Getting the most out of Thanksgiving
Experts advise families focus on fun, not food
Each year, millions of Americans gather around the table to enjoy a special meal to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, continuing the tradition pilgrims began long ago of sharing a feast with family and friends and expressing gratitude.
However, between cooking and entertaining guests, the day can quickly get hectic, making it easy to forget some important keys to make the holiday a good one.
One important reminder is to avoid overeating, as the average American consumes 4,500 calories from Thanksgiving dinner and dessert, according to the Calorie Counting Council, then feels miserable afterward. But, it doesn't have to be that way, said Jacquie Howell, extension nutrition educator for Barry and Lawrence counties.
"If you're going to eat a lot of different foods, you don't want a whole serving of each one, just a sampling," she said. "It's fine if you have to try everything, but just something like a spoonful."
If guests just can't help themselves, make activity a priority at some point during the day.
"For family-fun ways to burn calories, plan a family walk in the afternoon, or a game of touch football or kickball," said David Burton, Extension civic communications specialist. "It can be fun to plan indoor or outdoor activities that will get the family off the couch and on their feet. For example, organize a scavenger hunt, or create an obstacle course for all to enjoy.
"You may even start the day with exercise before the big meal. You could exercise 30 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical, then wind down the day with a walk, bike ride or an outdoor game with the family."
Another item of importance for Howell, who teaches school children about nutrition, is food safety.
"The biggest thing [to remember during the day] is food safety, especially with a turkey," she said. "You want to make sure you do not thaw it out in the sink or on the counter, but in the fridge and enough days ahead of time, and to put it on the bottom shelf so that juices do not drop down on your other food. Also, make sure internal temperature gets to 165 degrees. It's best if you have a food thermometer and put it in the thickest part of the breast that's not touching the bone. If you don't have a food thermometer, if the turkey has the least little bit of pink color, put it back in the oven, because you don't want to eat it unless it's thoroughly cooked.
"If you stuff it, you want to make sure it's cooked all the way through and the stuffing, too. And, do not leave food sitting out all day for people to just come back and eat, because we're terrible about doing that. If it's something that needs to be refrigerated, do so. Bacteria will double in size every 15 minutes, so in two hours' time, it can take over your food and cause it to go bad. It grows best at room temperature. The biggest thing during the holiday meals is the food safety because we just don't think about it. Just one time of getting a food-borne illness is all it's going to take to make you really sick. It's not worth it. So just make sure turkey is cooked thoroughly, and don't leave things out all day."
With an abundance of food, it's easy to let healthy habits slip during the holidays, yet important to still eat well, Howell said.
"Make sure you get lots of vegetables," she said. "That helps give them nutrition. We don't really require a lot of protein in a day, or whole grains. And, with milk products, use the skim milk or low fat."
Lastly, Howell reminds people to focus less on the food and more on the holiday gathering itself.
"Don't stress over the food [and making sure everything's perfect]," she said. "It's food. If something doesn't turn out right, just eat more of something else. If you don't have turkey, is it really going to hurt anybody? And, enjoy your time with your family or your friends. That's what the holidays are for, really. It shouldn't be built around food, but around your family and friends, and reflecting on the reason behind the season."
"Expectations can be high, time short and experience lacking," said Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health specialist with the Extension. "That can be a recipe for a stress-filled day."
Expectations like a perfectly-cooked, juicy turkey are good, but one doesn't have to be Martha Stewart. If in doubt, YouTube it, Howell said.
Howell offered one last piece of advice.
"It's just one day," she said. "It's not the time to start airing your opinions on everything, such as the election, etc. This is a time to spend together to enjoy each other, not talk about anything that's controversial. Just enjoy your time together. If you feel yourself getting stressed [about anything], stop and do a lot of deep breathing."