company.


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